Manchester’s Soup Kitchen was the perfect venue for the final performance of Jonwayne’s sold out European tour. The Soup Kitchen’s live basement is often too crowded and last Saturday was no exception. But it is intimate. It reflects Jonwayne’s music perfectly – humble and deeply personal. This extended to his live performance. Throughout he was true to himself–no gimmicks–true to his music.
Jonwayne deserves praise for coming back from the brink. After nearly quitting music altogether, he has worked tirelessly to establish himself–most importantly on his own terms. He even announced that the tour was an “experiment” for how “pure” he could keep his live performances and still attract an audience. And that the success of the rare European tour was a testament to this.
So overall he has been rewarded for his persistence and his organic style. This of course permeates throughout all of his work. Even the release of ‘Rap Album Two’ on his own imprint Authors Recording Company says a lot. The independence of his work is evident. It is personable and it is a true representation of what his reinvented self is.
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Jonwayne realises that despite music pushing him down to his lowest, it was also his way of building his life again. All the worst aspects of the industry drove him towards a personal struggle. So in his reinvention, he’s identified what he’s comfortable doing. He is still aware of his previous popularity and the songs that got him there. So he appeases everyone and plays them. But he’s not coy about saying he hates performing tracks like ‘Black Magic’ from ‘Rap Album One’.
He opened with ‘LIVE From The F*ck You’. Allowing the first minute and a half or so, to play whilst he arranged himself – almost oblivious to the audience. This relaxed demeanour continued throughout, as he held a mug of whatever, whilst everyone in the audience held their cans of Red Stripe. But his aloofness shouldn’t be interpreted as him being rude or disengaging. He genuinely appreciates everyone’s presence at the gig. He knows it can’t work without everyone. So, for people unsure of who he is and what he is about, he established it early.
The clarity and quality of sound was something to be admired. Live hip hop performances have a tendency to be a loud barrage of noise, especially when a live band is not supporting. You could hear every single word with the clearness of listening to the studio version. Jonwayne wants you to listen. To the extent where he even shushed the crowd to listen to poems he read in between his rap songs. He wants you to give respect to his words like a poet would expect.
The poetry helps a lot. As you in turn pay even more attention to his words when he raps. This was encapsulated perfectly by his encore. He returned to read a poem and then finished with the standout track of his recent album – ‘These Words Are Everything’. So fitting. He blurs the lines between rapper and poet, because he knows that “when [he] die[s], … [his] words will be [his] only thing,”
It would be easy to interpret Jonwayne’s live performance as blasé. He is so laid back he even asked for a chair during the show. However, he lets his words shine. Delivering everything so clearly, it was a perfect public representation of his deeply personal album – clarity sonically and clarity lyrically. So as he casually read his poems saved on his phone, the highlight of which, called ‘Just My Luck’, it’s clear that Jonwayne’s live performance was a gig of firsts. He wants to alter the way you look at musicians generally, but most importantly himself. He provides an opportunity for you to experience an authentic Jonwayne. Leaving the venue, I overheard someone say it was ‘probably one of the best rap gigs [they’ve] ever been to’ – it is hard to disagree.