Prolific underground rapper Jonwayne might be best-known today for his virtuosity on the microphone, but he was first recognized largely as a beatmaker. Nearly a decade after beginning his rise to prominence within the Southern California beat scene amongst names like Flying Lotus and the Gaslamp Killer, and with the help of Daddy Kev, founder of the famed club integral to that scene, Low End Theory, Jonwayne now owns his own imprint record label, Authors Recording Company.
Earlier this year, Jonwayne released Rap Album Two, one of the best hip-hop albums of 2017. For his next effort, though, he wanted to work primarily as a producer and was looking for a talented artist willing to put in the time and effort—whether or not they were polished.
“I like to incentivize creative people to continue to work and display loyalty to what we do,” Jonwayne explained during a recent phone conversation with both Danny and DJBooth. “I like to offer royalties, ownership, and guarantee that things will be stable and you’ll continue to work and build a catalog.”
Danny Watts, a 29-year-old Houston-based MC, proved to be the perfect counterpart as evidenced by his debut album, Black Boy Meets World, released on September 22.
On BBMW, Jonwayne provides the instrumental backdrop for Watts' soulful, honest and reflective raps. Especially polished for a debut effort, the LP includes fearlessly honest songs like “A Lullaby For You,” written about fatherhood and failure. “Ain’t No Problem” showcases his sharp delivery and flow. For those not yet familiar with the rapper, the title track ties the whole project together as a convincing introduction to this highly-compelling musician.
Two years ago, Watts was working in the optical department at a Costco, lacking the resources and backing necessary to successfully take the next steps towards a full-time career in music.
One day, Watts took a chance and sent Jon a message on SoundCloud, and to his surprise, Jon not only responded but also expressed an interest in working together. Jon had one simple request, though: we need to meet in person.
“I had no intentions of going to Los Angeles," Watts said. "I was just chilling and living my life in Houston. When he gave me the opportunity, I told him I’d be there in a week. I took a leap of faith.”
At first, Watts and a few friends were planning to rent a car and drive to California, but their impulsive decision fell through. Without the necessary funds to afford roundtrip airfare by himself, Watts and his closest friends pooled their money together. A day later, an expensive, last-minute flight to the West Coast was booked. Shortly after arriving, Watts immediately got to work, recording a stellar verse for Rap Album Two standout "Rainbow."
“Danny has a natural voice for rap,” Jon explained. “But I think what compelled me to stick with him is that he showed that he wanted it. I’ve worked with many people. The one thing you can’t teach is passion. You can’t teach that to somebody. So when somebody really has it, they’re ahead of 80% of people.”
Watts, who gushes about Jonwayne's extension knowledge about recording, mixing and marketing rap music, received advice from his veteran counterpart about what equipment to use and how to capture the true essence of his voice for a more full and authentic sound. Pressing play on Black Boy Meets World, it's clear Watts was taking notes.
“I knew I had to get in there and put in work and turn these people who kind of sort of know my name into actual supporters and fans of me as an artist and as a person,” Watts said. “This is where the work actually begins.”
Lyrically, Watts' goal on Black Boy Meets World was to remove the veil. He made his storytelling more tangible and less abstract than during previous songwriting attempts. Once afraid to talk about certain subjects, he knew it was important to represent himself as genuinely as possible on this record.
On “Things We Have To Do,” Watts wrote about the time he got robbed in vivid and candid fashion. Later on the album and backed by horns, he opened up about mortality on “Pill”:
"The vision of lost life changes perspectives I view / Perplexion, so many ways that a person’s persona flows / Like the morning Folgers’ aroma, now I’m woke to the notion / That life is only a moment. Seeing death is a hard pill to swallow."
During the recording process, Jon would often encourage Watts to push through various creative walls, resulting in a feeling he had never had before, like stepping up to the plate for the very first time and launching a screaming fastball out of the ballpark for a home run.
Jon, who says he and Danny would sometimes spend hours recording and re-recording the same verse, played an integral role in giving the record as much purpose as possible. It was a decision made to help bridge the gap of respect for the yin and yang of the music industry: art and money.
“If we’re going to take some of your money, we’re going to make part of the music,” Jon said. “I’m not going to roll up to you when you have your album finished and say, 'Hey, how’d you like a thousand dollars?' That’s not me. A lot of other white men do that in this business. I’m not going to be one of them. I’d rather be part of the good side of history with this.”
Danny looked at his verse on Rap Album Two as a job interview, while Black Boy Meets World was Jon offering him the gig. To further solidify his place with Authors Recording, Watts will be joining Jonwayne on a nationwide tour, which begins this week and will extend across the United States for nearly two months.
His only upcoming plans are the tour dates with Jonwayne, where both rappers will perform both albums six nights a week.
“My last day of work [at Costco] was the day after the album came out,” said Watts, who quit so that he could go on tour. “My main focus right now is doing any and everything I can to turn me making music and performing for a living into enough of an income where I can do this full-time.”
Watts is understandably excited for what's next. And so are we.