Jonwayne cuts a unique figure in hip-hop and it's not just because he wears sandals and swaps video thotts for low-riding tricycles. He's signed to Stones Throw – the label that birthed J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib – and has been putting out leftfield music that refuses to pander toward the meme-heavy rap that populates modern hip-hop. Rap Album One, his debut full-length, feasts on word-play and experimental beats; he creates songs using the sound of a rattling skateboard and his house keys.
Jonwayne wants no part in the hip-hop circle-jerk; in April he tweeted his rap-game divorce paper.
"I'm done with rap. I'm going to keep making music but don't compare me to any of that shit. It's not my intention to contribute".
"I'm not a replacement for anything you already love or hate about hip-hop. I'm not here for your approval. I don't care about you".
"This is simply an expression of self. I don't want to be part of your little scene where you can rank me like some laundry detergent".
"Leave me out of the conversation".
When Drake raps that he's "doing me", he will never encapsulate that statement in the way that Jonwayne does, not least because if you really didn't care about what other people thought of you then you wouldn't need a lint roller. Jonwayne will never market himself and, as I learnt last week when I went to watch him play in London, Jonwayne never compromises.
Who actually shows for a Jonwayne show? Mostly they're straight-faced music fans and the sort of people that actually care about limited edition vinyl releases. Before picking up the microphone, Jonwayne reminded us why he's heralded as the weightiest beat-maker in California. In twenty minutes we had warped doo-wop, looped Gregorian chanting, and an edit of "Those Were The Days" that popped off harder than a Pringles can at a BBQ.
When he does pick up the microphone, he's fierce. He brandishes a bound volume and asks, “ya’ll forgotten the power of a book?” With Ace Hood robbing Bugattis, Young Dro fucking that bitch and Yeezus as god, he’s right; literary wordplay isn’t exactly the touchstone of most rappers right now.
After the show we caught up with him, mostly to find out if he was some kind of post-rap linguistic savant or just one of those annoying 11-year-old girls who bangs on about how wonderful reading is.
Noisey: Are you sticking around for a while?
Jonwayne: Yeah I’m going to be staying here, finishing my new record, staying with the Mount Kimbie boys. London is really different to LA and I find that inspiring.
Is a collaboration on the cards? You guys show a lot of Twitter love.
Ha. I guess. I’m living with them out in East and we’re all making music. It’s probably going to happen.
Rapping over a Kimbie production would be dope. Do you enjoy bringing together your productions and rap?
When I first started out I made a point of not ever rapping over my own beats. And then when I signed to Stones Throw I started rapping over my own stuff and my production took a crazy turn and became more hip-hop / sample orientated. Now I can produce and accommodate to my own style. It’s good to keep it maintained within the self because It can get difficult relying on other people to make your music.
You’ve said that anything that can make money in hip-hop without wasting kids brains is to be applauded. Have you struck a balance?
My intention is to do it in a way without compromising - at that point you should just quit and do a 9-5 because what’s the point. I want to make money and sustain a living with what feels good for me. That’s a longer road to the one I could have taken, which is one I’ve said no to many times. I hope I end up getting there. I get worried sometimes but I honestly haven’t been wrong this far so I’m just going to continue listening to myself and hopefully get where I want to be.
What music is wasting kids brains?
I’m not going to comment on that.
Ok, what music isn’t?
It’s more or less the individuals rather than a genre itself. I’d say 90% of any music is disingenuous considering peoples intentions behind making music. That’s why it’s frustrating to see people who know what needs to be done and they just don’t have the drive. The talent and having the vision is only half of it.
Poetry and Rap are one of the same within your music. Is it important to you that you engage your audience with that?
I’m a fan of poetry. I think most people don’t understand the depth and the quality which goes into work that’s being written now. I’m still getting my feet wet in terms of understanding what the scope of the field is. But if I was going to try and get a poetry book in stores most of my competition would be dead people, which is fucked. I was in the poetry section of Barnes and Noble, and saw the ‘new and notable’ section, and it was just shit that my grandma would put on her fridge as a magnet. It doesn’t make sense to me because people associate with rap so much, but they don’t make the connection to poetry.
Do you think other artists neglect the connection too?
I wouldn’t say they neglect it, because you have to assess their intentions in the first place. Why are you making music? If it’s for other reasons I wouldn’t say they’re neglecting it because not all of rap is meant to provoke thought. But there is a lot in rap music that’s 1984-ish. Doubleplusgood and all that. One of the restrictions in 1984 is the vocabulary; the dictionary gets shorter and shorter. I feel like a lot of rap is like that. It’s like, man, use your words. But it’s also a generational thing; our generation use music as a way to let off steam from society expecting so much from them. All these kids are having crazy ass days, being flung shit loads of information all the time. All you want to do is listen to a fucking Chief Keef song because you don’t want to think about shit.
Why do you think rappers fall into the same tropes?
There’s two ways to look at it; one’s lack of creativity, which I kinda agree with, and two is that the human lifestyle is not that complicated. Most music is about fucking.
But you don’t rap about that.
I mean, I don’t care about that shit. I’m not interested in materialism. Look what I’m wearing, I don’t care. I don’t know maybe I’m the one whose fucked up.
Nah sandals are cool.
My feet are too big that’s why I can’t wear shoes. My feet are too wide.
Really? What size feet do you have?
I go to the wide shoe store and they laugh at me. They’re like, get out of here.
How wide are they?
6E? I don’t know what that means.
Exactly. No one does.
What do you wear in the winter?
I've got pictures of me wearing sandals in the snow.
Nope. Because if you get socks wet then it’s even worse.
I bet your mum worries about you.
Oh she does.
Follow Alice on Twitter: @Al__Lewis
Jonwayne is playing Electrowerkz, London on Wednesday 17 September