"This is the headbanger shit, bro. It's for the mosh pit. This shit is not for you to just wave your arms — you got to punch somebody, fucking rip your shirt off, flip on the stage."
That's what rapper Javan enthusiastically says about his latest single "Geeked Up." He's not wrong either. The song is a good sample of what his output is like: built to knock you in the face over and over. It's almost structured like a punk song off a 7-inch, compressing everything it needs in under two minutes. He moves from the all-out verbal assault of its chorus, to cramming in verses at ultra-high speeds. It's a totally catchy assault, like a machine gun firing out candy into your brain.
Born in Philadelphia but now out of Los Angeles, Javan got his start with other independent hip-hop artists as a young teen in his hometown and witnessed firsthand what it takes to succeed as a rapper.
"It's a crab-in-a-barrel mentality for rappers in Philly, man," Javan says. "You fight so hard to try to do something in the city, and then once you get to that opportunity, people need to get killed before you get your opportunity or get your chance. Motherfuckers will try to fuck your shit up."
It's been nonstop since he's started releasing tracks back in 2018, building up his sound over time to the space it exists in now. His early single "Maybelline" cleverly works in the brand's slogan to a personal experience with a girl. It's undoubtedly catchy while incorporating a real story. Fast forward to this year, "Fresh Out" is an ultra-poppy autotuned jam about getting to party after quarantine. It's music was heavily impacted by his experience as a skateboarder, getting into crazy situations and wanting to have a good time.
These experiences came to an apex last month when Javan hit the American Wasteland tour with punk rapper Nascar Aloe and the rest of the Deathproof Inc. collective. It's a group that makes total sense for Javan to be a part of, each member incorporating hip-hop, punk and skater attitude all into one aggressive vision that feels like the start of something big.
"Nascar, insane performer, and just being around that type of real-ass energy, nobody's fucking trying to be anything but themselves 100 percent," Javan says. "We get into so much wild, crazy shit just us as a unit, like, not even with any outside variables. It's just the perfect skate-punk-rap shit and this is exactly what the fuck I was wanting to do forever."
WHAT WAS GROWING UP IN PHILLY LIKE?
It was half and half, you know. I grew up in this area where it was a predominantly black neighborhood but nicer than, like, the fucking gutter. But a lot of the people there were from the hood, so if I went to the corner store or something I had to deal with people on the block selling weed, people fighting and doing all crazy shit. I gravitated towards that when I was in my early teens. I would go skate downtown with all the white homies — it was a melting pot downtown. I would go back to my hood see my mom. I come from a good family, my mom was always in my life, my grandma, too, but I would go to the block and then do hood nigga shit, so it was a juxtaposition between the the two. It was weird, but I always knew how to maneuver through it.
WERE THERE PEOPLE IN PHILLY THAT GAVE YOU GUIDANCE GROWING UP?
Yeah. When I was younger, my homies were the Bakery Boys. They were a rap group, a bunch of my older homies. And just kind of seeing them navigate through trying to blow up and labels hitting them up, this that and the third. This is before hip-hop really changed from the cool-kid. backpack-era type of shit to kind of what it was morphing into now. So it was cool to see them do their thing, my homie Mark Ryan, we got the same birthday but he's 10 years older than me. So he always kept me under his wing, like, "Yo, this is what you got to do." And just watching and learning from their mistakes, and kind of taking that and applying that to my shit. So yeah, I would definitely say the Bakery Boys. There was also my homie Tayyib Ali. He was the first person that I consider famous that I knew — he was on tour with Swayze back in the day, he signed to All Def Digital almost 10 years ago. When Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkin started their All Def Digital shit, he was the fucking signing act to them.
YOU MENTIONED YOUR MOM AND GRANDMA. WHAT WAS LIFE AT HOME LIKE?
My mom had me when she was 41. So she's a little older than the than the average parents, you know. So I grew up real old-school man. My grandma bought her house cash in the Fifties in the neighborhood that I grew up in, around the corner from me. So just coming from a strong black woman — I mean, my mom and my grandma just they lived in the same bed until my mom was, like, 15. So just coming from a background of "I can't fuck up." I mean, I can make mistakes, but at the end of the day, you got to make something of yourself. You can't just squander shit away, you know, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, think about the shit you do before you do it. Those are the things that were always in the back of my head. When I got out to the world, it was easier to maneuver and pick the right thing to do vs. the wrong thing to do, if I do this shit. Wondering, "Am I ready to suffer those consequences?"
MY PARENTS ARE SORT OF SIMILAR. I THINK WHEN YOU REALIZE HOW HARD THEY WORKED AND YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING LIKE ART OR MUSIC, YOU HAVE TO PUT IN THAT SAME EFFORT AS A MATTER OF RESPECT.
Absolutely. You can't just do it and be like, "Oh! Whatever!" You have to go fucking hard, no matter what.
WHAT WAS SOME OF THE FIRST MUSIC YOU WERE LISTENING TO?
Oh man. Everything. When I was in fourth grade and shit, I wrote down the "Jazz (We've Got)" lyrics from A Tribe Called Quest. I'd rap them at school like they were mine because no fucking fourth grader knows Tribe let alone those lyrics. [Laughs] So I can I can definitely say A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye, Jay-Z. Like, my mom was a big hip-hop fan. She watched hip-hop be born as an adult, she can remember that neo-soul era, all the shit before hip-hop, and then Kool Herc and all of them come in and actually start. She can remember the day it hit.
