Javon Johnson

It doesn’t seem like that long since we’ve been covering Javon Johnson, and maybe in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been, but we’ve definitely featured him a lot. During that time, we definitely wanted to get at him, but we were a bit tepid to ask for an interview. It seemed like he was always creating, and we didn’t want to mess with any creative flow he was working with. But when we caught word that a new album was coming soon, we had to finally reach out.

What we got back was an incredibly personal, rich, and dense look into a man whose self-awareness and drive are seemingly unrivaled in a lot of what is being covered in music these days. It’s one of those talks where we’re sure a follow-up will eventually come. But in the meantime, pay close attention to Johnson’s rise, and pay even closer to what he’s saying.

It seems like in your music there’s nothing you’re afraid of speaking about, whether it’s personal or societal. Where do you draw this approach from? Seeing your openness is so refreshing.

I’ll have to go back to being in the 8th grade and 8-mile coming out on VHS/DVD. I never had any thoughts of being an emcee at that time, but seeing the ending battle when ‘Rabbit’ embraced his flaws proved how invincible Eminem truly was in real life. How can anyone make fun of what’s true about you and your self-awareness of yourself and your life?

That’s my stance on hip-hop, art, and life in general. I just think that there is a fear of people admitting that they have flaws. It’s scary really.

Related to that, is there anything you won’t touch, or is there anything you haven’t quite figured your way out around yet in the writing process?

Oh no… NEVER. I have too much shit to discuss, and so many different topics that I have in the chamber currently. I’m just very secure about what I discuss now through sound and etc. The main thing for me is learning how to setup the listener, and deliver my focus directly into conversational form. The journey is the conversation, so it could turn into anything I’d like. I like controlling every measurement and to make sure I’m into the sounds complete personality. It’s all based on what the sounds tell my mind to say.

I look at it this way: Rhyming is basically the brain getting off its own personal shit. The brain doesn’t have a mouth of its own, so it’s our job to discover the focus and the personality of the mind’s words and delivery. If I’m crazy, then yeah… I’m crazy but that’s how I see it.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself though. Your stuff started popping up on Soundcloud around two years ago. We’re not sure what preceded this, or how much did, but what prompted the scales to tip towards focusing in on your art?

At first it was me writing myself out of homelessness when I would find myself thinking negative about life. I never knew anything about breath-control, cadence, or anything. I just knew how everything sounded in my mind. Having no studio access and etc. got in the way of the early stages of my style and focus, so I always kept it moving. Relationships after getting off of the streets affected a lot of my growth as well because every time I would meet someone I would stop believing in the power of where my words could take me. People doubted it, pulling me off track – the whole nine.

I won’t ever blame anyone for my setbacks or tribulations, but a lot of it was me not believing in my voice or style as well. Allowing people to say these things, and actually believing it myself, pulled me back. Taking it serious came when I had no other alternative… Mid 20s, not old yet… something had to shake.

So I met a site through a friend I knew and gave it a shot again. Paid for studio-time and everything a couple of times. I didn’t have a laptop or a computer, so I had people controlling my soundcloud and etc. I just discovered soundcloud last April, so that should tell you how out of touch I am with technology. Couldn’t check emails or anything. It was all bad luck for me, so now that I finally have the opportunity to create at will, I do so the exact moment I get an (idea-flash).

People who follow you, and even those who don’t closely, know of how difficult things got (especially after the first Pigeons & Planes piece). While things may not be 100% solid now, they seem to be looking up. How’d you come through the difficulty? Was there something that clicked that turned things around for you?

Me being posted on that 5-on-it column really fixed a lot in my mind. “Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston” was my do or die. Meaning that if nobody jammed it while I was going through what I was going through then I was looking to take myself out. My relationship got so out of control because of many things we were going through and many mistakes I felt I had made at the time. People changed the minute it (the piece) came out, and now I’m lost as hell a lot of times. I said that would happen though, before it came out.

It really isn’t 100%, and I don’t think it ever will be. I just want whoever to fuck with me to fuck with me. Bottom line, I’m trying to save my life in the process, and I don’t think people respect that nature of the things I create.

To go back to your roots a little bit, sometimes your twitter feed drops huge amounts of history about the Houston hip-hop/rap scene. Sometimes I get stuck in a rabbit hole checking out your references. Who were your Houston go-to artists growing up and coming up?

Scarface, K-Rino, Slim Thug, Lil Keke, H.A.W.K., Pimp C, Devin The Dude, Trae, Z-ro, and most of the S.U.C. (editor’s note: Screwed Up Click – in case you don’t know).

