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The J-Zone Interview

by Travis on October 17, 2007

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any amount of time, then undoubtedly you have picked up on certain artists that I consider my favorites. My tastes are different from some of the other “bloggers”. Some might call it eccentric, I consider the Bomb Squad as my second favorite producers, I consider a No Face’s “Wake Your Daughter Up” a great album, Son of Bazerk’s album and “Guerrillas In The Mist” by the Lench Mob are two of my favorite produced albums of all times.

A couple weeks ago on the blog, I started highlighting some of my favorite slept on producers. Two of them I would consider in my top five favorites of all-time, the Bomb Squad and J-Zone. A few days later, I got an email from J-Zone himself thanking me for the post. I’m definitely not one to get gassed on fame all that much. I don’t collect autographs and I’ve never hung around after a show to talk to an artist. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll give the artist a pound and thank him for the show and be out. But when Zone emailed, it was probably one of my highlights of this blogging shit. I’ve gotten a few emails from established artists and hip hop personalties, which is always cool, but to have one of your personal fav’s acknowledge your work was pretty fuckin’ cool. Anyway, one thing lead to another and I asked Zone if he’d be down for an interview and he said he was…

It’s a great honor to have one of my favorite artists to grace the site, so without further ado…Here is J-Zone.

WYDU: What up Zone, hows the Honda runnin’ these days?

J-Zone: Haha, you mean the Mazda Protege. Its good. You can’t have no Honda in Queens man, it’ll get stolen for parts quick. I ran through a deep puddle and now it rattles a lil bit sometimes but my mechanic says its nothin to worry about.

W: So whatcha been up to lately? Anything new on the horizon?

J: I’ve been teaching a music course at a college part time. It’s new for me, but I enjoy it. It’s good to see younger dudes with passion for music. They remind me of myself in college. It’s good to see up and comers enjoying what they do. Plus I get free use of the weight room at the college, haha.

I’m also spending a lot of time doing basketball journalism for some magazines and for SLAM Magazine’s website(www.slamonline.com). I put all my articles on my myspace page and site. Basketball and writing are my other passions besides music. Especially high school hoops. I’m DJing out a lot and me and my partner DJ Sheep started this DJ team called Extra Chee$e, so we’re tryin to pump that. Plus I got the Gator$-n-Fur$ mixshow. I’d like to produce some off the wall New Wave/R&B shit with a singer one day, but with my twist of course. Some different shit. In the meantime, I got beats on Del and Akrobatik’s upcoming albums but besides that I’ve been tryin to get away from the music industry. I love music but I’m burnt out on the industry.

W: Damn man, Prof. Zone now a days huh? I heard a nasty rumor that you hung up the mic for good. You still standing pat on the moratorium of no more performing or MCing?

J: Yeah pretty much. When I initially posted the press release, I was done with recording as an MC and I was very selective with shows. Like I’d only do Cali and overseas, places that felt like a vacation to me. Shit, its a free trip to someplace I wouldn’t normally go. But now I’m pretty much done with the shows. Maybe do festivals overseas once or twice a year if I get a chance, but that’s pretty much it. I had some good memories over the years and I was able to make a living doing what I love to do. Not many people have that blessing. But eventually I got frustrated and it stopped being fun for me. Despite all the money shit I talked on wax, my main objective was always just to have fun and do what I enjoyed. I just made the music I liked and went in the directions I aspired to go. The records were fun to do, but the industry and politics side kinda sucked the fun out. The distributors beefing, the fan fallout, the shows not going well. I just kinda sucked it up and kept running on steam for 2 or 3 years because I love what I do, but eventually reality kicks in. Like I’m a niche artist in a small market and I never really reached my potential audience. Like if Cee-Lo, Just Blaze, Devin the Dude, etc. all have said they’re fans my stuff (especially the later stuff) and they have large fanbases, I figured maybe I could do 1/4 of their numbers, haha. But when I go to my distributor, that critical acclaim and being a producer’s producer and an artist’s artist doesn’t hold up. Like “your albums ain’t selling Jay, we’re getting returns everyday”. It soured me a little. Maybe if I had been exposed to other markets things would have taken off more. Maybe not. Who knows? I patterned my shit after groups like The Afros, No Face, Blowfly, 2 Live Crew, AMG, Too $hort, Audio 2…and I used to wonder why some of those dudes were written off as novelty or never had any sustained success. That’s when I saw that being a niche artist requires accurate marketing or things wont last long.

