How Baltimore Rapper John Wells Discovered Urgency In Grief

Miki Hellerbach

Miki Hellerbach is a contract music and tradition journalist from…

John Wells with blue jacket

Picture Credit score: Derrick Brown @jpeg.derrick

The newest album from Baltimore MC John Wells is deliberately organized like a movie. The album, appropriately titled The Apprehension of John Wells, climaxes on a six-minute story entitled “No Drugs In Heaven.” The story is informed from the attitude of Wells’ deceased father from the place past the pearly gates as he displays on his habit, regrets, difficult existence, and most significantly pleasure in his son’s breaking of a generational curse. 

The thought for the track was spurred by a dialog Wells had over a 12 months in the past together with his associate. In a second of vulnerability, she revealed that his father would typically seem in her goals. “She was saying every time she sees him in a dream, he’s joyful and he’s higher. Not on medication or something like that,” Wells informed Okayplayer. “I used to be like, ‘That’s ‘cuz there’s no medication in heaven.’ I had at all times pictured the afterlife as an ideal place absent of all that goes on on the earth. Then she went upstairs to take a bathe and I began listening to beats as a result of I simply had the thought in my head. I used to be like, ‘I’m going to inform my father’s total story.’”

The story is a mix of real-life tales and conversations. When Wells was a toddler his father revealed he was going to rehab as a result of he had issues with cocaine. Afterward, Wells would get his hand on a letter his father wrote to his mom apologizing intimately. Utilizing his experiences and that letter as a reference, Wells wrote a narrative primarily based on how he perceives his father’s elevated perspective in heaven. “While you’re not in the actual world, you’re slightly bit smarter and educated,” Wells mentioned. “You suppose, ‘Alright, this was fucked up, however I’m a human being. That is the best way I lived and this isn’t the best way everyone ought to stay. And it may very well be one thing I could make into one thing optimistic quite than retaining it hidden from everyone else.’” 

Launched in December of 2022, The Apprehension Of John Wells’ is John Wells’ good child, m.A.A.d metropolis. It’s a venture that, along with exploring catharsis via sudden loss of life, captures the universality of the specificity of a metropolis and its surrounding areas. As an MC, Wells leaves no element unexposed in a sprawling and guttural show of seasoned rapped storytelling which he fuses with an accent and perspective as Baltimore as a bushel of previous bay-dusted crabs subsequent to a rooster field with western fries and a half and half.

On the opening observe, “The Fent,” Wells raps, “The best way we communicate a few of y’all would name it coded language, however so long as my brothers perceive I don’t do no explaining, bro it’s locations you ain’t by no means going the place we really feel the most secure.” 

The trail to Baltimore royalty

Eminem to Lil Wayne to Kendrick Lamar to King Los to OG Dutchmaster to Butch Dawson, in line with Wells, is the important white rapper from Baltimore’s starter pack of influences. He describes Eminem because the gateway, aka “ the marijuana of white child rap,” however then reveals Wayne and Kendrick to be the sources that solidified his early sound. “I bear in mind going again to previous Wayne tapes and I appreciated the best way he simply felt pure and uncooked,” Wells mentioned. “Like, that is only a common motherfucker, who simply occurs to rap rather well. Versus Kendrick who seems like there’s some accountability in what he says. I used to be looking for that joyful medium. I do have numerous shit to say, however I need it to appear like I’m only a common particular person speaking to you.” 

Then got here the barrage of affect from Baltimore itself from the sleek road imagery on “PSA” by native legend OG Dutchmaster to witnessing a 25-minute freestyle by King Los at a now-closed downtown retailer referred to as PedX to connecting with Butch Dawson’s raps about shifting from Pennsylvania Avenue within the metropolis to Woodlawn in Baltimore County. Early on, Wells himself moved to a county neighborhood referred to as Center River about ten miles east the place he principally grew up. Nonetheless, this collage of references might solely bloom into an opus as soon as it collided with the urgency of grief.

In January 2020 Wells and his good good friend and engineer Scotty Banx met up together with his father outdoors a homeless shelter. Wells had for the previous few years seen very minimal development in his profession as a result of overthinking his rollouts quite than being in keeping with releases. Seeing his father’s decline scared him into persistence. “He informed me they have been about to kick him out and every part felt bleak,” Wells mentioned. “I used to be like ‘Fuck this shit, I’m gonna drop as a lot as doable,’” even when it’s simply as soon as a month. So I dropped a track in February, March, April, and Might of 2020. Then in June, I came upon my father was within the hospital in Florida about to die. My mom was in touch with my uncle and he was telling her it was fucked up. So I took that month and I didn’t drop shit. In the midst of June, he informed me they have been giving him a 12 months to stay so I went to see him on the hospital in Miami with my mom. He died on July sixth.”

