There’s been an ongoing debate among many professionals and behavioral theorists regarding the effects of nature vs. nurture on the development of an individual. Some agree that it’s a little bit of both, while others concentrate on one aspect over the other. The same argument could be made for musicians. What shapes an artist’s musical outlook more – the environment that they find themselves in or some instinctual sense of rhythmic composition? Personally, I tend to lean more toward a composite view of these arguments, with experience telling me that it does tend to be both nature and nurture that influences a person’s musical growth – it’s inevitable really. What we’re exposed to will always act as a guiding force on our lives.
Los Angeles producer and MC Jonwayne would seem to be a perfect example of this duality of growth. Coming up via East LA club Low End Theory, he rubbed elbows and shared musical growing pains with artists like Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, and Gaslamp Killer. And it’s here that the nature vs. nurture aspect of his music starts to emerge. There is a sense of musical exchange that can be heard across his various Cassette mixtapes and on Bowser (an instrumental album he released a few years ago) that speaks to the assimilation of communal influences, while also displaying an innate understanding of how music – and in particular, beats and electronic textures – can be combined. It becomes even more apparent when you hear the music spread out across his latest release, Rap Album One – this time as a certified MC.
On Rap Album One, he grafts bits and pieces of his LA upbringing onto wildly euphoric beats and casts out wide nets of verbal viscosity that entangle and snare the listener. There are nods to the work on his previous mixes, but RAO is an entirely new beast. Detailing the often anesthetized viewpoint of life in a large city, Jonwayne’s utilization of a highly stylized braggadocio paints him as the last conscious soothsayer among the masses. With only a single guest rhyme (from Scoop DeVille), you get the feeling that he wanted these tracks to feel particularly insular and sound like the frenzied examinations of a single hotwired brain feeding off a buffet of pop culture and ingrained musical instincts.
Blending an imaginative sense of what hip-hop can and should be with the typically off-kilter Stones Throw beat aesthetic, Jonwayne creates music that speaks to his formative musical upbringing while also drawing inspiration from the music and artists that he comes into contact with on a daily basis. There are allusions to artists and music from the 70’s on up through the 00’s, but there is never a sense of creative obligation. The kinetic beats and often labyrinthine rhythms that pop up on all of his releases only heighten the listener’s awareness that over the past few years Jonwayne has developed into a singularly gifted producer and a MC worthy of that title. Recently, I was able to sit down and ask him a few questions about his upcoming debut for Stones Throw and how his professional relationship with label head leader Peanut Butter Wolf had come about. We also discuss his recent tour with Mount Kimbie, as well as the future of any non-LP releases. Check out my full interview with Jonwayne below.
Beats Per Minute (Joshua Pickard): There is usually a specific point in a musician’s life when they decide that all they want to do is make music. It’s often tied to a particular experience or even an album that feels attuned to their own circumstances. For you, was there a definite personal experience or a musical association that really solidified your decision to make music?
Jonwayne: I don’t think there was, and if there were then I have forgotten it. It was real gradual for me. Maybe it’s when I realized I COULDN’T do anything else.
BPM: Growing up together (musically speaking) with artists like The Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus, and Nosaj Thing must have made for a very chaotic environment. As you worked on your own music, did you ever bounce ideas or sounds off each other as a way of refining your own individual styles?
J: I think we all connected through Low End. We’d go and have a listen to what people were playing and what was going on and all those styles and experiences accumulated in our heads differently. Then we would go home and make new stuff to play out and the cycle started all over again.
BPM: As a producer, you released an instrumental album (Bowser) a few years ago, but it was Stones Throw honcho Peanut Butter Wolf who signed you to record an album as an MC. How did he initially contact you and what were the circumstances of that meeting?
J: He and Mayer Hawthorne saw me at a show in LA. They didn’t intend on seeing me, and I don’t think wolf had ever heard of me at that point. I think Mayer had. Wolf then asked for a demo and when he liked what he heard he brought me to the office where we discussed a possible 45 deal that eventually fizzled and became an artist deal.
BPM: As you were recording your MC debut, Rap Album One, for Stones Throw, there was a series of tapes that were released as a kind of primer to your previous work. Cassette,Cassette 2, and Cassette 3 were mixtapes culled from your prolific output at the time. Did you have a specific aim with these releases or was it simply an issue of getting as much music out to your fans as possible before your debut came out?
J: Cassette 1 was the only of these 3 that was born out of the concept, the other two came because I had content to release. Cassette 2 was from the early sessions of the album, and Cassette 3 was made months after the album was turned in.
BPM: With a title like Rap Album One, there’s a pretty good assumption that we’ll have more albums in this musical chronology. But was there a particular reason (besides the obvious debut aspect) that you chose to call your record Rap Album One—possibly an allusion to this being your first record as an MC?
J: Well…yeah, you hit the nail on the head. I want the releases I do from now on to have a catalog-esque feel. Organization is key.
BPM: You provided the bulk of the beats and rhymes for Rap Album One yourself, but you did get some studio help from producer Scoop DeVille. On those occasions, did he follow your lead with the tracks or did he play a more substantive role in their development?
J: Scoop had given me the beats to write to but that was the extent of his involvement of those songs. It was my album and he understood it was my vision and decided to trust me, which I thank him for doing. Even on the song he did a verse for I encouraged him to write about his youth regarding his place in hip-hop. HIs ability to be such a team player is what also makes him a great producer, and he’s able to take the directional reigns when he wants and does with a lot of our other collaborative work.
BPM: And because your music seems to draw on so many different influences, I’d like to ask about some of your favorite records. Were there any particular artists or records from which you drew specific inspiration?
J: For this album in particular? I had been drawn toward last decade’s Dre productions and how those albums are put together when he’s involved. Cannibal Ox, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead…a lot of progressive music.
BPM: You’re currently touring with electronic duo Mount Kimbie. How did you hook up with those guys? And what’s been the most memorable aspect of the tour so far?
J: I had just finished the other day. They expressed interest over Facebook and so did I. The next think I knew I was getting a call about opening up for them for their US dates. It was a wonderful experience. The friendship between all of us is what I’ll take away from the tour the most. All those guys are like brothers, now.
BPM: With your mixtapes getting so much love from fans and critics, would it be wrong to think that we might be seeing more of those after Rap Album One is released?
J: I’m not done with non-album format material, but future releases will take a different form. The cassette series is done.
Jonwayne’s MC debut, Rap Album One, is out now on Stones Throw Records.