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John Wells

‘I just say shit how it is, and I think that connects with people a lot.’

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Evan Dale // May 9, 2024

We connected over the phone, but John’s got a way of making any conversation feel personal – and purposeful. Whether cracking jokes and being light-hearted or reminiscing and speaking about how his past influences his process, the Baltimore rapper speaks with a thoughtful presence that transports him into the room. Not premeditated, but always thorough, he elaborates on his path, his city, and what’s next for both as the internet era and a whole lot of burgeoning talent are shining more spotlights their way. With a special dedication for Jayy Grams, here's our conversation with John Wells:

RNGLDR: Let’s start with Baltimore. The city has a broad creative presence, and Maryland at large has been an important cornerstone of rap, R&B, and Soul, amongst a smattering of other music for decades. From your perspective, what sets the city and the state apart as a creative scene, and more specifically, as a hotbed of hip-hop and rap?

JOHN WELLS: I think it’s how relatively untouched our culture is. We’ve seen a lot of success in R&B if we talk about the Braxton family, Dru Hill, Mario, and Brent. However, when it comes to hip-hop I don’t think you could name one person who was born and raised in the area who’s reached a level of success anywhere close to those names in R&B. The culture of the rest of Maryland is extremely different than the culture of Baltimore, whether we’re talking about accent, style, music, etc., so I can’t really speak for Maryland, but as far as Baltimore goes everything is still raw. We haven’t really been touched too much by the larger music industry, so when you see an artist from Baltimore you’re most likely not seeing an industry baby that’s been told what to do and how to act and how to make music, you’re seeing the raw version of that artist. Also, our culture is relatively unknown to people outside of Baltimore.

It’s only just recently becoming more recognizable because of social media, now dancers are doing the park heights strut at the Grammy’s, Drake makes a club album sampling Rye Rye, and kids on tiktok are saying shit like fuckalyoot and saying tewww to imitate our accent. Prior to this the most people knew about Baltimore was The Ravens, The Orioles and The Wire. So, we’re a new, raw thing that is interesting to people who aren’t from here for basically the first time ever, as far as hip hop goes.

My bad for the long answer, I get passionate about that shit.

RNGLDR: What’s the background on the nickname Luckee?

JOHN WELLS: Man, so when I was seven years old, we had a family friend that lived down near the Chesapeake Bay. I jumped in – went for a can opener where you hold one knee but keep your other leg out – but the water turned out to only be one-foot deep in that spot. I broke my femur. The doctor said most people that break their femur in the way I did don’t walk again. But I made it through that, healed up the right way, and am walking now. So, one day, my grandfather just called me Luckee, and that kinda stuck. By the time I got to high school, I figured Luckee was a pretty good nickname, so I just went with it from there.

RNGLDR: You’ve been at it for a while. With tracks on streaming dating back to 2019, you’ve had a lot of time to hone your craft, while still releasing music to the public. But it’s always deeper than that. So, for you, when did you start writing rhymes and rapping?

JOHN WELLS: Music has been a part of my life for my entire life. My parents always thought I could sing, so had me doing it. My grandfather was a singer, too, and people said he sounded like Louis Armstrong. But when it came to rapping, when I first started listening to it, I really connected with the idea that you could just kinda say whatever was on your mind.

RNGLDR: You’ve been putting out full-length collections for a while. But 2022’s The Apprehension Of John Wells feels like it was a particular moment of growth and recognition for you. It reads as a coming-of-age kind of album, where a dissection of your story guides the narrative behind the project. How was it pulling together such an honest glimpse of yourself and sharing it with the world?

JOHN WELLS: A couple of those songs I actually wrote going back even further, like I wrote Jane in 2017. I wrote Out Essex in 2017 too. I wrote a couple of those joints, but No Drugs in Heaven I made at the beginning of 2022. It was a very vulnerable moment with my girl for real, talking about my dad and you know, she told me she had a dream about him.

