Rapper Jon Spreez far from ordinary on new album ‘The Plain’

The Dayton-born, Columbus-raised MC emerges from a challenging year with an excellent new full-length, due out this Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Jon Spreez

On “Signature Shot,” the opening cut off of The Plain, the new full-length from Jon Spreez, the Dayton-born, Columbus-raised rapper briefly exits the atmosphere to float among the stars.

It’s a journey that hints at one of the dual meanings behind the album’s title, which touts both Spreez’s embrace of everyday life within his music, as well as the transition into another plane of existence, the rapper said, owing to a trio of deaths that occurred in short order over the last year and became entwined in the record’s DNA.

“My brother died, a friend died and we lost a child,” said Spreez, a father of two daughters whose wife experienced a miscarriage. “Complications arose, and being in a moment where both your child and your wife’s lives are in jeopardy, it kind of makes you freeze. … But, unlike some people who have been less fortunate than myself, my wife is still here, and we can work through it together. … You keep going. You focus on the forward, and getting through that adversity teaches you a lot about the character that you have.”

Spreez grew up immersed in music  — “There’s video of me playing guitar for my grandparents as a child back in ’92,” he said — but it wasn’t until college that he embraced the form's therapeutic potential, which he described as an extension of a journaling practice introduced to him by his mother.

“My mother came to me and gave me a notebook because I was being bullied at certain points in my life, and feeling certain inadequacies in myself that I couldn’t define as a child,” Spreez said. “And she gave me a composition notebook and said, ‘Write down whatever hurts you, whatever makes you angry. Put it in paper, put it in writing.’ And I’ve always held onto that in life.”

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It took some time for these inner thoughts to surface in the music, though, with Spreez first embracing hip-hop as an educational tool. At the time, the rapper was a freshman at St. Charles Preparatory School. Spreez struggled with Latin, so he would write verses centered on his lessons, which he then recorded onto cassette tapes that he played while he slept. Gradually, over time, the rapper stopped building tracks around his homework and started exploring his inner world, a process that has carried over into recent albums, including It’s Not Easy Loving Spreezy, from 2020.

Spreez said this approach has allowed him to step outside of his anger, his sadness and his pain, which came in handy amid the challenges of this last year, which were further amplified by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Dealing with the stress of the pandemic, and the lives close to me lost over the course of that year, I felt fortunate that I at least had a way to express myself,” he said. “Even in the midst of what could be the most trying time in our lifetimes, with the music, I felt like I had a crutch or a safety net to pull me through.”

This isn’t to say The Plain, out on Saturday, July 31, is a dour affair, either, with the rapper, who's in possession of a versatile, effortlessly liquid flow, delving into everything from the fleeting nature of existence (“While I’m Here”) and the beauty of human connection (the beachside “Oahu 2”) to the push and pull exhibited in everything right down to his bloodlines.

“My grandfather was raised on the farm his grandfather slaved on,” Spreez raps on “Die In,” a biographical verse emblematic of the album in that it contains echoes of both past pains and future promise.

“With this album, I wanted to be as open and honest as I could be, but in the same breath I want you to enjoy what you’re listening to. I want you to have a good time. I want you to feel like it’s the season we’re in now and not the season we were,” said Spreez, whose grandfather grew up on a former slave plantation in Valdosta, Georgia. “You don’t want to be too heavy, but at the same time, with art, you always want to make an impact. I’m telling my own story. But I also know, as big as the world is, I’m telling someone else’s story, as well.”