J-Zone: It's A Treat To Never Trick
Nearly every Hip Hop head has gotten sick and tired of the game at some point or another. Theres plenty to hate when it comes to the music world. But, the love for the culture never allows heads to truly leave. So goes the tale of J-Zone. For those unfamiliar with the New York based artist, its important to understand his complexities. Hes a comedic rapper, willing to crack jokes and have fun over beats. But, hes dead serious about his craft. While critical acclaim and underground fame have never left his side, mainstream love never came. So, there came a time when J-Zone the artist became unmotivated by the industry. He was fed up with the game, in a way. But, like any true head, he went back in the lab to create yet another critically acclaimed album.
This time, J-Zone has knocked out Live @ The Liqua Sto, a nostalgic comedic look at old St. Ides commercials through meticulously produced instrumentals and some funny vocals, successfully blending clever humor with raw rap beats. With a unique personality in a game that breeds constant imitation, its a breath of fresh air to hear about the industry from a man whos seen a lot of the pros and cons of the game. He also let us know why he hopes all major labels fold and gave his view on how the game has actually improved. J-Zones also a knowledgeable Hip Hop connoisseur and with Halloween season upon us, J managed to break down some of the most horrific, terrifying rap records ever.
No matter how scary the game is, theres no way to turn our backs on it. J-Zone exemplifies this well.
HipHopDX: So what have you been up to since we last heard from you?
J-Zone: I got the Live @ The Liqua Sto [click to read] out. Me and my main man, Chief Chinchilla got an album full of malt liquor commercials. Its kind of like a tribute to the old St. Ides joints with King Tee and Ice Cube [click to read] back in the day. I didnt even plan on doing it, man. I just did one for fun and I played it for E-Swift of The Alkaholiks [click to read] just buggin out and shit. He was like, You should do more. I wasnt even planning on making any more music. I kind of just stopped. I was doing my mix show monthly, but I had kind of chilled on doing my own stuff for a couple years. I just wasnt motivated. I was kind of fed up with the business. It kind of happened by accident. Those kind of projects are always the most fun, where youre not really planning anything. Its just spur of the moment. Thats why its limited edition. It kind of came out of nowhere. There wasnt like a big promotional campaign. It was kind of was like my first album, where it just came out of nowhere and shit. I been doing that and I cover high school basketball in the New York area for Slam Magazine. I been doing my high school stuff and I teach music at a college. So, I been teaching, and doing music for TV commercials shit. A lot of behind the scenes shit. Im getting my grown man on. I aint trying to be out here in the game too tough.
DX: What would you attribute to the fact that you felt uninspired?
J-Zone: Sometimes, being in the industry is like running on a treadmill and youre not going nowhere. The industry at this point, especially Hip Hop is broken down by cliques. Usually when people listen to you, the first thing they try to do is compare you. So, it was like, I would have this wild, crazy ass subject matter and that was different from a lot of indie Hip Hop artists and I was also a comedian doing a lot of funny shit, which was out of place for indie Hip Hop. But, the production wasnt the kind of shit you would bang in the club. I was always kind of the black sheep of Hip Hop. All the guys I grew up listening to and respecting, they all respected me. That was the main reason why I got in it. Like to listen to Da Beatminerz, Large Pro [click to read], Pete Rock [click to read], King Tee or The Alkaholiks and theyre a fan of your shit too. That was a dream come true. Theres a double edge sword to that, because I was a producers producer and an artists artist. In general, the fans never caught onto it. I never really had the biggest following. I would get critical acclaim for some of my stuff, but for whatever, it just never caught. So, Im sitting here trying to pay bills and in 2006, I did three albums. And the total amount of money I made on those three albums, was one third of what I made for one second of music in a Sprint commercial that I did. So, I just did the math! I was like, "Yo, Im 29 years old. Im doing these shows in a hole in the wall club where five people show up and they just stand there." And I do it for a couple hundred bucks and some Popeyes chicken. Well, because I love to do it but then after awhile, youre like "Yo, I gotta make wiser decisions, man." Really, I always loved the music. That was never an issue. Its just the business and the politics. Half the people thought I was a novelty act but I didnt know where I fit in. A lot of people were like "Yeah, hes always jokin around but he needs to focus more on his beats. Were tired of the J-Zone. His routine is getting old!" So, I started doing instrumental records like To Love a Hooker [click to read]. I was like, "Fuck it!" So, the Gators & Furs mix shows that I started doing last year, I did those for fun. Those shits were a blast, man. I invented the Chief Chinchilla character doing those shows and I wasnt making no money on them, but it was just fun! It was my way to enjoy music without getting caught up in the business and that unintentionally led to this new record, through that Chief Chinchilla character.
