Wesley Johnson—AKA WesdaRuler—knows the highs of artistic and personal fulfillment and the deep lows of struggle and burden. Which is to say, he’s like most folks. Ocean Drive is more than likely the first exposure the world at large will have to Johnson and, coincidently, it’s no small matter that it’s on Ocean Drive that we find him most exposed. The Athens, Ga., beatsmith has spent years making his distinctly idiosyncratic music which has included time spent making headphone heavy boom bap to collectively conscious psychedelia. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that his voice was ever heard on his recordings and it surprised so many longtime listeners that he was asked more than once who the MC was. Once he unleashed his lyrics, though, there really was no turning back. Although deftly skilled in the lab and a solid producer for multiple collaborations -- neither of which have slowed down or show any signs of receding from his heavily scheduled calendar—WesdaRuler is a man, paradoxically, transitioning while arriving.
Ocean Drive is a journey across the full breadth of Johnson’s inner dialogue. His role as son, husband, and father are all explored in loving detail and confessional honesty. His alternating desires to bring the party or hibernate are on full display. For the most part, though, his ministrations are self-facing. Ocean Drive is imbued with both themes of escape and promises to stay. More than once it dips down into the territory named by 16th century poet and mystic St. John of the Cross as the dark night of the soul, but, significantly, it doesn’t stay there.
But what of the tunes? Ah, yes! There’s the bedsit De La Soul-ism of “Stay At Home,” the get-up-and-go dance floor mechanics of “Let Da Music Play,” and the Lyricist Lounge groove of “LoseIt4Tonite.” The central theme of Ocean Drive, though, is encapsulated on the affirmative declaration “Get Ur Ass In The Car.” Johnson is addressing himself but making his promises public. He’s true. He’s there, he makes time, and he suffers silently but recognizes that at some point this becomes indulgence. He is, in short, wide awake. And while Johnson cuts his own artistic and stylistic swath, Ocean Drive is a no less transitional and transformative piece of work for the artist himself than Marvin Gaye’s 1971 LP What’s Going On. Just like that landmark album, the title of which is both a question and statement, Ocean Drive works on two levels.
Indeed, what is an ocean drive? It’s a path cut between the landed wilderness and the endless deep. On one side is the hard work of survival, civilization, and responsibility. The other, is an opportunity to be free from worldly bonds. The choice had beguiled mankind since he knew there was a choice to be made. To this end, Johnson chooses the struggle. His acknowledgement of its hardship, and that no matter which way the wind blows he’s committed to his internal compass staying true, doesn’t mean he’s not completely in love with life.
Indeed, he is. As noted, this record is transitional and transformative, just as is the setting and rising of the sun. And no matter the midnight Johnson works through across these eleven tracks, on Ocean Drive one can still feel the breeze and fresh air. It’s an album for late night listening and resolution-making but the time of day doesn’t really matter. Ocean Drive is a state of mind that Johnson tried to keep pinned at midnight but, as it turns out, his honesty, vulnerability, dedication, love, and truthfulness to his own art reassures the listener that—through it all—the whole thing is happening just about an hour before sunrise.
- Hip-hop & Rap