A Meandering Self-Examination
Three and a half years since his last major release with Rap Album One, Jonwayne has officially made his return. The duly titled Rap Album Two was recorded and released independently, Jonwayne having severed the ties to his prior record label.
As an emcee, Jonwayne largely displays the same rhythmically precise monotone that has defined his career. The duality of his career, though, is a facet that stands at the forefront of Jonwayne’s artistic presence. Not merely an emcee, he bears the role of producer as well as wordsmith; and for output that would certainly merit the badge of “stoner rap,” Rap Album Two falls into the sonic realm that one would expect. The shoegaze repetition and slight ambience of Jonwayne’s beatmaking set the stage for a record that deals in large part with an examination of self, a field of retrospect within which the emcee dissects the alcoholism and blind ambition of yesteryear.
There is no doubt that the effort of producing one’s own record under the auspices of one’s own record company is an admirable feat, and this very exodus from the structure and limitations of a larger label is a thematic undercurrent of the album as a whole.
However, this very shift reveals and underlines the Achilles’ heel of Rap Album Two.
On the final verse of “These Words Are Everything,” the final song on Rap Album Two, Jonwayne declares that, “if I threw a hook up on this beat, it’d get hella plays.” In a sense, he is correct — the album omits almost any moment of lyric repetition, and when a hook is included, pop sensibility does not accompany. Note, for example, the meandering “Afraid of Us,” a seven-and-a-half minute anthem that should have been condensed by half. This through-composed pacing pays homage to Jonwayne’s proposed emphasis on text, but also disorients and exhausts the listener.
The great juxtaposition of the record, therefore, is the fact that the instrumental production for much of the album relies so heavily on the very repetition eschewed so thoroughly from the text. Jonwayne regularly allows long segments of the album to showcase the repeated instrumental strains of the beats he has composed. While this might appeal to the “stoner rap” mentality that pervades his fanbase, it detracts musically, bogging down the record in needless instrumental refrain. The omission of his prior label affiliation may allow Jonwayne to fully concede to his lyrically-weighted tendencies and long instrumental interludes, but to the album’s detriment.
While his musical auteurism allows the album’s strangest moment to remain on the release (including, but not limited to, the extraneous “LIVE from the F**k You”), it also ushers in the highlights. The use of nylon-stringed guitar and polar vocal features from Low Leaf and Zeroh paint the latter portion of the record with the attainable possibilities of the independent artist, and the massive successes available when the musicians get it right.