Javon Johnson is the best rapper that you’re currently not listening to.
Well, scratch that. Johnson is the best rapper that you’ve never truly heard of, yet is one of the rare modern throwbacks in rap right now. Johnson used to go simply by “X” before he opted to use his government name. By that time he’d built up a hefty following on Soundcloud and Twitter, discussing boxing, sociopolitical situations in the city and beyond. In the past year or so, he’s relocated up to Dallas, finally fed up with the drama and toxic situations he continually found himself battling in Houston. He battled homelessness, as well as abuse as a youth on Houston’s East Side, and considered taking his own life at one point. Darkness probably could have been the smallest villain he’s ever faced. The largest one? The man he saw in the mirror every day trying to do better.
Javon Johnson has also never released a full proper album. The best-case scenario for any of his releases is segments of music that lock in and release like a machine-gun burst. I first got hip via Houston Museum of Natural Science two years ago via the now defunct Potholes In My Blog site. He’s always been peripheral, a narrator with one of the strongest senses of detail in rap; every EP has a theme to it. Nothing with him is sporadic or done just for the hell of it. There’s always a gear to twist, a moment to press pause and reflect upon. Moving from sleeping on benches or under freeways to staying warm and staying sane. Whatever anger Johnson packed with him, he unleashed it in a boxing ring — or in his music.
Last week, Johnson released Windows Media Player, a six-track EP inspired by his mother’s 2002 Dell computer. He told Pigeons & Planes about the project, “My life inside of the software. Each song represents a different chapter of me or a lot of things that I’ve witnessed. Besides…I feel like people forget about how important that software was. It changed my life…taught me a lot about song credits and the whole nine. It’s everything I know about life and music blended.” Even the video that comes attached with the project features all six tracks, plus interludes detailing current battles between African-Americans and HPD played to the constantly morphing visualizations.
Even the video that comes attached with the project features all six tracks, plus interludes detailing current battles between African-Americans and HPD played to the constantly morphing visualizations.
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Sonically, Johnson has always kept to jazzy, almost dusty soundscapes. It’s not the organ-heavy drive that Scarface, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean perfected with The Diary, but it's a signature stab of cold and sometimes friendly music. Within WMP, Johnson operates like a phantom, constantly watching and observing the lives of outsiders and pairing it with his own trauma. Arguments from Fox 26’s Angela Box and Quanell X bookend Johnson’s poignant verse on “SATAN,” where he admits to terrorizing folks “like the Klan and the officers."
What he wants people to realize is that he’s pretty much like any common rapper, boasting about his prowess in the booth (Michael Jordan + Steph Curry from half-court comparisons) while also addressing the world around him. WMP standout “A Story About a Hustler” features Johnson going third-person, detailing the life of a man accosted by life and pushed to the side like he’s worthless. He slinks into his own story, aware of how the world operates around money and gratification over some sped-up guitars and some angst provided by "From the Shadow."
At 17 minutes, Windows Media Player clocks in shorter than a Simpons episode and more gripping than a Goines novel. Johnson’s timeline jumps all over the EP, from being 19 and scared shitless about his next steps to discussions with a doctor, fictional or not, about acceptance. Even if his face and mind-set are normally shrouded from the public, Javon Johnson says a lot and still has a bone to pick with HPD, just as does any other citizen who's seen far more black days than shiny ones.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
BeatKing, “Shot O’Clock”
You thought BeatKing wasn’t going to approach the summer with a song about being completely reckless? No need to count the items of debauchery listed on “Shot O’Clock." If there were ever an Animal House remake about PV, BeatKing is John Belushi’s character and that’s it.
Charge It to the Game, “Charge It to the Game”
We’ve had Third Ward Goofball Fat Tony. We’ve even seen brief moments of introspective, “my Nigerian parents don’t agree with my rap life” Fat Tony. Charge It to the Game Fat Tony is essentially him rapping as hard as possible and standing over your grave while doing so.
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Maxo Kream feat. Joey Bada$$, “1998”
Imagine growing up in 1998 wondering how nostalgic people 18 years from now would be about the era. Maxo Kream is retro for rooting for Nintendo 64 in the console wars, rocking FUBU jerseys and letting the world know he was a badass forever. Joey Bada$$ raps like his only analog dates back to the year of his birth. They’re a perfect match.
Stockz, “Pickin’ Em Up”
Love as a young man has always been one of music’s best subjects. Stockz is trying to juggle love and life in Los Angeles these days, and “Pickin’ Em Up” is a complete detour from his older work. It’s more hazy Devin the Dude than cocksure twentysomething rap.