The smell of unwashed clothes and body odour fills Leeds’ Beat Bar, which is impressively busy as Jonwayne takes over from Bambooman without fuss or announcement.
For the next 45 minutes, he takes the heavily intoxicated (or perhaps just rhythmically absent) crowd on a musical journey. Tinkering away at his Roland SP-404 sampler, he peers through his curtains of hair every now and then to look unimpressed at his onlookers. As he draws from an obscure palette of sounds, including jazz records, motion picture soundtracks, trap drums, Lil Wayne a cappellas and everything in between, whispers are passed between confused audience members about the absence of material from his latest release, ‘Rap Album One’ (review).
While Jonwayne’s career as a beat-maker pre-dates his rap releases, it becomes clear that many of the attendees are unaware of this history. As he remixes Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’ album cut, ‘Barry Bonds’, he finally breaks down the fourth wall, walking around to the front of the desk mouthing the words as he daps some fans up at the front.
Grabbing the mic, he turns back to the SP-404, teasing in the intro to Pusha T’s ‘Numbers On The Board’ single, which he put his own spin on with last year’s ‘Cassette 3’ mixtape. Just as his rap is supposed to come in he shakes his head and walks off stage. The denial only builds more anticipation to hear him rap.
Returning to the stage, Jon hits play on the instrumental and throws his middle finger up to the crowd before we finally hear his voice for the first time. “Burn the sage on these corporate waves / They know I’m a sadist, running these rappers’ grills on a lathe.” The clarity in his voice is immaculate and he delivers the track perfectly.
“Leeds, what’s going on?” he asks, finally greeting the audience, unenthused yet confident. “Get your f*cking drinks off the stage. Jesus Christ.” He runs through a number of mixtape cuts from his brilliant ‘Cassette’ series before finally giving in. “Alright, let’s get this shit over with,” he says as the instrumental to ‘Rap Album One’ highlight ‘The Come Up Pt.1’ begins to play.
The unorthodox structure of Jon’s performance perhaps isn’t designed for pleasing the crowd – instead, it’s engineered to keep them on their toes. Unfortunately, this is lost on tonight’s audience members, who are mostly beyond the point of being able to formulate a thought, never mind follow a challenging set. Despite having announced that there was no sound technician and he was going to do his best to handle it himself, Jonwayne delivers one of the clearest rap sets we’ve ever witnessed. He performs a great balance of material from his mixtapes, the album and his background playing instrumental sets at Low End Theory. Although he doesn’t necessarily address the audience all that often, it feels like we are getting the uncompromised Jonwayne experience.
After multiple attempts to escape to the bar, Jon is called back for an encore or some. “Are you really done, mother*cker?” asks Kutmah, who prepares to follow Jonwayne’s show with a DJ set. Attempting to finish up with an a cappella, Jonwayne can no longer put up with Beat Bar’s crowd: “Who the f*ck is talking?” Shut the f*ck up. I don’t care how drunk you are, I’m probably way more far gone than you, but I still have discipline.”
Fans engrossed in the performance begin shouting towards the back for others to quieten down, causing the opposite of the desired effect. “No, I can’t do it,” Jon decides before leaving the stage and the awkward crowd behind. “You guys won’t shut the f*ck up.”
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Words: Grant Brydon
Photo: Nathanael Turner