John Wells and Elijah Who Bake Up a No-Filler, All-Carb Loaf of Timeless Rhymes and Minimalist Beats
Evan Dale // Jan 21, 2023
By way of Baltimore, John Wells’s poeticism is entrenched in experience and authenticity. Honest portrayals of the good and the bad of his upbringing made 2022 album, The Apprehension of John Wells, a coming-of-age tale turned breakout moment for the then young, and still young, but old-souled, and old-school MC. The deep-drilling relatability of his vivid storytelling sets him apart from any member of any stylistic, trend-biting subset across the modern rapscape, striving instead for something more timeless and lasting. As such, his is a sound that relies on the acronymistic pillars of rap: rhythm and poetry at their most structurally sound minimalism, stripped of frills other than those administered by his quick-firing, provocative wordplay. Simple, low-fidelity beats are a natural fit.
By way of Portland, Elijah Who’s production tends towards an instrumentally-nodding, lo-fi minimalism. Sleepy guitar riffs often bleed into digital snares and high hats to illuminate the emotion of simplicity. Delicate keystrokes dance through sampled vocal runs to bring the past into a present that doesn’t discount its foundations. He’s a “chill rap beats” YouTube playlist come to life. An artful reminiscence on grey skies and walks requiring umbrellas feel naturally tethered to an environment like that of his home in the Pacific Northwest. And though his last solo album was in 2021, he’s been releasing singles and working towards something larger, and different. John Wells is a natural fit for that progression.
Together, the two have linked up for a short, albeit certainly far-reaching EP, THAT MUCH BREAD ON ME. From its very onset, it’s a joint venture worthy of both artists’ unique aesthetic angles, and one that though it delves into each of their sweet spots – of which most of theirs are shared – it also pushes each artist towards something more dynamic. Their sound is best described, as it is cleverly delineated at points throughout the project’s length, as Whopac Shakur. It’s not just a clever nickname for their collaborative prowess, it’s also a nod towards one of the best to ever do it, and the legendary fervor and a knack for the oft-antagonistic, always lyrically pervasive provocation that continues to define his impact. John Wells is a fitting torch bearer.
The EP’s third cut, We Ain’t Goin, is a crystal-clear display of the poetic slamming head-on into the purposefully problematic, in a way the Tupac Shakur would be proud of in a modern scene oversaturated with trends, hype, and blackholes of art and honesty. From the moment We Ain’t Goin opens, John Wells is out to cause a stir, and his lyricism – weaving from threats and dismissals to an unapologetic braggadocio –undoubtedly achieves that. But a larger conversation beyond just the lyrical edge he sharpens, where to achieve authenticity and dynamism in the process, is one that must be had. Long story short: most modern rappers would come across corny where John Wells comes across as classic.
And for ten minutes, John Wells is willing and able to take on new aesthetic choices – shorter tracks, where some of his most notorious have instead run upwards of five minutes, a seamless flow from song to song that allows a quick-firing short EP to almost play as one run-on al cut - thanks to Elijah Who.
Ultimately, that’s what this collaboration is all about. For ten minutes, Elijah Who curates samples, and infuses them into delicate, organic instrumentation, and mellow subtleties, for a beat pack that allows a given timeless lyricist to maneuver freely. For ten minutes, John Wells effortlessly flows through braggadocious diatribe after thought-provoking punchline for an EP that propels a listener’s mind deep into the words being rapped, and the golden roots of his stylistic space that defies both the modern scene and any of its preconceived expectations. Real rap, worthy of any era and any epoch, John Wells and Elijah Who probably shouldn’t keep this much bread on them, but the rap game is better off for it.