THAT'S RAD. I FEEL LIKE SOME OF THE YOUNG RAPPERS I TALK TO DON'T REALLY HAVE THE FOUNDATION OR HISTORY BEHIND THEM. THEY'RE ONLY TAPPED INTO WHAT'S HAPPENING CURRENTLY. WHICH IS COOL IN ITS OWN WAY BUT SORT OF STRANGE SOMETIMES.
Before I even rapped a single verse or made music, I knew who started hip-hop got started, where it got started. My mom instilled that in me. Originally, she wanted me to play ball, so that was just some shit that she just did, dropping those gems. My mom was a DJ in the Seventies. When I was growing up, I had fucking Numark turntables in the basement. I would go down there, play "Thriller" and "Black Magic Woman" and try to mix something up. I've just been surrounded by music my whole life.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST STUFF YOU WERE RAPPING?
It was the boom-bap hip-hop shit. My homies had the Bakery Boys, and then a couple of the other guys who didn't get in at first, we formed something called the Baked Community. So it was just the whole collective. We used to rap over Tribe Called Quest beats, Wu-Tang, any hip-hop beat that you can find on YouTube. We've done all of them. And then, like, we sampled "Freak on a Leash" by Korn for a song, so big sample-based music. I will say, when I was 16, I stopped making music and focused on skateboarding a lot more and did that until I was, like, 18. Then I had an opportunity to go on tour with some homies and I had to make some new music and I just kind of did that.
THAT'S SICK YOU SAMPLED "FREAK ON A LEASH." WHAT OTHER ROCK STUFF WERE YOU INTO?
The era we're from was when Guitar Hero came out. [Laughs] So all of the Guitar Hero songs: "Even Flow," fucking "Cliffs of Dover," "Raining Blood," like, Slayer, bro. All of that stuff. And then once I started delving in deeper, into that skate punk shit, like, watching skate videos and getting those soundtracks ... Like, "The Separation of Church and Skate" by NOFX. I used to listen to that shit all the time. ... I used to listen to a lot of Megadeth back in the day, Slipknot. I've been listening to Tool for hella long ...
HOW DID YOU GET INTO SKATING?
Skateboarding is my first love, bro. It's the thing that actually kept me alive. No cap. Like, if it wasn't for skateboarding, I probably would be dead or in jail. My cousin lives out in Santa Barbara, we came out, he had two skateboards, He was already doing flips, board slides, jumping down stairs, all that. I was like, "What the fuck, bro?" Back home I had a little Yu-Gi-Oh board and was like, "I can't Ollie. Why the fuck can't I Ollie?" I knew if I just had a regular board, I know I could do it. Then, like, a week or two before we went to Santa Barbara from Philly, I met this kid because I lived across the street from a church, so in the parking lot of the church, kids used to skate because it had these little banks. We would fucking share one board — his board, which had real trucks and shit. Then I went on the trip and my cousin had two, so he was like, "Here's one for you, and we'll go skate." So we skated one day, and then he had to go back to his mom's house, so for, like, the week that he was in school, I learned how to ollie at the skate park and then I tried to do a kick flip and fucking got credit carded. So, just that experience of being in Cali for, like, two weeks, having seen what the fuck this shit can be. And then going back to Philly, ever since then I just practiced.
NEVER SKATED BUT I STILL HAD TONS OF SKATE DVDS FOR WHATEVER REASON. I REMEMBER HOW INTERTWINED MUSIC AND SKATING COULD BE. GETTING INTRODUCED TO PHARRELL AND THE NEPTUNES ON THE ICE CREAM DVD.
Yeah, bro, or like "Fully Flared," how they had the actual scored that intro. That actually really made me see that, like, yo, if you love something, don't let motherfuckers tell you that it's out of your reach. You just got to you got to make it work. You got to figure out how how they did it and then take that formula and just tweak it. It's what motherfuckers have been doing since the beginning of time.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE IS THE THING THAT SEPARATES YOU FROM OTHER RAPPERS OUT THERE?
It's the foundation I have for music in general. I forgot to say this, but my great uncle was a drummer in the Duke Ellington Orchestra — he taught me how to play well so my great uncle teaching me how to play drums at nine and knowing the foundations of how a song works. Carrying that into what I do now helps because, if you don't have a strong foundation, eventually what you do will crumble. I've also got a solid performance foundation. I've been performing since I was, like, three years old, so I used to do plays, musicals. I went to an art center for eight years, so being onstage in front of people, in controlling the crowd, I could do that no problem. And finally, a solid foundation in my homies and myself, bro. Like, the homies that I surround myself with now, bro, it's not it's nobody like us. Deathproof is one of a kind. ... Just the people I've surrounded myself with, that shit is really crazy.
It's changed my whole outlook on music. It's damn near change my sound. Just surround yourself with good people. Good artists, too — like, I don't listen to nobody but my homies so I only get influenced from people who are influenced by me and other homies. So, you know, creating that ecosystem is creating a new sound and new genre, damn near. I don't necessarily want to be that guy that's like, "I'm so different from everybody else." I just want to fucking make good music from that I'm proud, that my friends are proud of, and that people digest, and if that's how it happens, I'm content. I just wanna be the best me. Once I stopped caring about what everybody else does, like, who the next person is and what the fuck they got going — instead, I'm really just tapping into myself.