We could sit here and try to put into our own words what Audiobiography is. One of the best hip-hop releases of 2017 for sure, but there is an immense depth to the long-awaited full-length release from Javon Johnson. This is an album that sees the Houston artist shed his usual conventions in order to force himself to take more risks. These are risk that we talked about that act like an exhibit, but they’re really like the whole damn gallery.
This is an artist putting aside the safety of work that is usually conceptual in favor of pieces that fit together closely, but expand the story of the man. He challenged himself while simultaneously going through a lot. And through it all, he put out his best work yet.
We knew that words would probably escape us here, so we asked Johnson himself to shed some light on what went into Audiobiography (a lot). Get the story, and then listen to the full album below.
The move back to the Houston area from Dallas – clearly it’s brought something out in you creatively. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s like you’re at a new level – what do you think brought that out in you?
The move was sudden – I didn’t even know we were moving so quickly. I knew it would affect me, but I didn’t know it would kick my ass psychologically and emotionally. But it definitely did.
The move really pushed me to dig deep and make sure I stayed sharp. I’m learning that the more active I am, the sharper I become lyrically. Having to split with my woman and not know what would become of the distant relationship. It didn’t turn out the best, but it sure as hell made me better, more focused. I just allowed my heart to breathe for itself with this project. It spoke on it’s on, with great detail if I say so myself. Not tooting my own horn or anything, but that shit poured out each time I heard a production that connected to the nerve in front of my mind that sparks the consciousness.
And I’m definitely at a new peak. I’m beginning to step on that second gear a little more. Normally I just half-ass my way through a project and use flow and flashes of my true ability to keep the listener interested. I’m not really spitting yet – I’m just… conversating now for the time being. When the time is right, I will pick it up and not look back… ever (laughs).
And not just musically – do you feel like there have been changes personally as well that have pushed you towards this focus?
I’m finally finding out that people love names. If your name is worth more than a food stamp, people want to be down, pretend to be cool, make up shit, tell you things… it’s all perspective. Like music, your choice as a listener always depends on your perspective. So if you understand life the way someone like Cole talks about it, you can relate and grow with him and his ongoing story that you follow because it’s heartfelt and powerful. Detail comes from pain and hurt. I’ve felt a lot of that since I’ve been back.
I’ve also felt a lot of love from certain people too. People that have been supportive of me since the beginning are proving to me that I matter. That’s bigger than anything, seeing as though I hardly feel that way anyway. The creative process came from me knowing that in the back of my mind. I’m fighting off everything now with that at the front of my mind. Ignoring some of the nightmares that I choose to entertain. It’s a constant battle of being gifted – you’re twisted in a sense. You have to be if you’re good.
Personally, I’m getting opportunities of a lifetime because of music and my message. It really proves that there are real powerful people out there, watching some of us every step of the way. It’s something that makes me feel like I’m dreaming sometimes. You’ll be one of the first people to know if I decide to do something drastic; don’t worry but these past two months have been crazy. I barely answer the phone or check my email.
In a brief discussion about the album, you mentioned your approach was completely different. Did something particularly make you change your approach, or did you just want to try something new for a change?
There wasn’t any more boxing myself inside of the “concept fort.” I call it the concept fort because I normally lock myself inside of concepts to get the tapes done quicker. Concepts actually help out my writing processes a lot honestly. This wasn’t like a tape where I lock down for a few days and drill my mind into a theme, then BOOM!!!! – 4-5 track conceptual EP. It was more, on the fly, connection. If I got an idea after I laid down the song, I’d call my engineer, my sidekick, Lonny Views.
He really makes sure that everything that I create comes out the way it is in my head. The skits I use, the sound effects, the solos, the instruments, it’s more than just the rhymes and the beat for me. That’s too easy. I want to put you there, in my head. I changed the way I think; I let most things fly out.
I recorded with a performance mindset. Sure, I sat down like usual to lay down the vocals, but the performances impressed me more than they ever have, and I’m hard on myself during recording processes. It’s like me and the magic bumping heads with each other – Javon won’t get out of X’s way sometimes. Really healthy competition if I might add (laughs).
I liked how you mentioned this album is like a museum exhibit. You did my work for me because I think that’s the perfect description. It seems like you can bounce from a childhood influence to a modern one with no problem. Is that difficult, or are those thoughts and influences kind of always lingering in the background waiting to be addressed?
There is so much there waiting to be addressed. The best thing about music or any art in particular is that – there’s no certain order that things have to happen in.
I love my privacy. I love the advantages that I have when it comes to being an artist. I’m not an artist at all times I don’t believe. It’s fun to me, and I need to create to live. Sounds funny but you know that I tell it how it is.
Like I was describing to you about it, Audiobiography feels like a museum because every track creates its own atmosphere, its own planet. I’m just the tour guide, giving you the detail and colors I see while I write these songs. Like “nigga.” I see lots of gray. “YOU,” pink… “#1605” army green and black. I paint in a way. It’s always about what feels right to me.
The ammo is there, waiting. Time will help the entire process of me falling into that final form. I’ll be more than ready then.
