John Crown loves to drive, and does so for a living as a garbage truck driver in Kent. "Driving is my crutch," he says while rolling in his green 2002 Chevy Trailblazer. "I got this car in November and it had 82,000 miles on it. It's June and it has 109,000. I just drive, man."
He also likes to talk, an entertaining and opinionated Twitter chatterbox with no filter. But the Tacoma-based rapper considers some things sacred.
"I don't mean to be a dick," he says, pausing his upcoming debut full-length, Coffee & Beats. "But I hate it when people talk over my verses."
Crown does not mince words and it is for this honesty, as well as a precise flow and uncanny ear for beats, that Puget Sound hip-hop heads shut up and listen whenever he drops a new cut. Set for an early July release, the long-delayed Coffee & Beats furthers the real talk and life lessons of 2010's Before I Wake You Up, an EP of songs recorded three years prior. Crown's artistic output is admittedly sporadic, and his main distraction from music is also his greatest inspiration for it: Life.
"I have other things that need more attention than my rap career," he says. "I have a roof over my head and people that depend on me. I have a family. I guess I'm a regular person."
The 28-year-old father of two small children punches a timecard for a well-paying but demanding job to provide a stable household for his family. Though happy with life, it's not easy, and those universal struggles greatly inform his rhymes.
"It's my release," Crown says of hip-hop. "It's like how, I assume, Christians pray to God and let God carry your burdens ... I let the beat carry my burdens."
His lyrical let-go begins on the early morning commute and provides the title for his project, which features production from 253 beatsmiths Mike Weed, DJ Semaj and DJ Phinisey. "I sit there and drink my coffee and listen to beats on the way to work," he explains. "I don't rap about coffee or beats on the whole CD. It's just my life."
Unlike other everyman rappers who come off as uninspiring and all too regular, his music is impassioned and pained but also encouraging. Before I Wake You Up's breathtaking "The Lilly" (which gets the acoustic remix treatment on Coffee & Beats) is the vivid, loving story of an exceptionally tortured soul that Crown finds beautiful in spite of her painful past. New nine-to-fivers anthem "Work Boots" and blue-collar banger "Ridin' Clean" celebrate humble hard work and its rewards: "You spent how much on an outfit? You must care what niggas think / I showed up in my work clothes and I got all my niggas drinks."
Originally from Tacoma's Eastside, Crown's family moved to Kerkhoven, Minn., when he was 13 to escape the gang activity ravaging the neighborhood. He immediately returned to Washington following his high school graduation to pursue a collegiate football career, which was derailed following an arrest and conviction for burglary.
After a nine-month prison sentence, Crown returned to Tacoma with the realist worldview that motivates his life and music today.
"They tell you in school you can be anything you want," he says. "They don't tell you you have to apply yourself and be determined and be persistent.
"I have nine felonies and I have one of the best jobs of the people I associate with. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. Nothing's going to be handed to you."
Especially a rap career. Crown is realistic about his odds at making it in music ("it's a one in 300 million chance"), but he's hopeful that Coffee & Beats will be a strong first step to ending his 10-14 hour days on the clock. He even allows himself to dream big, just occasionally.
"I always told myself if I became a famous rapper," he says with a wry smile, "I would drive the tour bus."