The thing is, she had never even met him. She had talked to him over the phone one time, but that's about it. In the dream, she said he was climbing a tree or something like that. And she just saw that as like, ‘Oh, he's good. He's better. He's better than what he was when he was alive.’ I, you know, took that and it made me want to make this song where I tell his entire life story from a point of understanding him and not such a judgmental frame of it, because that's kind of all he really got throughout his life.

And I know you asked about the whole album, not just No Drugs In Heaven. I mean the entire thing was just like me trying to explain myself in a way, I guess. Explaining why I maybe am the way I am, or just explaining my story and what's behind all this shit that people see when they see me.

But yeah, no, it helped a lot for sure. Just, you know, me getting that off my chest. It feels good to… it feels good when you can tell people understand you a little bit better. And I think that's kind of the biggest thing about expressing yourself. Getting these thoughts out and shit, it's like people know you a little bit better and they understand – they might understand – why you move the way you move or whatever it may be.

RNGLDR: Yeah. I feel like creating something that personal can definitely be therapeutic or at least a good release.

JOHN WELLS: Yeah, yeah. With that though, I don't know. I mean in ways it's therapeutic for sure, but it's like, a lot of people say that and I never really saw it as that until recently for real. And, like I said, just getting shit off your chest, it feels good. It makes it feel like maybe you're less of a burden in a way, because people know why you are the way you are, or whatever it may be, if that makes any sense. But yeah, I didn't see it like that for a while, but I think I do now.

RNGLDR: Amongst the vulnerability of the album, No Drugs In Heaven is an especially open recount of your father’s own story. And from a purely structural standpoint, it’s 6+ minutes of lyrically immersive rap that most artists these days couldn’t come close to pulling together so fluidly. Do you think your own experiences, and your larger story, make you a better rapper? Or do you think your ability as a rapper allows you to tell your story with more detail and intrigue than others?

JOHN WELLS: That's a tough one. It's yes and no, because it's like, I don't know what I would have to rap about if I didn't have the life experiences that I have. But on the other hand, I know a lot of people with similar life experiences, and they don't express themselves in the same way that I do. And I do think that I obviously have a talent for expressing myself in a way that is compelling to people, but also it's like, I do it in a way that makes a lot of people understand and feel it. So, getting this off works for me.

RNGLDR: That makes sense. I mean, everyone has their own way of kind of expressing themselves or telling their story, whatever it may be.

JOHN WELLS: Exactly.

RNGLDR: That consistent honesty and vulnerability is something that draws fans to your music. You recount those relatable experiences through the medium of your poetic skillset. But that seems less common than perhaps it should be these days. What do you think your unique sound brings to a modern scene, and what could that scene learn about how you approach your craft, that would help other artists create with more depth?

JOHN WELLS: Well, I think it's just the transparency of it, which is something not everybody's built for. Sometimes I worry that I'm not built for it. I'm not afraid to tell the truth about what's going on with me or whatever the fuck. But, it’s very emotional. It's very blunt, I guess would be another way to put it. I just say shit how it is, and I think that connects with people a lot. I think, you know, being able to put your life in a way that you're not trying to fluff it up and you're not also trying to make it seem worse than it is.

It's just like, this is what it is. And I think it helps people understand themselves in ways, you know what I mean? Like, when I put that album out, somebody told me like, ‘yo, like this song and this album, I played it for my dad in rehab and he cried.’ I hate to just make it all about like, ‘oh, we, we need to make progress as artists,’ and shit like that, but you know, this is our livelihood. This is what we do. We want to live off this. At end of the day, we want to live out our lives out of our purpose. It's like, man, when you're just completely honest in your music, it connects so much deeper with people. People can tell when you're, you know what I'm saying, expressing a real feeling and a real emotion because they feel it too.

And it translates and it goes very far. I've had people who, like this was huge for me: someone close to Big Jerm - who was, you know, very close with Mac - told me, like, ‘yo, I listened to No Drugs in Heaven with Jerm and he got emotional over that shit.’ And I'm like, dawg, I'm telling the story of a homeless man, and it just connected across lines like that? It's translating to one of the most important people in music of the last 10, 20 years. You know what I'm saying? And it's like, you can go so far being honest with yourself and being transparent and being, you know, being able to put your raw emotions in your music.

