What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question every kid is asked a million times. As you grow up though, people stop asking it. It’s almost like once you hit high school or college, you aren’t allowed to dream anymore. This is exactly the question Johan Lenox returns to in his upcoming album, WDYWTBWYGU.
The Massachussettes-born singer, songwriter, and producer has been on the come up for years, and this project, set to release May 13th, is a culmination of his learnings and experiences up to this point. It’s a hip-hop album with a classical twist, full of intricate production, introspective thoughts, and impressive features.
Coming from a background in classical music, Lenox attended the Yale School of Music, and originally had a successful career as a composer. He hadn’t given any thought to making popular music until 2010, when he was introduced to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Since then, Lenox has been releasing his own music, blurring the lines between hip-hop, pop, and classical, and creating a wildly dedicated fan base.
His history in composition has given him a significant leg up in his mostly-self-produced music. The whole album was written in sheet music and produced with classical instrumentation. His ability to create immersive soundscapes with captivating melodies and harmonies has allowed him to stay true to his classical roots, without a need for guitars or synths, which show up in almost all popular music these days. His use of string instruments is unlike anything you’ve heard before, and it’s something that makes his music instantly recognizable. If Mike Dean is the ‘Synth Goat’, Johan Lenox is the ‘Strings Goat’.
The project paints a picture of the world ending. While this might actually be the case, it’s not always a topic people want to talk about. The album’s cover art and music videos all seem to show a sky on fire. There’s even a song titled “Burning Sky,” featuring notable Jay-Z collaborator, Mr. Hudson. Lenox struggles with the idea of growing up, becoming successful, and raising a family, because if the world truly is ending… What's the point?
As he phrases it, “it feels like that ‘white picket fence’ thing is never gonna happen for our generation,” so he’s doing exactly what he wants with his life, and he’s keeping it real. Songs like “Don’t Be Such A Loser” explain how he’s tired of playing games and others acting fake. Intentionally worded interludes narrated by his girlfriend discuss the importance of having “Some Sort Of Intent” with the choices we make.
Lenox’s girlfriend also seems to also be the inspiration behind the outro, “Don’t Wait For Me”. The track details his internal battles as an artist, staying up late and traveling constantly, compared to his partner who lives a more normal life. This track hammers home the lyrical cohesiveness of the album. Each song was written with serious thought and emotion. There wasn’t a single verse where he broke off to talk about ‘stacking up cash’ and ‘stealing yo girl’ for a minute, and it speaks to Lenox’s maturity as an artist and as a person.
The quality of the album, from both a production and vocal standpoint, truly impressed me. Sonically, it sounded like something Drake would put out. Lenox’s attention to detail and willingness to re-record vocals dozens of times gave the project character, and it’s obvious how much thought was put into it.
The storytelling element of the project speaks for itself. The idea of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ is something people need to revisit more often, and it was only right to use this phrase as the album’s title.
WDYWTBWYGU is full of hit singles and strong deep cuts, and it’s only a matter of time until Johan Lenox gets the recognition he deserves as an artist. Get ready for the album’s release on May 13th, and hop on the bandwagon before Lenox really blows up. In the meantime, stream the album’s lead single, “You Up”, below.