Rap Album Two is Jonwayne’s intensely personal magnum opus.
Stones Throw student-turned-master of the underground Jonwayne brings us the full-length follow up to Rap Album One after a four-year gap. Everything Jonwayne gets right on Rap Album One shows up on this record: from the incredibly witty lines only he could piece together, to the no-holds-barred cuts about his struggles with alcoholism. As much as Jonwayne is a skilled rhymer, he’s also an impassioned storyteller and Rap Album Two sets listeners up to get to know the emcee on an unexpectedly — even for Jonwayne — intimate level. For those dark and introspective nights, it’s time to stop sleeping and listen to Rap Album Two.
This album opener should be the model album opener we show all aspiring rappers. The gloomy and looming piano notes that intro “TED Talk” are an amazing mood setter, and Jonwayne comes in with airtight bar after airtight bar. What makes Jonwayne’s raps interesting isn’t necessarily his delivery or charisma on a track, but the idea behind every lyric. He pens lines that no one else would think of, and as a result they only sound natural coming out of his mouth. Everything is somehow in its place when Jonwayne spits a verse, and the opening track does an expert job of highlighting that. He’s also not one for a hook, but that’s addressed on “These Words are Everything:” a touching album closer.
On this album Jonwayne spends a lot of time exploring his frustrations with loneliness and with other people. Second track “Live From The Fuck You” is two-thirds skit and one-third rap about wanting to be left alone. “The Single” features him re-recording a track until he can’t take the failures anymore. “Out of Sight” details “isolation feeling like it’s house arrest” as well as the sacrifices he was forced to make as an artist and the somber delivery, backed by what sounds like a sleepy harpsichord, takes some of the rasp out of Jonwayne’s voice. This track features him in his remorseful gentle-giant persona, which is the space he thrives most as an artist.
Other standouts “Human Condition” and “Blue Green” showcase Jonwayne at his emotionally vexed peak. On “Human Condition” he brings a more spirited delivery and flow over a warm sunrise beat, subtly accented with strings. Jonwayne’s imagery and wordplay on this track are stunning, closing out the first verse with:
I’m gonna try as long as plant life sustaining my breath
The very same God used for badminton with Death
That hot smog riddled Los Angeles breath
That hard, heavy hitting old Anakin breath
And opposition get that old mannequin rest
Cause after this they know there’s no more expanding their chest.
“Blue Green” is the most moving cut on the album. Jonwayne does not spare a detail as he raps about his struggles with drinking. We get a real glimpse of how bad it’s gotten for him, coming close to dying in his sleep and trying to drink away his depressions. The opening images of “last nights dinner on the sheets” paint a potent rock-bottom picture. Jonwayne sounds desperate and miserable as he recalls having to cancel a tour and confronting himself in the mirror. The difficulty he has looking at himself translates into an air of uneasiness as the track progresses, leaving us feeling like he’s really gutting himself to put this song together. Behind the dismal piano is the tonal beep of a countdown, as if Jonwayne is just waiting for his disease to take him down, even if he wants to get better.
Closing out the album is reflective “These Words Are Everything,” which has accompanying visuals. On this final cut Jonwayne is running through his life from 1996 to 2006 to 2010 to 2016. He covers his idols, his aspirations, and being “married to the game but it’s complicated” across four straight verses. Not for nothing, you can hear how Jonwayne is in love with the essence of hip-hop all over this track. The final song brings a hopeful note to the melancholy themes of the album.
Rap Album Two is Jonwayne. Jonwayne is Rap Album Two. While this project features the rapper in his prime across several songs, there are still places where he falls short and fails to incorporate his best self into a track. The first and last thirds of this album are emotional powerhouses and musically catching. The middle run of tracks on this project just don’t live up to the great things Jonwayne begins and concludes with. Jonwayne doesn’t need to become a better rapper, his next project just needs more tenacity. In the meantime, stop sleeping, throw on Rap Album Two, and get to know the tortured-soul gentle-giant rapman himself.