John Itiola | Performer
John Itiola, also known as Wordsplayed, is a performer, entertainer and rapper based in San Diego. John Itiola has released three solo albums, and collaborated with Andy Mineo on a chart topping record in 2017. John has emerged as “one of the great riddles of modern rap music” – due to his whimsical lyricism and development of the (self-coined) “indietrap” sound. As a performer drawn to comedy, John’s music often features a satirical element, and he consistently pushes his work to new limits and mediums. Over the past year, John has created an incisive self-help and business coaching platform (through Patreon) that takes a coy look at modern society and entrepreneurship. Known as The Circle of Trust, John’s platform requires followers and subscribers to be in on his joke – and to be savvy enough to laugh along with him. We’re excited to feature John here, wearing our Kodachi Windsor frames, and speaking about what inspires him in his work.
What originally drew you to your craft? Was there a particular experience or personal calling?
Growing up I was the perpetual class clown, but I was never disrespectful to my teachers or peers. I think my misbehaviors were actually my earliest performances; and each day I had an audience for about 6 hours. My grades were terrible, I was never a good athlete; but I could make my peers laugh.
One particular incident that I would call formative was when in fourth grade, two fifth grade bullies approached me and took my book bag to dump everything on the ground. I didn’t know it but my little sister had been playing with her Barbie’s the night before and left them in my bag. So of course it was the first thing they saw when they opened the bag, and these guys just lit up, they were ready to roast me even more than they already had. So they make a big scene and wave the Barbie’s around for everyone in our cafeteria. And I knew I was toast. There was absolutely no bouncing back from that. It was the 90’s. So I grab the two dolls, jump up on the table, and I shout out to the packed, curious adolescent onlookers: “Guys I got two Barbie’s, anybody wanna play?!” And the room erupted. Everyone laughed with (and at) me. It was unbelievable. The two guys bullying me were completely deflated. They just walked away. That was when I knew I could work a room. I was a comic.
To what do you most attribute the development of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal education?
My father has been a pastor for almost forty years. I watched him every Sunday for 20 of those years. Our church was in New York City, very charismatic and colorful. I wasn’t aware at the time, but he was the first performer I got to study. How to talk confidently, how to raise or lower your voice at the right times. For him it never seemed to matter who the audience was. He just knew how to be a presence.
I never had a personal mentor, but growing up in New York in the 90’s and listening to hip hop and the personalities it produced was a huge influence. Artists like Redman, Busta Rhymes, Funk Master Flex, Dipset, etc. They were all so charismatic and adored. Watching them was mesmerizing. I imitate all of them still, the only difference is my own textures and aesthetics.
What kind of risks of challenges have you encountered over the years? And did the challenges (or a particular challenge) change your path in any way?
A lot of people get surprised when I tell them I was in the Navy for six years prior to becoming an entertainer. I was an engineering officer. I spent a lot of time at sea in not the most inspiring environments. I actually started releasing music and short videos part time while I was still active duty. I would be up at 0430, on the ship and at work by 0500. Get back to my place by 2000 that evening. Then skate to the studio and be there from 2130 to 0100. It was brutal, but I didn’t feel it at the time. It’s how I still create. Really inefficient caffeine injected sprints.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
I really hope I can keep things compartmentalized. I love the legend of Bill Murray and his cross country RV road trips in the 80’s. The guy would have movie offers on deck and even his agent had no clue where he was. Now he has a secret 1800 number that you have to call and leave a message if you want to offer him a role. If he calls you back then he’s doing it. I really admire that aggressive protection of not just his privacy, but also his pleasures. For some reason when we see people doing the things they want, we get really curious, sometimes offended even; but most often people are inspired. I just want to keep writing my rules man. Rock N Roll I guess..
Is there a television or film character that reflects your personality in real life? If so, who?
I will go ahead and summon the scorn of whoever is reading this and say Anthony Bourdain. Not because I am anything like him, but because I always try and ask myself if I am living a life worthy of his approval. I’m sure he’d say that is complete B.S., but it is what it is. He’s my hero…I want to live like he did. Can you believe he was 61 when he passed? He was the same age as my parents. He was the ultimate anti-boomer.
What piece of advice would you have loved to receive when first starting out?
Don’t worry about money. That’s what your job is for. The job will finance your endeavors. When we work hard we get to play hard. Even if the work isn’t fulfilling, being present while in play will always make life extremely rewarding; and then the day will come where your play will become your new work.
Is there anyone whose eyewear style stands out to you?
Early 90’s Master P. The gold plated, oval framed Versace sunglasses that he wore are just incredible. And Whoopi Goldberg. I feel like even if you put on the same outfit as her, you would look nowhere near was cool without her frames. She’s been doing that for almost forty years now.
When you’re not working, how do you recharge and stay inspired in San Diego?
This dumpster fire that is life in COVID has taught me to try and live as locally as possible. It’s actually been very cathartic. If I can limit myself to 3 square miles I get to worry less about traffic, paying for gas, noise, or being a super spreader. And I get to see my neighbors, and give them my monies if they have a business! Living small and cozy. When I’m not in the studio, I’m doing that.
John wears the Kodachi Windsor in Palladium. Photos by Claire Reiner & Matt Warren.
For more features, check out David Kind on Instagram.