Versatility is a quality that’s become more and more valuable to the modern listener as tendencies have shifted further from albums and towards playlists. It’s now a given for artists to be fluent in multiple styles to please as many people as possible in order to get as many placements as possible. And while the major-label format of ‘something for the club, something for the ladies’ has always existed, it was often seen as a criticism. Now, it’s celebrated, and whether that’s a good thing or not is up to the tastes of the audience.
Often, the concept of versatility is confused with being comfortable enough to make good-to-average music on a variety of type-beats. It’s rare to find an artist that actually feels versatile, where they can bend their own sound to fit different moods and tones while keeping the essence of what makes their music great. It’s why it’s so confusing that DMV rapper Joony hasn’t blown up to mainstream status yet, and why so many that come across him immediately buy into him as the next big thing.
On Joony’s latest album, Pretty In Black, as well as its deluxe edition, he weaves through drumless dancehall, West-Coast breeze, and punched-in street rap like he’d spent years perfecting his sound on each specific sound. In reality, Joony just relies on his endless talent. He takes his ear for melody, signature carefree attitude, and clever wordplay, modifying them to work on whatever he feels like rapping on that day without ever sounding out of place. That’s the best part of being a Joony fan: you always know what’s coming, but you never really know what’s next.
The secret to Joony’s acute adaptiveness lies in his taste. “I like showing my audience that I can do different stuff, but I also actually just enjoy all types of music,” he tells Sidedoor. “I’m don’t [dabble in different genres] just to prove I can. I do it because I like it. If I’m into different types of music, and I can make different types of music, why wouldn’t I just do it?” That wide palette is evident in his creative process, which is constantly in motion and works off whatever he’s into on the day. “I just record, record, record, and when it’s time to drop a tape, I put together all of the best songs. I don’t think of it like, ‘I’m gonna make a tape of all hard songs’, or ‘I’m gonna make a tape of all love songs’. I go through the ones I like the most, and arrange them in a way that makes sense.”
The fluid, ever-evolving way that Joony puts together a record shows in the way that Pretty In Black feels; there’s never a point it feels like he’s settled on a sound, but after a full listen, it runs like an album that logically progresses through each of his musical influences and interests. Joony’s able to do this through working with a wide range of producers, each of which he bends his own style to fit their unique take on his aesthetic. “I’ll get in the studio with a producer, and rap on whatever their specialty is. Sometimes I have a producer with me that makes all different types of stuff, and that’s when I’ll go off what I’ve been listening to and we’ll make some shit like that. We go with the wind.”
The way that Joony works with producers allows them to push him artistically by continuously challenging him to work in new musical contexts, keeping things fresh and constantly making him better along the way. That process extends to his collaborators, especially Jordan Ward, who shares a similar affinity for smooth, slick genre-fusions and who he collaborated twice with this year on Pretty In Black’s “ZOOM ZOOM” and Ward’s single “IDC” off his forthcoming album ‘FORWARD’. “Jordan is my twin, man.” Joony says. “I’m in love with his sound. When we linked up, I immediately had this feeling that he was my equal in every way. He’s actually so good. When we’re in the studio, he’ll be working, and I’m just admiring it even if he thinks it’s ass,” he says with a laugh.
The way that Joony makes music carries over into how he performs it, something he learned himself after embarking on his first tour this year. When asked about the similarity between putting together an album and a live setlist, the artist made a different comparison. “It’s more like making a playlist than making an album”, Joony says. “You have to tweak it based on the crowd, the location, the feel of the show itself. My setlists are almost never the same twice, man.” Within the tour, Joony also got his first chance to learn how the dynamic of his records change when put in front of a crowd. “I got to learn which songs have a more live energy and which ones are more chill. It felt like I learned the playing field.”
With how successful he’s been in the last few years with the current way that he goes about his career, it would be hard to blame Joony for switching up his routines. That’s never been his ethos, though; and as he continues to grow in popularity, he’s looking to zero in on new ways to create. “People around me are always asking me to really sit down and make an album album, where I just lock in and make a bunch of songs tied to a concept or a theme. They want me to make My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a magnum opus,” the rapper says with a chuckle. “I’ve always shied away from that in the past, because it didn’t feel like the right time. I wanted to make something like that when I had the time and the resources. 2023, man, it’s starting to get closer to having the budgets for something like that. So I’ve started approaching it more and more in that way, focussing on making a body of work instead of just putting together my best songs.”
Expecting Joony to stick with one way of doing anything would’ve been foolish considering everything he’s put out so far. It’s what made R&B superstar Brent Faiyaz believe in him enough to cosign him repeatedly and put him on his latest album, and why SoundCloud legends like Lucki have reportedly been working with him as of late. It’s that magical touch that turns everything into chilled-out gold, spurned from a freewheeling process that prioritizes creating something in the moment over an over-analyzed attempt at checking critical and commercial boxes. True versatility is hard to come by, and Joony’s figured it out before he’s old enough to rent a car. There might not be an artist that’s a safer bet to blow up in hip-hop music today.