Reality sets in like a muthafucka. If I’m 30 years old and thinking about real estate, mutual funds and securing my future, I have to be smart. I can’t be on stage at 35 tryin to perform 5 Star Hooptie for 10 people, then turn around and make an 8 hour drive home for $80 and some Popeye’s Chicken, haha. I made all my money doing TV commercials and corporate shit, the albums were just for fun and I financed them myself. In the last 4 projects I pressed up I broke even or made enough profit to cover health insurance for a year. And I’m cool with that. I love music and I’ll always do it as a hobby til the day I die. But now that I’m making decisions that effect the rest of my life, I have to be sensible with how I spend my time. Not to mention I’m changing as a person and an artist, so I have to move on. All I hear is “yo where’s Lucy Liu? where’s the Old Maid Billionaires? Yo J-Zone can you perform Candy Razors?”. Haha, I didn’t even rap on that song. I made those records in my early 20′s. I’m 30 now. I can’t go back to that. Popular opinion amongst the market I was in was I’ll never top what I did on my first 3 albums and I didn’t have the machine to push the later stuff to a new market, so I gotta step away and if I get the urge to do more music, I’ll come back reinvented. I’m grateful for all the people that showed me love over the years and I have no regrets. Despite the ups and downs in my career, I never abandoned my vision, so I can walk away with my head up.

W: I think its obvious that hip hop isn’t ever going to be the same as it used to be. You had a great post (link) on your myspace page concerning that subject that made the rounds on all the internet hot spots, was that something you took long to write? Mind discussing how that came about?

J: Here we go again, haha.

W: hahaha, yeah, I guess so.

J: It was just a discussion I would have with one of my music biz friends transcribed. I wrote it in one night. It was just how I felt at the time. I learned form that, you can’t argue about hip-hop. People get offended over opinions.

W: Yeah, that’s no shit.

J: The thing that pissed me off about that was people were saying I was hating on the South. That actually made me mad. I’m chillin with the 2 Live Crew and Poison Clan album covers in pics on my myspace page and I give some southern acts props in the article. But message boards can be playing fields for a lotta dumb ass people. You can’t win talkin about rap, so I dont anymore!

W: Yeah, you’ve long been a supporter of other regions, thats a well known fact, just look at the stuff you play on the The Gator$ & Fur$ mixshows. Speaking those, The Gator$ and Fur$ mixshows, they are full of dope material. How did that idea come back?

J: Like I said, making albums was therapy. So when I stopped, it took a load off my shoulders, but it also left a void in my life. I love working in concepts. I zone out. Most of my songs had a concept. A good number of my projects had a concept. Doing one beat on somebody’s album or just makin something to do a hot verse over doesn’t do anything for me anymore. Short term music. It’s boring. My man DJ Moe Choi suggested I do a mixshow. Because with Gator$-n-Fur$, I can fill that void by doing concept driven mixshows and playing songs I love from all genres and put my personality into it. I’ll always be a fan first, artist second. And the Chief Chinchilla character is like what I did with Captain Back$lap. Each show is as exciting as making an album and I can practice gettin my DJ skills sharp again, haha. Plus it’s free so there’s no sales pressure and it’s my connection to music being I’m not droppin anything.

W: You’ve long been known as a fan of the classic old, nasty ignorant shit. In past interviews it seems like the more ignorant the better, how did a kid growing up in New York during the height of the NY’s dominance were you more attracted the southern and western shit?

J: I grew up on Black Comedy albums. Rudy Ray Moore, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, LaWanda Page, Blowfly, Redd Foxx. My family had all that shit and I used to make tapes of em and play em in school for my friends. That foul, funny and low budget element of those records was very prevalent in a lot of Southern and West Coast rap and I loved it. All the Rap-A-Lot shit, 2 Live Crew, Bustdown, Poison Clan, NWA, JCD & The Dawg Lb….Those records were like hiphop versions of those comedy albums. But I also was a fan of New York stuff because I was a funk fan and record collector and the samples drew me in. So when I created my sound it was like a lighter version of the subject matter and vibe of the ignorant shit and the offbeat sampling of the classic NY shit. And it was funked out. I loved it all. Good music is good music. I’m not a purist, my views on music are strange. Paid In Full is my least favorite Eric B. & Rakim album, I like Walking W
ith A Panther
better than Radio for LL and Tougher Than Leather is my favorite Run-DMC album. I like Fear Of A Black Planet way better than Nation of Millions. I’m bugged.

