The bad egg straight from a bad duck, Jonwayne, dropped his debut rap album yesterday. Bluntly titled, Rap Album One, the contents are as no-frills and sharp-edged as the cover. If you want to find the emotions, send the scalpel underneath the jittery tense synthesizers. Falling Deeper is the refrain repeated at the end of the song one. It’s an introduction in the form of a warning flare.
Jon played me what was supposed to be his debut over a year ago. Much of what he recorded at the time was re-purposed and re-constructed. Gone are the Ray Bradbury clips and the aorta-exposed-to-oxygen emotion. All the pain remains, but it’s packed into a clenched fist clutching a cryptogram. It’s a twin cousin to Earl Sweatshirt’s record from earlier this year: willfully obtuse, obscenely well-written, and a bruising weed hemlock nightmare where the words poison your system. It’s scorched field rap. He calls himself the king of the third abandoned planet. No silly dances. Rap game famine. The album is an epitaph. You can hear the coming of age story on “The Come Up,” but the narrative is sliced from the bone. You catch images and ideas in fragments that sting like eyes catching salt.
Jonwayne is a purist. He’s not a purist in the artistic way, but the moral sense. He raps like the offensive lineman he once was. No bullshit will slip past. No bad ideas are countenanced in the name of quick gains. This is a stand composed in tangled slang. Ice spit like anvils. He’s rapping out of Highland Park, the son of Hermes. There is a song called Yung Grammar. The juxtaposition is clear if you care to listen deeper. The songs are willing to be ugly, not out of artlessness but as an outgrowth of anguish. Just listen to the beat at the end of “Reflection,” oscillating between movie score strings, murder muzik pianos, and modal jazz — all in a matter of a few seconds. But it’s not about the idea as much as the ability to make it work.
The influences are synthesized to the point where you can only see the scars. Edan, the Queensbridge School of Rap. Madlib, Dilla, and Doom. El-P, the Low End Theory. But Wayne has got the point where the influences matter much less than the inspired way in which they’re cauterized and re-constituted. Max Bell profiled Wayne yesterday in the LA Weekly and hailed it as one of the best rap albums of the year. I agree. Criticism isn’t supposed to be a consumer’s guide, so I loathe telling you what to spend your cash on. But it’s available for sale now and if you play it in your vehicle at a loud enough volume, you can re-sell it to your local apothecary as the best poison money can buy.