So I think everybody could gain a little bit from that, even if it's just a better understanding of yourself, from just being more honest and being real about your emotions and your music.

RNGLDR: Within the space you’ve carved out for yourself, you definitely draw on a nostalgia for rap’s past, or at least, for its particularly lyrical throughlines. And with that texture, tends to come a lo-fi kind of beat. How did you and producer, Elijah Who link up for your latest EP, THAT MUCH BREAD ON ME? And how did the collaborative process work once you connected?

JOHN WELLS: Elijah hit me like a year ago to do a song. That song just so happened to be, ‘I No Longer Attend Many Social Affairs.’ Well, he sent me some more beats and I was like, ‘bro, I feel like we can make an EP’ So, yeah, from there we made Hit Him Up. We made We Ain’t Goin’. We made Long Live White Boy. And then last one I made was The Fent, Pt. 3 because I was looking for lwhat was going to be the last song on it, because I don't like four track EPs for some reason.

I don't like, I don't like six track EPs either, I don't like the number six for some reason, so I wanted a five track EP. He sent me the beat for The Fent, Pt. 3, and I just sat in the parking lot and wrote that shit. I got that shit out and I went like crazy for like the whole beat.

But yeah, that shit, I like it. It came out very, very fire for me.

RNGLDR: The project is both a structural and an aesthetic change of pace in comparison with your prior collections. The tracks are much shorter – three minutes or less – than some of your marathon rap theses, like No Drugs In Heaven. The tracks also weave in different aspects of your storytelling ability – more braggadocio and heavy-hitting – than some of your more intimate and vulnerable deliveries. How did the length of the project, the length of the tracks, and the context of your rhymes challenge you to create a project with a unique sound compared to the rest of your canon?

JOHN WELLS: Honestly, it came very natural, bro. Like I said, the first song we did was I No Longer Attend That Many Social Affairs. And that was like what I was trying to do with the project. His beats are different than the things that I normally rap on.

And also I did the beat for We Ain't Goin. Overall, these are different styles of beats for me. You know, to people on the outside looking in, they are very similar. They do normally produce a similar sound that people would categorize in the same category.

But at the same time, it was different for me because like I'll normally rap on a loop or even, you know, more like some Steve Lacy-ish guitars and drum samples and shit. So, Elijah's style was different for me, so it brought something different out of me.

I don't know, it just, it just came very natural. And it came out good.

RNGLDR: We Ain’t Goin is a standout from the project, not only for its attention-grabbing lyrics, but for the confidence required to deliver the punches so smoothly. Confidence is obviously a big part of being a rapper, but for you specifically, what role does it play in your ability to make music, and to know it’s what you were meant to do?

JOHN WELLS: 'Man, I'll say this: confidence is something I had to learn. ‘Cause I wasn't always a very confident person. But, over time I figured it out. I became, a more confident person. And that's just life, bro. Like, it's what people see in you, it's what women see in you, you know what I'm saying?

It's all about getting what you want out of life. And you gotta move in a certain way where you know that whatever is going to happen is kind of what's destined to happen for you. So in music I move the same way. When you're being honest, you're just telling the truth.'

'So of course you're confident in what you know is the truth, you know what I mean? So, even when I say some shit like, ‘on LFMB, I’ll fuck a rapper mother...’ that was kind of inspired by motherfuckers pissing me off on some shit,' John laughed, 'I was that pissed off. And I'm confident in the fact that I was that pissed off. I was pissed off enough to say some shit like that. So yeah, it's like, it's necessary in getting a point across just like in a regular conversation. So I do the same shit in my music.'

RNGLDR: You of course just put out THAT MUCH BREAD ON ME on January 19th, so there’s no pressure this. But, what’s next for John Wells?

JOHN WELLS: REDACTED… we just keep moving.

Long live my man Jayy Grams

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