Q&A with Jonwayne by Anupa Mistry for Toronto’s NOW Magazine. Jonwayne plays tonight, July 19, at Wrongbar, 1279 W, Toronto.
NOW: It’s kind of cool that people think of Low End Theory being on its second-wave now. Do you agree with that assessment?
JW: I don’t think my agenda is limited to being part of the second generation of that scene, but I would say I’ve played my part. Much of Wedidit could be considered a part of that: I remember when Shlohmo played his first show at LET, and that was huge. One of us actually sharing the stage with all these guys – it felt like we won the Super Bowl. Nowadays it isn’t a big deal, but back then it was.
It moves faster simply because we hear other things quicker, thanks to the wildly open people who run things around here. Gaslamp comes back from Europe with new Dorian Concept or Hudson Mohawke…Every time you go see someone play it’s as if the entire scene is on a new tip. When I go to a more rural town and see the crowd lose its absolute shit over an 8-bit arpeggio, it trips me out.
At the very outset you were a rapper, but you’ve kind of come through on your production. Tell me about where rapping fits into your career, past, present and future.
I was a beneficiary of circumstance. When I started going to shows in LA as an emcee, working with Dibia$e, the whole movement hit me like a wet ham. At the time I was secretly making beats under different aliases. I never took it seriously but when I saw what was going on, I stepped my game up. I was able to get on stage at LET as a rapper who could handle his own on some abstract instrumentals. That’s now the name of the game, but back in 2009 most emcees were giving sour looks to those very producers they’d now give their left nut to work with.
I don’t know where this music thing is going to take me but I definitely still have some verses to write. I feel like I’ll be rapping for a while.
There are a lot of rapper/producers out there – from Dilla and Madlib right down to Swizz Beatz. Do you take inspiration from any of these guys?
People fail to realize or remember that a lot of rappers are, at some point, producers. The same initiative to break through in the rap world shares space with a rapper handling his production. Think about it: A rapper signed to a label presumably gets a budget, and a lot of that is delegated to production costs. Not saying that’s the right decision, because a lot of those guys weren’t that great at making beats, but it’s a sound alternative for the business-savvy.
But there are a lot of great emcee/producers that do get credit for doing both adequately. It also seems that producer-turned-rapper cats are more cherished, than the other way around. Beyond the obvious choices, I’ll say Roc Marciano, Quelle, Dibia$e, Dak, Scoop Deville, Spaceghostpurpp, Ta’raach. Zeroh is both a phenomenal emcee and producer and Jeremiah Jae as well. It’s becoming more common for an emcee to dabble in the production side and I’m all for it.
Since playing live is embedded in LET artists, is it safe to assume being a performer feels much more a part of what you do as opposed to an obligation? When you’re playing as part of an instrumental night, what’s the crowd reaction to you hopping on the mic?
The first time I heard this music was in a live setting, so I always associate it with performing. Some people out here make music based on how they’d be able to perform it live rather than disregard their limitations on stage. That’s where I see Ableton having a great effect with producers. It’s not for me, personally, but I’ve seen too many people kill it on that software to write it off as anything but a staple.
And it’s sort of a cheat, getting to rock a crowd after three hours of straight instrumental music. It always hits them off center, like they forgot people could speak. I definitely appreciate being able to do that.
Because part of your narrative involves workshopping with others and grinding by passing out CDs, what’s it like to be on the receiving end? (And do people still burn CDs?!)
I do make note that’s how I came about and try to never take that for granted because I had people who saw something in me. My production techniques are 90 per cent self-taught but I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with some wonderfully experienced and talented people who’ve helped me hone my craft. Every once in a while, someone will drop a little nugget on me and I absorb that.
One time, back in the day, Dibia$e heard a new batch and he just said, “You need basslines” – sound advice.
Some kids asking about stuff are pretty demanding – like they don’t get how disrespectful it is to approach someone you don’t know and ask what their secrets are, but I digress.
If someone hands me a CD, I listen, but it’s rare. Mostly it’s Soundcloud or Bandcamp links often accompanied by a flattering message of some sort. I guess that’s the only way to reach people in L.A., but it’s such a vast practice nowadays that I can’t be bothered.
I do work with some people on a supportive level but I’m very selective with that. Everyone sounds the same. It’s not enough to be technically proficient anymore.
I really enjoyed the Disney project because I think it fits in nicely with your aesthetic, which I find hugely whimsical. What non-musical stuff inspires you?
I read a lot. Mostly a combination of humor books, hard science fiction and poetry. Usually when I finish a book I feel compelled to write a couple verses; the writing side is definitely a give-take, breathing process. And I’ve been scouring Netflix, recently. I just watched I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, which was awesome. It definitely gives off a creative hue that I take with me. Visually, I feel like all my music incorporates some shade of purple.
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