I think it’s important to know how huge the impact of Houston hip-hop is because Rap-A-Lot is the most successful independent hip-hop label in the South – definitely the most powerful and respected. Being a child growing up, hearing the confidence in the emcees voices, telling our stories their own ways helped me a lot coming up in the city. Everybody had different styles. Scarface happened to be the most feared lyrically and like myself (even though I’m not diagnosed), he had a few screws loose. I think one day, Houston will get its credit for everything it did for the South, but it won’t happen anytime soon. Finally getting older, rhyming for some of my favorites and gaining that respect helped boost my confidence, too, because the O.G.s of Houston hip-hop still want to see us shine. It’s just difficult to do so in many ways.

Now that you’re in the Dallas area, how has the creativity or inspiration changed? Or has it changed much?

Dallas is what’s helping the process honestly. Based off what I’ve went through since last spring, I can honestly say that it’s helping. I can bust out a song in thirty minutes, including the hook. I’m still not familiar with the city of Dallas, but it definitely inspires me because I’m not in Houston stressed out, smoking cigarettes, trying to find a way to record, or nearing insanity because I can’t get my thoughts out.

By no means am I saying life is good because I’m in Dallas but it could be a lot worse than what it is now. I know how it can get. I can find inspiration anywhere man, honestly… Just give me a pen, a mic, garageband, and I’ll give you an experience regardless of where I am. Making art is what gets me through each day. It pulls me away from my stress/troubles. The world is a cruel place, so I try ignoring it with working on a way to become immortal eternally. Stacking up the vault just in case.

One thing that I love about following you on social media is how when it comes to the industry you show a lot of respect regardless of what subgenre an artist might fit into. Does it seem like there’s more of a community aspect to the music now where there use to not be one as strongly, especially for up-and-coming artists?

Growing up listening to EVERYTHING from gospel to country. I have an open ear for anything that’s out, and I can give anything a chance before being ignorant and following public opinion. Before last year, I never allowed myself to listen to anything current (still selective), but I had to shake it. Artists get chances of a lifetime now due to our hip-hop community. Some people are blowing up quicker, and it’s understandable, especially now.

Most importantly, people are only gonna put energy behind things that they enjoy the most, and if you pay closer attention, you can learn from the ones in the bigger situations.

People should begin learning how to listen to music first – having cassette players made you really understand the passion an artist had (unless you fast-forwarded). Keeping people’s attention is harder for different kinds of artists as well, so I take that into consideration when I listen to anything new. If you can’t keep my attention when I listen, you’re doo-doo.

We’ve talked some about making it on your own in the industry these days. For me, independent hip-hop and rap were kind of the first musical medium to fully embrace the digital age in a way that isn’t so different from how punk and hardcore would get their voice out in the early 80s. Is there any advice you’re willing to recommend to those trying to navigate the system?

My li’l era… 2004 Madvillainy dropped, and it was a HUGE internet thing. This is AOL dial-up days

I mean… I felt the invincibility of it then. It’s a strong thing I believe. As an artist, If you can see the music as a complete package (artwork, direction, etc.) while you create it, and have the small squad that can reflect that, you don’t have many limitations other than politics. But even that doesn’t hold up if the product is undeniable quality.

Showing the people over telling them is the best way to work in the digital age. Technology = Prove it. And you can’t slip up; stay strong and focused. Numbers and followers don’t mean shit in this game.

Almost wrapping up, but if you listen to work in chronological order of release, there’s a thread, but the quality of work just outdoes itself each time. I know you aren’t complacent, but it seems like you’re settling into more of a rhythm. Is there a particular way you got there? And how much would attribute to your collaborating partners as well?

Jonathan Tanners, I think he is helping me a lot more than he believes. He told me early on “don’t think.” I’m like “What?” I was asking people what they thought that meant… Just trippin’ out. I get it now though, and he was right. I just let the pen loose at this point.

My collaborators help me with everything because we’re all painting together. Yes I feel it inside of me when I hear sounds. I see colors; it’s weird, but it happens. My homies/producers create beat names, and I try to challenge myself by staying on topic with whatever they named it (laughs) instead of just rhyming.

I’m beginning to connect on a different level, and I’m still learning my ear, learning everything. I’m pretty sure I’m reaching that power. I can feel it in my soul.

Finally, the new album is (almost) out. You’re not one to rest, but will you give yourself time to (at least a couple of days), or are you going to continue with your pace? I guess, what do you think is up next for you?

Windows Media Player will be out, and I probably will be working because music is all I have. The life of a loser (laughs).  I probably will break for a week or so, but I always wake up to an idea or new way to strengthen my ability. I’m going to juggle a few options, just stay on the grind, and hunger to learn more about everything, including myself. Working on getting my family started and together again. That’s always a hope, but we’ll see what the universe has in store.