I’ve got to ask about some songs – first, “#1605” is, I think, maybe your best work to date. Can you just walk us through that a little bit? Lyrically, the way the beats and flows transition, the production… whatever you feel like saying about it.
“Pray for the men buried deep over street credibility, ruthless jackers. Gun packers, sack stackers, about that action. You under the scope, running fast from the laser beaming, keep dreaming, Remington will put you in a deep sleep.”
“I know what the struggle is, I get that I’ve been there, where the cannons fire off without focus & slice through different souls in slow motion.”
Let me tell you, this was one of the last songs I wrote and recorded. I don’t know why Sahmbeau made it honestly. He just told me that he had been watching Belly and made it after he finished the movie. I felt it when I heard it, but it was all so fast. I was trying to wrap it (Audiobiography) up by that next week.
Heard it, locked myself down and ran through a couple of blunts. Shoutout to the homie Bobby for letting us use his Music Room to finish the project too. He was there and heard the beat to “#1605” when I heard it. Another wild recording session where I was sweating from driving and pushing myself to the core. When I started relaxing, it happened. I was amazed by how it came out, but I recorded “YOU” right before it to warm me up for “#1605.” That was a pretty magical recording session.
How about “⸮” Is it a partner of sorts to “¿“? What was sampled on that? Am I right in thinking I’m hearing French?
Anything with a question mark or symbol will be powerful and connect to one another. A statement, things that will follow me to the grave. I cried recording that song. The rain came from it really raining – I write the best when it rains.
I heard the chop while Beau was playing through some records he had ripped the night before. A Man and a Woman the soundtrack is called. I heard her and told Beau I wanted her chopped a certain way. He fixed it up, and I walked around outside in the rain that next morning while the track played. Having those thoughts man, yes, those.
But I typed the rhymes in my phone, in the rain like a dummy, rehearsed outside. Thought of my brother Eric Christopher killing the end, and closing out the album. I went to the music room and let the pain out, soaked with rain. I got chills after I laid it down and heard the playback. Hit up Eric, Eric gets a nosebleed while recording the solo you hear recorded until the project closes. Incredible shit happened man, incredible. That’s normally how magic affects us, huh?
That song is special because I poured myself out into a wine glass for people to sip up. It’s definitely something that I would end my life on. My last song, you know? If we never meet in this life again, this is everything I felt.
Also, if you notice: “Might spotless when I’m caught inside this chronic, mind over profit but still got the feds watching, fuck the drama… I’m special with this pen I’m gripping when I carve scriptures about the system that we living in. It’s my opinion, fuck whoever against it”
I really went deep into my true form on the final track. It’s like, this is what I’m not showing you all. There is something, a switch that is uncontrollable. It snaps, and it bends itself. I can’t describe it, but it came out during that recording session. I blacked out in a way. Very painful song to create.
I was high, sleepless, depressed… you name it. I couldn’t tell if I was still sleeping or awake from being up so much. It had to be made though – that morning.
And it was made.
I like how “The 9th Song” comes to this raw, abrupt stop. Is there a meaning there? Are we going to hear where things pick up on the next full release?
There is something else currently being wrapped up at the moment as we speak. It already has a name, cover, and Lonny is finishing it up right now. Sometimes, I just work out the problems as I go. I really felt it since I was in Houston at the time, and I had always wanted to link with beau.
It’s more-so what I can do over sounds, so that’s why I never get caught up in the production side. I know my ear, I choose what I want, and I put my personality over the sounds. Myself and my boys (From The Shadow) will follow up together later this year. Myself & Suprchnk have Platinum Fubu, so everything will balance itself out. I’m always creating and figuring out that next way to paint with the blood from my mind.
Speaking of next work – we know you’re already working on what’s next – what keeps you going?
The fact that I need to create to live. When I create, great things happen. Opportunities present themselves – I’m no longer the rainman. I’m just Javon, but I do realize that I’m a bit of something else too. I don’t know what it is, but it needs to express itself to sleep at night.
Creativity is top priority for when I’m thinking bad or when I’m in a desert-dry state of mind. It’s all responsible for my day-to-day living. I don’t want to be anything more than a magician. If people don’t respect that, fuck ‘em.
How about the timing – do you think you’ll spread out the releases, let ‘Audiobiography’ linger for a bit, and then roll out the next one? Or are you all thinking maybe a one-two punch?
Audiobiography has to have its time, and then we’ll end up lighting the summer up more with something else I’m wrapping up now that I mentioned earlier. Different kind of shit, no real concept, dark, raw, unforgivable…
Eric is on it with his sax and a-track. His production will come into play with me soon too, keep a look out. It’s just amazing beats and smooth rhymes for the people that have been riding with me for a while now.
Being covered by the local press (Houston Press) after avoiding them for so long. I have a good brother in Brandon Caldwell now in which I feel so bad for steering away from early on (laughs). He pushes me to be greater. He gives me incredible advice, tells me what I need to hear. He understands other than Jon and a few others.
That’s given me a boost of confidence along this path and we’re almost there. It’s all happening so quickly when I think about it.
02.06.2017 / By Joey Smith