By: Max Bell
On the back patio of his parents' large La Habra Heights home, Jonwayne dwarfs the plush lounge chair he sits in. He recently moved there in an effort to save money while touring. The 23-year-old white MC's official debut album, Rap Album 1, dropped last month on Stones Throw. The cover is nothing but a saltine; he's basically calling himself a cracker.
His rhymes, however, are certainly more substantial than that carb-heavy snack.
“I'm in love with the words themselves and trying to construct something as eloquently, yet as brash as possible,” he says in his deep, sonorous voice.
His brown Labrador by his side, the bespectacled, longhaired, bearded rapper is barefoot, sporting a black T-shirt and red basketball shorts, an outfit not unlike those he wears onstage. In conversation, he chooses his words carefully, talking about his predilection for naps (he recently put out a mixtape that promotes the activity), as well as his attempt to get sponsored by the company that makes his preferred sandals–Jonwayne's feet are too wide for closed-toe shoes.
Formerly an electronic musician affiliated with Alpha Pup, he has made a transition in the past two years. “It's not so simple . . . doing something completely different,” he says. “You have to build your career all over again.”
He adds, “It's hard for me to gain ground in the music industry because of my attitude and my inability to compromise.”
That may be, but it's this mentality that has garnered so many converts to his work. Rap Album 1 is, in the opinion of this critic, one of the best rap albums of 2013 and will no doubt bring more fans and followers.
Made over the course of a year in a makeshift studio-cum-bedroom set up at the Stones Throw offices, the work emerged from dusk-to-dawn recording sessions. (He produced most of the tracks himself.) The work showcases his almost-Shakespearean ability to shift from dark to light, from the morbid to the comic. Its beats and bars are forward-thinking, but the subject is Jonwayne himself–here and now. “This is the first album that fully encompasses what I want to do and all the parts of who I am,” he says.
As for his live show, it's minimalist. With only a 404 sampler and a mic, he commands attention. It's not an inborn skill so much as a practiced one. Jonwayne was enrolled in theater in high school and even performed professionally for a short while after.
Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf was first impressed by him after randomly hearing him perform one night. “I was with Mayer Hawthorne, and we were by the bar, and my back was turned away from the stage, and I heard this voice and was impressed, and then I turned around and saw a big white guy wearing sandals and was confused,” Wolf recalls. “It was his voice and lyrics, but also his stage presence.”
Toward the end of my interview, Jonwayne receives a text showing the promotional poster for his album. It depicts the rapper in black shades, his head covering part of his name. Below his hirsute visage, in bold white lettering, is simply the word “Rap.”
Jonwayne smiles. The shoe fits. “That's tight, right?”