Photo Credit: Sebastian Olaya @gio.vaun

First Look Friday: DMV Rapper joony is on a Mission to Be Bigger Than Drake

For our latest First Look Friday, we kicked it with joony to discuss his latest album Pretty In Black, imagining a world without PinkPantheress, and why he thinks he can be bigger than Drake.

joony makes music like he’s playing Minecraft on creative mode. Originally, the Maryland rapper wanted to make beats, but fell in love with the process of becoming a conductor, locking in with his producers to translate the crazy compositions floating around his head into a tangible record.

“I'll call in a guitarist and I'll call in a pianist and I'll call in a producer, and we'll just be jamming out and I'll just hum something and be like, yo, bro, can you play this on the piano?” He said. Then I’ll hum something for the guitarist and have him mimic that, and the process keeps going from there. I use the musicians as my tools to make the song. So instead of me making the beat on Pro Tools, I'll just get a bunch of niggas that actually play the instruments and tell them what to do.”

It’s a luxury that at one point joony didn’t have. Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, the 22-year-old rapper first posted songs to SoundCloud, recording tracks in a closet on his laptop with a decent mic and Garageband. Most of 2021’s Silent Battles was recorded this way.

But over the past year, things have changed drastically for joony. From notching breakout singles such as “Drifting In Tokyo” to being featured on a Billboard chart-topping album in Brent Faiyaz’s Wasteland, the grind from his early days on SoundCloud is paying off.

His life has become faster, evidenced by his friendship with rising star Brent Faiyaz, a fellow chameleonic artist from the DMV. The two met at Brent’s kickback in LA after Brent discovered joony’s music. From there, they developed a creative kinship where Brent has become comfortable with joony, even when he’s tapping in with greatness.

“I remember this one time I was chilling with him in his hotel and he just called Kendrick (Lamar) on FaceTime for advice,” joony said. “I'm like, ‘oh shit, that's Kendrick. Damn he just has Kendrick on the phone.' And Kendrick’s telling him ‘man, just don't let your head get in too much of a particular space. Just let it flow free and just make sure that people around you don't infiltrate your head space. Just really keep it silent and keep the peace within.’ He's just telling him all this shit and I'm just like, ‘oh shit, that's fire.’”

No joony song sounds the same and that’s by design. “Drifting In Tokyo'' incorporates drum’n’bass beats and gives off a relaxed 3:00 AM night time drive vibe, whereas “On Dat Shit” uses woozy beats straight out of the Slayworld playbook, and features joony snarling like a Givenchy draped lion on the mic. “Recipe” sounds like him paying homage to the skittering DMV flow of MoneyMarr and Xanman, while “21”has him interpreting the late great Bankroll Fresh’s flow.

Not many rappers could pull this off, sounding at home on hazy Slayworld beats, Atlanta Trap, break beats, tread, pluggnb and regional DMV flow, to name a few. But joony prides himself on versatility. The elasticity of joony’s voice keeps him interesting, and his willingness to experiment with his sound rather than settle into a formula makes him one of the most compelling artists coming out of Maryland.

For October's First Look Friday, we kicked it with joony to discuss his latest album Pretty In Black, imagining a world without PinkPantheress and why he thinks he can be bigger than Drake.

So I read that you grew up as a skater kid. How did you get into that lifestyle?

joony: You remember those Backyard video games back in the day? So I got this video game called Backyard Skateboarding. And I started going on YouTube and typing in, like, skateboard videos. I begged my dad to give me a skateboard from fucking Walmart or Target or Kmart. And we went and bought a skateboard for, like, $30. And I just started trying to learn tricks and get cool with kids in my school who skated. We started getting better. We started learning tricks. We finally got, like, real skateboards from the actual skate shop, not like Kmart and shit. And then it just kind of progressed. Skating definitely opened my eyes and world up to a lot of culture. It definitely had an impact on my earlier days with music.

So were you an Odd Future kid growing up?

Yeah, bro, I was definitely an Odd Future kid growing up. I was already a skater. So when I found out that they skated too, I was like, "oh, fuck yeah." I remember watching their videos where they’d be in the neighborhood, like fucking around and shit. And that shit shaped my sense of humor. Because you know how (Tyler, the Creator's) jokes were so fucking dumb and shit. His jokes were just mad stupid. But as a kid, I thought it was so funny. Me and my friends started acting like how they acted in their videos when they just be fucking around, cussing at each other, slapboxing and shit. We just thought that shit was funny and cool as hell. So we started trying to dress like them, talk like them, shit like that, listen to all their music.

FYTB” is one of my favorite songs off of Wasteland. I love how you and Brent play off each other's energy and then how the song completely switches once your verse comes in. What went into that decision to switch up the music once your part comes in?

You want me to be 100% with you? I didn't like the record at first. I was like, "man, I don't know how to flow on this." I wanted some singing shit. I wanted some shit like “Rolling Stone” or “Loose Change” so I could harmonize. But he literally gave me a song where it switched to a trap-ass beat right when it was my turn. So I was like, "OK, I guess he wants me to rap."

