When Vinnie Dewayne left Portland for Chicago in 2016, he departed his hometown as the St. Johns Scholar. Now, he's aiming for a different title.
"I feel like that's kind of what slowed me down in general as an artist," says the 27-year-old rapper, who now releases music as V. Dewayne. "Trying to be the image of the scholar and stuff like that, instead of just giving my raw truth and my raw self."
Two years ago, Dewayne released his debut album, The St. Johns Scholar, titled after a nickname Dewayne was given after he left his native St. Johns the first time to attend Columbia College on a full scholarship. The album cemented local hype building around Dewayne as a lyricist who's both autobiographical and universal, pensive and hard-hitting. Loaded with moody samples, slice-of-life verses and backpack-purist production, the album was heralded for being painfully candid. But Dewayne says that reception came with a certain pressure.
"Just trying to be, like, this positive image all the time," he says, "and my lifestyle isn't really too positive."
Related: Vinnie Dewayne Is Leaving Portland
Dewayne is currently working on a new album that he hopes will shed those expectations. This week, he'll test out some new material at a homecoming show celebrating local hip-hop showcase the Thesis on its fourth anniversary. The currently untitled album, which Dewayne hopes to release in the first quarter of 2019, will be heavy with bass, trap production and more of Dewayne's windy, rapid delivery. "I'm going to put it all out there," he says. What he's putting out there, though, isn't exactly concise: "It's different putting it out there rather than saying it."
The album's release will mark the end of one of the longest gaps in Dewayne's previously prolific career. The St. Johns Scholar was Dewayne's fifth release in four years. His untitled album will be his first in over two years. The hiatus was mostly forced. "It had a lot to do with my friend who passed away and going into a dark place, not focusing on anything besides the grief I was in, trying to make money and stuff like that," says Dewayne. "That took my mind away from what was really important."
On Dec. 10, 2016, Dewayne's childhood friend Zachary "Grump" Nold was killed in a car crash. Dewayne chronicles his life after Nold's death in "Losing Direction," the first single off his next album. Dewayne raps about mixing Oxycontin with Patrón, and losing friends in his hometown and money at casinos. Mixed in with the deep bass and vibey synth is the voice of Dewayne's cousin Tee Tee from a conversation Dewayne recorded after an altercation in Portland last year. "It was like a fight that happened," says Dewayne, though he won't say with whom or about what. "I was just mad about it, I was just in a really negative space about what I wanted to do about that, and she was trying to draw me away from the thing I wanted to do."
Even though they aren't Dewayne's own words, the sample of his cousin's voice feels like the most unguarded part of the song. "You're not loving yourself, you're being reckless out here," she says at the beginning of the song. "Grump wouldn't want that shit, because Grump never wanted that shit." According to Dewayne, his cousin had no idea he had recorded her advice until he sent the music video for "Losing Direction" after it had been released. She responded with a crying emoji.
It would be easy to cast "Losing Direction" as a return to St. Johns Scholar form. The production is tighter, the bass is thicker. But lyrically, "Losing Direction" is as much about grief as it is about love for his friend and from his cousin. Still, Dewayne says that with his next album, he wants to deal with both the negative and positive. Sure, it's great if what he has to say resonated with other people. But it would be a mistake to conflate Dewayne's raw, emotional storytelling with martyrdom.
"It feels lighter to put that stuff out there," he says, "to keep being more honest."
SEE IT: V. Dewayne plays the Thesis at Kelly's Olympian, 426 SW Washington St., weouthere.net, on Thursday, Dec. 6. 9 pm. $10. 21+.