W: Let’s kick into some of the classics then…I’ve always had troubles trying to decide my favorite King Tee album, which one is your preference?

J: It’d be a toss up between The Triflin Album and At Your Own Risk. I guess I gotta go with The Triflin Album because the execution was better.

W: How did you feel about Thy Kingdom Come?

J: It was cool. It had joints, but I felt it was more of a collection of songs from the time than a proper album, it was a little less focused than the other ones. But I’m such a King T fan, I still bump it.

W: Alright man, let’s get your thoughts on a few albums. I’ll list them, you drop the knowledge….
415 – 41Fivin

J: Wow. That was overlooked big time. It was some regional Bay Area shit. I didn’t even get that one til later, I had Nu Niggaz On The Block first. “Tic Tac (Nic-Nac)” is the blueprint for a J-Zone song haha. One verse, a minute and a half long, funny and it had an erratic beat (for the time it came out). I actually came up with “Baldylocks” after listening to “Tic Tac” like 100 times in a row. Not the subject matter, but the layout of the song. That Step In The Arena 2 minute song shit, I love that. DJ Darryl was a dope producer.

W: One of my personal favorites AMG – Bitch Betta Have My Money

J: Oh hell yeah. Like I said, less is more. 20 tracks, all between 45 seconds and 3 minutes. The way they mapped that AMG album out, the humor and the vibe were big influences on me. His album, the Sylk Smoov album and the JCD & The Dawg Lcb. album all dropped out of the same camp around the same time and those are my some favorite rap albums ever. Funny skits, trash talk, playful misogyny, heavy Black Comedy influence, short songs, funky and quirky at the same time. They planted the seeds for J-Zone. “Bitch Betta Have My Money” is a song I play EVERY time I DJ out, I dont give a fuck if the club is packed with chicks dancing to Top 40 shit. One day I’m gonna play “P-Funk” just to see what happens with the crowd. I love that shit. That was the first accordion beat ever and way better than any of the ones I did.

W: I know you’ve expressed your thoughts of the greatness in the Tweedy Bird Loc albums, which isn’t usually something seen as classic…discuss that opinion.

J: Oh man, Tweed was just over the top. Racist, sexist, violent, rude…but to the point where you couldn’t take him serious, even if he meant what he was saying, haha. I’m a NY native that loved Tim Dog, D-Nice, BDP etc. I was born at Albert Einstein in the Bronx. I used to hang on Fordham Road in the early 90′s. I got love for the BX, that’s where it started. But when Tweedy dropped “Fuck The South Bronx, This Is Compton”, you gotta tip your hat. He had balls. And the Queen Latifah dis track? “I’m Callin U A Bitch”? Man that shit was hard as hell, that beat, everything. But he was funny as shit. Tweedy was cold man, cold.

W: What was your favorite album out of the whole Street Knowledge Catalog?

J: Da Lench Mo
b: Guerillas In The Mist. Hands down! They had so much energy on the mic, they were just raw. And the production was amazing. The beat on “You & Your Heroes” was absolutely crazy! “All On My Nut Sac”, “Ankle Blues” and “Freedom Got An AK” were all classic jams. I like the Threat album, Sickinnahead, as well. He was underrated as an MC. Kam’s Neva Again too. Street Knowledge was the shit.

W: Willie D’s – Controversy was one of the more shocking albums in my younger age, your thoughts?

J: Yea that shit was wild. It’s so over the top, you can’t name one wild ass song in fear of neglecting another. I actually prefer Goin Out Lika Soldier as an album. Strictly because he had the balls to put “Fuck Rodney King” on there. That was crazy to do at the time, but he was right in what he said in the song, haha.

W: Some east coast classics…. I know you did some work with Greyson and Jasun…thoughts on that album?

J: Woooooo! My dude Vance Wright. Yeah, G&J was my peoples. I loved that album, even before I met them. Diverse subject matter, Greyson was a dope MC, solid beats. I think 2 things stopped that album from succeeding. One was Atlantic Records. Their rap department was terrible. All of their shit was off the radar. K-Solo, W.I.S.E. Guyz, Original Flavor,Hard 2 Obtain, Audio 2′s second album. They had dope stuff but it never really got out there.