The other thing that's cool about it is it's almost like an introduction to you. He really sets the stage for you to come in, do your thing with the feature, and then make your name without anything else backing you. It's a completely different subsect to the song.

Yeah, he gave me my own song within the song. I appreciate him for that though, man. I still wish I got to do some singing shit but after I heard it, I was like, "man, this is it. This is the one."

And with your deluxe to Pretty In Black, I noticed how the original album is more conceptual and linear but the deluxe is a grab bag of styles. What goes into the decision to make the deluxe more loose?

With Pretty In Black, I wanted to show people that I could be that conceptual artist that people call like an artist artist. I can give people a conceptual album that the music critics are going to love that could maybe even get nominated for a Grammy one day. I could show people that side of me. But then I like to show people that I like fucking around too. And I like rapping about street shit. I like rapping about fucking bitches and wearing diamonds and shit like that too. It’s fun to flex and just be a young kid.

joony Photo Credit: Sebastian Olaya @gio.vaun

It's very interesting the way that you explain how you want your career to go because you mentioned how you want to do more of the conceptual stuff because, OK, well, this is the stuff that could move you forward in terms of critical acclaim or whatnot, but you also want to make sure that fun side is left too. That looseness helps build a fan base. So it's interesting that you're looking for this balance in between both worlds.

A lot of people think I'm not conscious of it, too. I'm doing that on purpose. I'm trying to be the most versatile guy there is. Even more versatile than Drake. I'm trying to be Drake times two. I'm trying to be bigger than Drake. I feel like I have the potential to be bigger than Drake. And people might laugh when I say that, and people might actually believe me when I say that. I have just as much versatility as him. I got just as much rapping ability, just as much singing ability. I think I could even sing better than Drake sometimes. Honestly, I've been practicing. It's like, man, it's really just a matter of time. The only things he has on me is time, reps and connections, but that’s coming.

You're talking about doing all these different things and you seem to do a lot of tinkering. You also seem really self aware. Like you were telling me, "oh, I didn't like the 'Fytb' verse at first." And then I read an interview where someone complimented one of your songs, and you actually were critiquing it openly, which was interesting to me. How do you keep the tinkering stage away from overthinking your art?

I just kind of got to feel it out because a lot of artists get stuck in that overthinking stage where they overthink to the point where they don't drop for two years or something. When I really like a song, I'll overthink, but to a good point of overthinking. I've never been one to overthink to overthink, because, it's like, overthinking kind of stresses me out, and I try to avoid stress. Once I feel myself overthinking too much, I let it fly. Because honestly, if I'm overthinking about it, it's definitely already beyond good.

Who’ve you been locked in with in the studio?

I just made something with SSG Kobe. I just locked in with Mereba. Me and Jeelel! are supposed to work together soon as well. I’m also working with Manny Wells and the skater Lil Dre. He makes music too.

You and Yeat were in the same SoundCloud group chat a couple of years ago. When you look at his rise, why do you think he's been the takeover artist right now for this new SoundCloud underground?

I think it's because he's original. Yeat is the first person to sound like Yeat. And people just caught on. That's really all it is. There might have been a little bit of marketing here and there, but at the end of the day, without the music or the talent, there's nothing to market. He's just a talented guy, bro. And he's so one of one, from the way he looks to the way he sounds. You could say he sounds like Playboi Carti or he sounds like Young Thug and he sounds like this. But at the end of the day, he sounds like all of them niggas combined, which means that he's original because nobody else sounds like all of them niggas combined. But yeah, bro, we came up together. I spent a lot of time with him. We were riding around LA. Just chilling. I'm so happy to see him go and be where he's at now.

joony Photo Credit: Sebastian Olaya @gio.vaun

You said in the past that people your age in the rap game aren't making as many conceptual albums, instead looking for TikTok hits. How do you feel about TikTok's impact on hip hop?

I guess it's a good thing in terms of people making careers off of it and people can feed their families off of it and people's music is getting heard. Who knows? What if PinkPantheress never had TikTok? Maybe she would have tried to grind on SoundCloud and didn't get nowhere and quit. What if she quit one day and said, "fuck it I'm going to do college." We would have never had PinkPantheress.

What rappers in the DMV should people be paying more attention to?

I fuck with cartiEarss, CartiEarss is super fire. I fuck with BagDat. They rap together a lot. I fuck with Slimegoon heavy. The way he rhymes sounds like a fucking savage. Baby Slime is super hard, JG Riff. Goon, CartiEarss and Riff are my favorites right now.

What’s the rest of your year and early 2023 looking like?

I'm about to drop an EP at the end of the year just to hold people over. And then after that I'm probably going to drop another EP in February maybe. I'm about to go on my own tour in December. I haven't announced that yet, but I'm going to say here first. So yeah, just a lot more shows and a lot more music being dropped.


Josh Svetz is the Reviews Editor at HipHopDX and has been featured in Pitchfork, Spin, Paste and Passion Of The Weiss.  You can find him trying to revive the word “swag” and arguing about Roscoe Dash’s impact on modern music on Twitter and Instagram