DX: So, how did you begin teaching?
J-Zone: Im teaching part-time at the old college I went to. I went there as a music major about 10 years ago. I always maintained ties with that school. My first album was my senior project for graduation from that school and thats a well known fact in all my bios. So, I have a public connection to the school. They like to get their staff as people who are out there doing stuff. I was out there doing stuff, but I was also still connected to the school. They asked me to come back and teach a course. This is my first time really teaching, so Im in the process of developing my course. Every year, its getting stronger. My enrollment is growing. Im getting more kids every year. Im taking it slow because teaching is great but its also tough. Its something Im not used to doing so Im trying to learn as I go along. College is a little easier than high school, because at least in college, most of the people want to be there. I was thinking about going back to school to get my masters to teach k-12. I was gonna be a phys-ed teacher but man, these kids are fucking knuckleheads! I like dealing with the high school kids for Slam, because these are basketball players focused on going to college. Theyre the cream of the crop, the best of the bunch. Dealing with knuckleheads in 7th or 8th grade? When I was in junior high school, I was a monster! I was a trouble maker. So, Im not ready to deal with that, yet. Im not gonna lie. Im in a position where I have one foot in the industry and one foot out.
DX: Youve always had an I do what I want mentality when it came to doing music. Where did that approach come from?
J-Zone: Music is a hobby to me, man. I dont look at it as a job. Music is a hobby that became a job. Thats a double-edged sword because on one had, a lot of people out there wish they could be doing what they love for a living. Im doing what I love for a living, but then with that come a set of rules. Not everybody is going to into what Im doing. What Im doing is an acquired taste, man. I grew up at a time when Hip Hop was very diverse. In the early '90s, I would listen to all the black revolutionary shit like Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, Public Enemy but then I also listened to gangster shit like N.W.A., Comptons Most Wanted, Geto Boys and then I would listen to shit like Kid N Play, EPMD and Humpty Hump and I just love everything. So, I come from that school and mentality. My thing is, I like the comedy shit. I guess when you take that approach, they take you as a novelty. I dont think people understand that its possible to take the art of making records seriously without taking yourself seriously. People see me as a joker and clown and then they assume that everything that I do is just a joke. I work hard on my records. I spend a lot of time. I take the craft of making records extremely seriously. I sit in the studio all day and look for details. I take my career very serious. I show up to interviews and shows on time. Im punctual with my shit. I take my business very serious. I answer my e-mails. But, my approach to music is lighthearted so I dont think people understand that you can be a funny, lighthearted artist but take your craft seriously. Having the I dont give a fuck. Im just gonna do what I wanna do. Its my party approach, its helped me in establishing my own personality but then its hurt me because a lot of people overlook that shit and take the music as novelty when its not. Its just me having fun. Thats just my approach, man. Im an only child, too. Only children are crazy. Everybody knows that shit. We be in our own world. We got imaginary friends. When were little we got imaginary friends and shit like that. So, when you get in those imaginative moods and start buggin out, you tend to experiment a little bit more and shit. You tend to be on the wild side.
DX: Back in 2006 [click to read], you told DX that major labels are a fucking joke. You went on to say its about to be a wrap for the industry. Do you see any positive or negative changes since then?
