For as long as music has existed, it’s served the dual function of entertainment and therapy—for listeners and artists alike. It’s human condition to assume that if we were really great at one thing, everything else would fall into place, making it cathartic to experience deep vulnerability in a person with a proficiency in something you’ll never possess.
In hip-hop, this is a fascination I’ve had since The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die. This was an artist at the pinnacle of his craft still battling the same demons that myself and many of my friends encountered on a daily basis. It was a moment of realization—that struggle isn’t lost in the attainment of greatness, and in fact, it often acts as the necessary fuel for that greatness.
The artistic mind is often a frustrating duality, of the deep desire to express and the overwhelming doubt of that expression’s validity, a theme that runs deep in Jonwayne’s music. When I first became familiar with the former Stones Throw signee, I was immediately attracted to his brand of nonchalant lyrical mastery. Jonwayne’s talent isn't immediately apparent, but what is immediately apparent is the fact that fear, doubt and conflict are often the driving forces behind that talent.
Jonwayne recently penned an open letter detailing his struggles with alcoholism, a struggle that ironically began its strongest grip during the most successful period in his life. What began as a means of dealing with an intense fear of flying in the midst of a burgeoning career quickly turned into the very thing that began to threaten his ascent.
Before the release of Rap Album Two, Jonwayne stated that he wanted this album to “offer some reconciliation” to those he’d “estranged in the past,” or at the very least open a dialog for healing. I can’t speak for those he intended to reach with this album, but it’s clear he was able to begin healing himself in the process, and it’s a fascinating journey to witness.
Three Standout Tracks:
“Out Of Sight”
There’s something to be said about the fact that "Out of Sight" was the first single Jonwayne released off Rap Album Two. It’s a sobering, introspective cut that, within the context of the album, acts as the perfect mission statement for Wayne’s current emotional and mental state. The playful innocence of the instrumental and Jonwayne’s often sing-songy delivery allow him to lean into his pain without fully immersing listeners into that conflicted headspace. Instead, “Out Of Sight” sounds like Jonwayne peacefully floating over his struggles in a dreamstate, with a perfect zen-like clarity that speaks to a deep understanding of those struggles and an equally deep desire to transcend them.
To put it bluntly, this song is rock bottom. “Blue Green” finds Jonwayne at his wits end with his addiction, his drowsy lamentations carried by a warbled piano loop and a metronomic, heart monitor-esque beep. Wayne recounts canceling his last tour, having just awoken from a Jameson-induced stupor and seeing death looming over his head in the mirror. The Jameson is the only thing helping him through the flights that facilitate his newfound success, but it's simultaneously the burden keeping him from maintaining that success. The imagery in this song is intense, with a soulful outro that both allows space for listeners to fully digest JonWayne’s frustrations, and manages to reset the tone in anticipation of the album’s final lyrical performance.
“These Words Are Everything”
Rap Album Two’s closer feels like a loving ode to the art that has acted as both friend and shepherd to Wayne throughout his life. From doodling for quarters from his grandfather as a child to writing poems in an effort to maintain balance and feed the very talent that allowed him a feeling of competence and value. For Jonwayne, these words truly are everything, and in his own words, “maybe I write because I’m feelin’ odd in my bones / and when I exercise this demon I’m not thinkin’ of those.” This line summates not only Jonwayne’s personal relationship with art but speaks to one of the most potent and universal appeals of art in general—escape.
Listening to Rap Album Two is essentially attending a therapy session with a poet. It has the brutal honesty of a conversation that you're certain no one will ever hear, but with an eloquence and thoughtfulness that makes it deserving of being heard by everyone.
The production on this album is perfectly calculated to form a soft bed on which Jonwayne's relentless candor can rest, a luxury his words have earned after toiling in their master's conflicted mind for years. An ambiance of warmth was almost required to house the intense introspection throughout Rap Album Two, yet every track contains hints of Wayne’s unshakeable belief in his art, the very belief that has allowed him to keep going.
This latest work from JonWayne bridges the gap between his specific struggles and universal themes of artistic duality, addiction, self-loathing and ultimately, self-acceptance.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: The Order Label