Jonwayne’s Latest Album Details How He Came Back From The Brink
The former Stones Throw rapper and producer un-retires to find redemption in rap
For anyone familiar with the work of Jonwayne, it won’t come as a surprise that he takes the craft of writing raps very seriously. It also won’t astonish them to hear that his tracks are often colored by dark moods, but just how deep down the well those moods reach had been unknown to most, until last Friday, when he released his second album, aptly titled Rap Album Two.
Back in 2013, after a trilogy of cassette tapes, Jonwayne released his debut album as a rapper on Stones Throw Records. Rap Album One was received well. Despite its left-coast origins, it was an album mostly devoid of LA sunlight, but full of dense lyricism delivered in a deep voice, coupled with understated piano melodies and sparse beats full of murky atmosphere. For some reason, the rapper never really followed up on the momentum that release granted him.
In 2015, he released a 5-track EP titled Jonwayne Is Retired (featuring Anderson .Paak on the cusp of stardom), followed by a statement saying “Pay attention: Jonwayne Is Retired. He is no longer making beats. Or rapping. He is not writing rhymes. There will be no clever contemplation. No new flips of phrase; no witty banter. Your brain won’t try to keep up. Jonwayne Is Retired.”
His disappearance among the listed artists on the frontpage of Stones Throw’s website underscored the idea something serious was going on, but nobody really knew what it was—and those who did seemed unwilling to talk about it. Until Jonwayne suddenly unretired himself last year, with a single called “Wonka”. “No, I’m not on Stones Throw / Thought you’d know that by now / ‘Bout to build my compound / Thought you’d know that by now” he rapped in the bridge to that track.
The track was released by Authors Recording Company, the label which also released Rap Album Two last week, and on which Jonwayne is the only artist so far. The album ranges from darkness to shimmering melancholy, with Jonwayne relaying how he wasn’t in a good place either mentally or physically in the years following his debut album. About two thirds of the way in, the Bukowski-by-way-of-Mobb Deep vibe suddenly finds a ray of milky light shining through on “Afraid Of Us”. In this key track to the album, he apologizes to the people he let down and finally reaches out for help.
On the following track, “Blue Green,”Jonwayne’s downfall is fully revealed, as his “bottom” moment is recounted in excruciating detail he raps about waking up in his own vomit after some nearly fatal alcohol abuse. Thankfully, he received the help he needed and can now be heard exorcising his demons through music. On “These Words Are Everything,” the final track of his new album, he spits over a beautifully breezy beat by Dibia$E, reminiscing about various moments in his life, from drinking hot chocolate in 1996 to listening to Dilla’s Donuts in 2006, to realizing that he needs to work on himself in 2016. His art now helps him with that.
It’s not the cheesy type of Hollywood happy ending pop culture typically serves up, with all the loose ends neatly tied up. More the sort of thing one might see in real life. Though the subject matter of his latest album is heavier than ever, Rap Album Two isn’t overly morose. There’s much beauty to be found in its brutal honesty, and even more in the redemption he finds embracing that.
“If I could only keep my mouth shut, no enemies,” he raps in that final song. “But I don’t see the point in knowing truth and not set it free.”
It’s good to have Jonwayne back.