J-Zone: Well, the funny thing is, [that article] was controversial. It was about Hip Hop kind of being in a fucked up state and people kind of took it the wrong way. I was just stating my opinion. I wasnt saying Hip Hop was dead. I was just saying those were some things that I felt were taking away from it. Honestly, man, my view nowadays is a little different. I want shit to improve! Thats the best thing for it. The major labels got greedy! You know, back in the days, when CDs came out, you would get it in a cardboard box with the big art work and shit. They were like $12.99 and the albums were overall better. But, then as time went on, the music got shittier and the packaging was downsized and the CDs wound up being fucking $19.99. Even my shit, when I got major distribution through BMG, I would go into Tower Records and see my CDs for $18.99. I was like, "Yo, I dont have a video!" Im on the shelf between Jay-Z [click to read] and Kanye West, alphabetically. Nobody knows who the fuck I am! I was like, "I want my CD to be $8.99," because the bottom line is anybody can go out and download it. You gotta give people the incentive to buy your record. You cant fight the consumer and I think the major labels tried to fight the consumer. It sucks, because our music is downloaded and everything like that, were trying to make a living, it sucks. But, for the RIAA to go out and sue individual people, you cant really control that shit, man! You just gotta find other ways to go around it. My albums been out for two weeks and its already all over the blogs and shit. Theres nothing I can do about it. So I try to make up for it by creatively marketing my records so that I can sell. I make limited edition CDs. Theres only 500 and they have the instrumentals. Thats how I get rid of the CDs. I go out and do deejay gigs, mix shows, different things. You cant fight the consumer because ultimately they determine the trend of the industry. I think the major labels got greedy. Instead of just putting out three or four good albums a year and promoting those records hard, every label is like, "Yo, we gotta put out 25 records this year" just to keep up with the quota. "We gotta put out 20 records this year, just to keep up because everybodys attention span is so short." I think that more and more and more and more of "Lets force feed it. Lets run it down their throats" That shit fucked up the game and the people werent having it. They just stopped buying the music. Half these people at these record labels are just like Communications majors from some college. They dont know shit about urban music, Hip Hop music, or music period! Theyre just people who went to school for four years, got an internship at a label and wound up being an A&R but they dont know shit about rap. So, the bottom line is fuck em! Let em fold up. Good. Call em out. Lets make way for a new way of the industry.
DX: So, since its Halloween season, whats the best rap related rap related costume youve ever seen.
J-Zone: I remember one time, I went to a party. I cant remember who it was. He wasnt a midget but he was a short dude. He was dressed like Bushwick Bill! He had an eye patch and a crazy top hat on. He was dressed like how Bill had that ill top hat and shit like that and he had like a Chuckie doll with him and shit. I didnt think he knew who Bushwick Bill was.
DX: Lets talk about some of the scariest, most bugged out rap records ever. What are they and how would you rate them?
J-Zone: The closest thing to horror would be any Ganksta Nip record. He had songs talking about things like dying in a squirrels nest and all this crazy shit. "Arms and legs taste good dipped in some popcorn." "I have a bunch of bloody cut up fingers. Anybody want red hots?" Hes just talking about all this cannibalistic but it was so over the top, that it winds up being funny. Ganksta Nip is the original psycho rapper. Hes ill. Bushwick Bill too! He has a [Geto Boys] song called Murder Avenue [click to read] where hes talking about killing a college student. Like, he goes in her house, catches her in the bathroom and kills her and hes fucking her when shes half-dead and shit. Its crazy but then you think this guys 42 and hes going around doing all this shit. He had songs like Chuckie [click to read]. A lot of that early Rap-A-Lot Houston shit like Geto Boys, Bushwick Bill, Ganksta Nipa lot of that shit had a horror movie influence.
But, in terms of being downright scary, there was a record I remember called Hide Tonight by Asari X (1992, Righteous Records). He was a Muslim that was locked up for, I think it was attempted murder or something. Hes talking about doing all these racially charged killings, going around killing hippies and shit, killing little kids. It was scary because he was dead serious! I actually had the tape. It came out in 1992. It was scary because you could hear the anger in his lyrics. The shit was so off the wall. It was crazy, violent, racist and over the top. You could tell he wasnt fucking around. This dude was serious and he was pissed off! That shit was wild! To hear that shit, I was like, "Wow!" Theres definitely been a lot of really out there shit. I collect rare gangster rap and rare tapes. Even a guy like X-Raided, whos doing life in jail, his first album was scary. He had moments on there that was scary. Some people find the humor in it but some of that stuff wasnt even funny. Like, Bushwick Bill, you could tell he was just having fun with horror. But [other artists] werent fuckin around! They were actually locked in jail writing that shit. You could tell they had a lot of issues with people and a lot of that stuff wasnt that well known to the public. If you played this shit in a room full of liberals, they would fucking faint! The shit was real graphic. Like, killing little kids and shit? The shit was crazy!