Wells, out of necessity, stop his day job at a automobile dealership and took a month to grieve. Then in August, he recorded the Luckee Jordan EP which he launched that September 6, on his birthday. (Luckee is a nickname his father gave him when, as a child, when he absolutely recovered from breaking his leg after docs informed him he could by no means stroll once more.) Upon the discharge of the EP and some accompanying music movies, immediately there was a shift in consideration. “That consistency type of paid off,” Wells mentioned. “I began doing loopy numbers on streaming companies and my shit was going viral on Twitter. I bought like 100,000 views on one among my movies. Then I dropped one other one in October of 2020 and I bought like 800,000 views on that video on Twitter. Folks have been taking discover of me and I had precise followers that have been in search of me to drop.”

Wells put his father entrance and heart on the tape and mixed his lingering aura with an added sharpness from being constantly within the lab. “My dad’s voice is at the start of the final track taken from a dialog we had proper earlier than he handed away,” Wells mentioned. “I knew the time was coming so I began recording each dialog we had as a result of I didn’t have an excessive amount of latest historical past of my father. We didn’t take too many footage collectively after we noticed one another however I wished to have these conversations to stay with him final endlessly. On this dialog, he was telling me how I’ve exceeded all of his expectations and the way proud he’s of me. Like if I hold going, I’m gonna get to the place I must be.” 

Wells heeded his father’s recommendation and used Luckee Jordan as the start of a runway. Fortunately, he had been making music since 2012 when his mother purchased him an $80 mic from Greatest Purchase on his fifteenth birthday. So dropping 20 singles, two mixtapes, and two albums in two years was one thing he was ready to execute. Luckee Jordan was the quick musical response to tragedy, every part from then to December 2022 was sonically determining the right way to course of all of it.

Then, lastly, The Apprehension Of John Wells is a profoundly composed current reflection.

The Apprehension of John Wells

Picture Credit score: Derrick Brown @jpeg.derrick

On his twenty first birthday, Wells went to select up gold fronts at a store within the hood. He was robbed at gunpoint of his pockets and keys whereas he was within the retailer and the employees was within the again grabbing his merchandise. Nonetheless, due to his repute, the story took a optimistic flip. “Twenty minutes later (a recognized native rapper’s) cousin got here into the shop and had my pockets and my keys in his hand,” Wells mentioned. “He was like “My dangerous yo. That shit shouldn’t have even occurred” and gave my pockets and keys again. I don’t need no gun in my face, however typically, I’m good ‘cuz I’m not a dickhead.” 

On the important third observe, “Y’all Some Whores,” Wells raps, “I feel God from Baltimore, I hope after I transfer away the entire world identical to Baltimore.”  Wells continues later within the verse, rapping, “My barber mentioned cease sporting hats or I’m simply gon be Balder-more, I swear the stress be hitting exhausting they pack me up swear y’all some whores.” This exemplifies a quintessential Baltimore jeering session that Wells know is an expression of affection. “That’s simply the best way you work together along with your homeboys,” Wells mentioned. “My boy made this video with me some time again the place I used to be like, ‘What’s up, bro? What are you doing forreal?’ Then he was like, ‘Shit yo able to go beat the shit out ya grandmother, love you shorty be secure.’ I at all times noticed it as like that’s my brother and I like him to loss of life so we will joke like that. Having a considerably darkish humorousness helps with no matter occurs in life. There’s room to chuckle in all of the bullshit that goes on.”

Wells closes the album on the again half of the observe “Tropicana” explaining a phrase his father informed him in his youth “ache is a sensation.” His metropolis taught him to chuckle via the ache and his father taught him that ache too shall cross. Whereas Wells admits it’s “essential to acknowledge your ache” he took the phrase as encouragement that he can at all times suppose his manner via it till it subsides. After his father handed although, simply pondering wasn’t sufficient. He needed to rap like he was operating out of time.


Miki Hellerbach is a contract music and tradition journalist from Baltimore, whose work will also be discovered on CentralSauce, Euphoria Journal, Notion Journal, GUAP Journal, and Complicated. He additionally often co-hosts the In Search of Sauce music journalism podcast highlighting the highest tier work of different writers.