Rappers put on faces. Guises, personas, egos, you name it, rap music has seen it all. Whether it’s the iconic DOOM mask or Flying Lotus‘s ambiguous, gruesome, sociopathic Captain Murphy character (who makes an appearance on this mixtape), some of the faces of hip hop have not been the artist’s true face. Los Angeles rapper/producer and Stones Throw artist Jonwayne is one who does not need a mask or a character to achieve greatness (not to say that DOOM or Captain Murphy aren’t great). He’s a traditional rapper in a sense, propping his rhymes up on minimalistic beats in an almost stream of consciousness manner with no barriers or limits; he can go from introvert to extrovert with the flip of a beat. On “Altitude”, everything stops, except for Jon, and in his most shining a cappella he raps “I swear to God I saw my dead friends in sand dune/ Their faces blew away in the wind, I knew they had to”, and the spacey beat picks back up, and life goes on. It’s this brand of grounded humanism that he brings that makes Marion Morrison and all of his work so enticing, and what makes him everything but a traditional rapper.
Marion Morrison features Jon at his most vulnerable, his most aggressive, his most flawed, and his most perfect. He raps through his struggles and his triumphs over as series of self-produced beats, as well as some from Dilla, Premier, Madlib, and Don Cannon On the opening track Jon raps over a beat of his own construction that “life is an homage to death”, a philosophical bit of knowledge that wouldn’t otherwise be heard from a rapper these days. From the first track, Jon is letting his audience know that he’s not here to give the world the next big banger, and that message stays true for the remainder of the tape. In that spirit, it is easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of Jonwayne quotable material, but to get bogged down in all of that would be to stop listening to Marion Morrison as a whole, which is how this project should be approached. All of the tracks flow seamlessly together, even if Jon is rapping on two sides of the same coin.
There are no standout tracks, no filler tracks, no interludes, just Los Angeles rapper Jonwayne rhythmically reciting poetry over instrumentals. Also, the guest features are chosen very well, talented artists that don’t take Jon’s shine away from him, but complement him in the best of ways. As I mentioned earlier, Flying Lotus shows up on this mixtape as Captain Murphy to provide a stage on which Jon can show off his dark and disturbed side, and Jeremiah Jae, Oliver the 2nd, and Zeroh all show up to provide top notch bars and a nice change of pace when they come on.
The talent of Jonwayne does not stop at his lyrical skills, for his beatmaking is on point as always. Marion Morrison features everything on the spectrum, for the dark and murky feel of “Dog It” to the light and airy “Altitude”, and even something in between like “Ode To Mortality”. You can tell the advantages that Jon experiences with producing the beats he raps over, you almost get the feel that they’re made just for him, because, well, they are. Even on his take on DOOM’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”, his knowledge of beatmaking helps him really take charge of an instrumental that’s been remade a hundred times over, and really make it his own. All of this together makes Marion Morrison feels like an album, and it is a project that could take Jon “over the bay” (re: the title track).
A few months ago, Jonwayne gets on a microphone at the Boiler Room Rap Life show in Los Angeles for a lackluster crowd, and sitting at my desk at roughly 6:30 p.m. watching the video after my first listen of Marion Morrison, it all clicked for me. Towards the end of his set, Jon, while still rapping perfectly, went around the room and gave his fans daps, handshakes, and assorted signs of love and respect. Jonwayne is a wildly talented artist, naming this third installment in his Cassette series after the real name of the actor John Wayne. On the Stones Throw website, they stated the following:
Jonwayne’s real name is Jon Wayne. Marion Morrison is the real name of the Hollywood cowboy guy John Wayne, who took his screen name from Jonwayne’s great-great-great-great-great uncle. What comes around goes around.
From his final installment his mixtape series, to his last Boiler Room performance, my earnest hope is that Jonwayne will get what he deserves. What goes around, comes around.