Second, that G&J album came out the same time as Niggaz 4 Life, De La Soul Is Dead, Death Certificate, All Souled Out, Breaking Atoms, Low End Theory, Black Sheep’s shit…As dope as G&J was, it was a little dated sonically. Like at that point albums were like movies. Ill skits, obscure samples, 60+ minutes in length, etc. G&J’s shit had more of a 1990 feel than a 91 feel. Just 12 straight joints of standard dope hip hop, which EPMD already had a monopoly on, so it got eclipsed because it dropped at such a competitive and classic time.

W: Son Of Bazerk – Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk…Bomb Squad!

J: Oh man. Talk about a brilliant record. The public wasnt ready for that. They were barely ready for Public Enemy, so Bazerk was just ahead of its time. Still is. I recently met Hank Shocklee and had him sign the sealed CD longbox I have, haha. I don’t think any producer can duplicate that. Ever. I’m a fanatic for details and noise and throwaway sounds, and even I was like “how the fuck did they do that?” Even my pops loves that album.

The MC wasn’t no Rakim, but he was perfect for that project. Guys like him, Tim Dog, Too $hort, Eazy-E. I looked up to them as MCs. Cause they may not have been the best, but they were entertaining, didnt take themselves so serious and knew how to rhyme in the scope of making a successful song. People overlook that for the sake of skills. I’d rather hear a dude that can rap or produce in the context of a cohesive project than some hack that can “spit” 90 bars of ill punchlines on a mixtape or a producer that makes banger after banger but can’t define his own sound and work within a concept scope. There have been better albums than Bazerk beatwise, but in terms of total production and sound, there has never
been a better rap album. Ever.

W: Can’t end this with your thoughts and feelings on the name sake for the blog, No Face’s Wake Your Daughter Up

J: Hahaha! No Face. Unheralded Hollis heroes! A perfect example of an enjoyable album by MC’s that weren’t great. That album and The Afros’ LP were seen as novelty, but to me they were just another view to rap. You already had PE, Rakim, LL, NWA, X-Clan. Everybody fills a void, and these dudes brought that Black Comedy element that I loved so much and tried to do my damn self. But for whatever reason, rap takes itself too serious and it gets overlooked. I even did a tribute to one of their songs on my last solo album (“Xactly”). I never understood how political rap, battle rap or gangsta shit for a whole album isn’t novelty. But an album full of jokes is novelty and has no replay value. If No Face is novelty, than so is Paris or Mobb Deep or anybody else that has a vibe. So that statement is obviously not true. It’s just that sometimes rap is afraid to be silly and that’s a shame.

W: How do you feel like “old school” legends making a come back at this day in age? Ultra and shit, I even heard Tim Dog is dropping a “comeback” album.?

J: Funny you ask, I remixed a song by a UK group called Diversion Tactics and it has Tim Dog on it. The fact I finally got him on one of my beats meant a lot to me.

I dunno how I feel about that. On one hand, it ain’t 88 no more. These men are in a different place and you can’t expect them to rap like they did then. And music has changed, so if you try to copycat your old shit, it looks like desperation. But then again, they can’t really rap like the new dudes and wear big ass fitteds and 5xl shirts and their Grandmother’s earrings because it will look contrived. It’s tricky. That’s why Masta Ace is a legend. He stayed relevant for 20 years without ever embarrassing himself or sounding dated. I guess some people can get away with a comeback and some people cant.

W: Whats in the future…any chance of another Boss Hog Barbarians joint or that rumored album with you and Louis Logic?

J: Haha nah, I’m done. Celph and Louis are my friends and whatever they need, I’m there for em. I’d love to do beats for a Celph solo LP. Produce the whole shit. I still say him and AL-Shid are the best MC’s I’ve ever heard on my production. I’d love to rock a show in Europe with Louis one last time before I’m completely out the show game. Cause he’s one dude that I tour well with and we have friendly competition rockin crowds. We bring the best out of each other on stage. But in terms of me being involved as an artist, it’s a wrap.

W: Thanks man for shootin’ the shit with us, much appreciated.

J: Word up.

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