From the moment Joony first put a pen to paper, the 21-year-old artist knew he would make rapping his profession. “I kept saying to myself and other people, ‘I’m gonna be a rapper,’” Joony tells City Paper.
The Silver Spring native began making music in 2014, writing to Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Mac Miller instrumentals he found on YouTube. “I’ve always been planning to be a rapper,” Joony says. “I guess it’s been like that since I was 14.” Joony stuck to his word. In the seven years since, he’s released more than 15 projects and 150 songs. Only a year after he released his biggest album to date, Joony dropped his latest project, Pretty in Black, on May 27, with an emphasis on “all Black. Everything Black.”
While the young artist would be defined as brand new by mainstream standards, Joony’s consistent output over the years earned him the support of many local creatives early in his career. In 2019, Prince George’s County “superproducer” Sparkheem, alongside frequent collaborator Spizzledoe, produced Joony’s mixtape Youngest OG. “[Sparkheem is] a legend in the DMV,” Joony says. “He’s like a checkpoint everybody gets to in their career out here.” The 2019 project amplified the Maryland rapper’s presence throughout the region, labeling him an up-and-comer to keep an eye on.
Although Joony built a sizable following since his Sparkheem co-sign, the release of his 2021 project Silent Battles brought in an avalanche of new supporters. His incorporation of multiple genres on the album—ranging from pop, hip-hop, indie, and R&B—expanded his appeal across different audiences. On Spotify, the versatile artist sees more than 111,000 listeners per month. He’s also been featured in music publications such as Audiomack, Billboard, and Office Magazine, which has only added to his growing acclaim. At less than 30 minutes, Silent Battles also landed Joony a feature on Maryland singer Brent Faiyaz’s Do Not Listen EP (also released last year) and connected him with rising rap stars Kankan and Yeat. Joony has worked with both artists on remixes and several yet-unreleased projects.
Though the 2021 album plays with genres, experimenting with different sounds wasn’t exactly new to the emcee—who’s always used more alternative, melodic, and experimental production in his music—then or now. (A 2018 track on his SoundCloud features him singing over instrumentals from R&B meets dream-pop artist Steve Lacy.)
When asked about his diverse discography, Joony says nonchalantly, “I pick out a beat that’s cool, take it to the studio and let loose.” He’s often inspired to make music by different sounds or situations he encounters throughout his day. Joony kept that same open approach on his new album, Pretty in Black.
“I have a couple songs on the album that have a ’70s type vibe,” he explains. “I was listening to Silk Sonic and I was like, ‘I wanna make some [stuff] like this,’ so I did. It’s really that simple … I really feel like I can do all of those types of music, I just need the instrumental.”
In light of the growing stream of support Joony received in the past year, he believes he’s only scratched the surface of his potential success. “It feels like I’m [still coming up]. It’s not really at a peak at all,” says Joony. “It’s just now settling in that it’s gonna keep getting bigger.”
He admits that there have been some changes to his everyday life. “I just went to the store with my mans, and the [person] who rang me up asked me for a picture when I was leaving the joint. Stuff like that just started really happening more often.”
This buzz led to his inclusion in D.C.’s Broccoli City Festival earlier this month. The organizers reached out to Joony’s team looking to fill a performance slot with a local artist. He performed in between multiplatinum rapper Gunna and Grammy-winning Afrobeat superstar Wizkid’s sets on the main stage. Once Gunna finished, everyone from his stage came to Joony’s mid set.
“It was lit, bruh,” Joony says about his set, elaborating: “It was a lot of fun, man. My fans enjoyed themselves and enjoyed the music live.”
Though Broccoli City marks Joony’s first festival performance, he wasn’t fazed by the new setting—he’s been performing live since he was 15. But he does admit to noticing a couple changes. “I’m more seasoned and polished for sure,” he says.
The performance also sparked even more momentum to the rollout of Pretty in Black. The artist started working on the 11-track project last November. “‘OK, let me start this album,’ it’s nothing like that,” Joony says of his unconventional recording process. “It’s more like I go to the studio when I’m out of town and record, then I go to the studio in another city and record, and when I’m back home I record too. I just record all the time.”
After a few months of recording in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and D.C., Joony sorted through his new music to pick his favorite songs to release. For Pretty in Black, he was recording tracks for five months before sitting down and selecting which songs would go on the album.
Building off his effort on Silent Battles, Joony uses Pretty in Black to fully immerse himself in different genres, but this time it feels even more succinct and thought-out. Each song runs about two minutes, and the project features elements of hip-hop, R&B, funk, drum and bass, dancehall, and Afrobeat.
Joony credits part of his ability to hone different sounds to his newfound access to more professional recording studios. “When you have a nice studio, it gives you more freedom to try some random [sounds] out,” he explains. “It gives you more leeway to be creative because you know whatever you do it’s gonna sound at least decent because you’re in a nice studio.”
The record features a large team of producers, with each song boasting a different beat-maker. A few notable names include CashMoneyAP, Charlie Heat, Young Flavor, Ben10k, and Danes Blood. The project’s diverse cast of producers feeds into its overall variety—every song has the potential to be a stand-alone single.
On Pretty in Black, Joony also improves his songwriting. Most tracks have thought-out intros, buildups, climaxes, and outros, compared with his more simplistic song structures on previous releases. Likewise, Joony’s lyrical content is more serious and reflective than ever.
On “Not Going Back,” he details his recent success, vowing to keep pressing forward rather than settling or regressing in his career. The Rascal-produced dancehall track “Be OTW” has the project’s only feature, with Atlanta-based musician Lily Rayne singing back and forth with Joony about the bittersweet experience of falling in and out of love. Joony identifies “I’m in Love” as one of his favorite songs on the album. “[It’s a] lil’ ’70s R&B joint,” he says, laughing. “This [album is] boutta wake people up, bro, I’m telling you.”
Joony has already released a music video for his single “Drifting in Tokyo,” a PinkPantheress-inspired drum and bass track off the album. The video shows Joony and his friends driving around Atlanta in fast cars. “There were literally cars drifting around me in circles. I almost got hit by the back of one,” he says. “It was mad fun.” He plans on dropping a few more videos for songs on the album as it’s rolled out in the coming weeks.
Although many people are just now tuning in to him, Joony has been persistently pursuing a rap career for more than a third of his life. He’s more experienced than most of his contemporaries, and has a keen self-awareness that almost guarantees his future success. When asked about the title of the project, Joony explains, “I titled [the album] Pretty in Black because it could mean a lot of different things. It could mean like you’re pretty in black, or you’re pretty and Black.” He goes on,“[My girls] are pretty in black, and they’re pretty and Black. I look pretty in black, and I’m pretty and Black. My whole team’s Black. My lawyer’s Black, my manager’s Black, my business manager’s Black, my accountant’s Black, you know we’re all Black. Everything Black.”
Pretty in Black is available on all streaming platforms.