Featured Hip-Hop Culture Interviews — 09 September 2013
J-Zone: The Definitive Planet Ill Interview Vol. 2

As promised, in part 2 of Planet Ill’s interview with J-Zone, the man of the hour touches on everything from race and Hip-Hop, crate diggin’, rap personalities, his role in the movie Adult Rappers, the NBA, his new album The Peter Pan Syndrome, and more.

By TJ Love

Planet Ill: Speaking of fanbases, obviously in the underground scene it seems like the crowds are overwhelmingly white, and this is true for rap music in general, but you had said at one point that you feel like you and MF Doom, especially, have fanbases that are overwhelmingly white.  Why do you think that is?

J-Zone:  Well, like I was saying before, I think my subject matter…I’m actually working on a song about this right now called “Fuck R&B”(laughs) and it’s basically like, I’m a Black guy who lives in an all-Black neighborhood so it’s like, if you were to play my music for somebody around here, I think in the Black community self-deprecation is frowned upon. You know “I went to the club and I was hangin’ with these chicks and I ain’t get no ass.”(laughs)  It happens, but no brother is gonna get on a record and talk that shit. He’s like “nah, fuck that son. I got the pussy, I’m the man.”  It just doesn’t resonate.

So if you’re up there talking about this kinda stuff….I’m not saying what I’m talking about is Black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic, or Palestinian…I’m not gonna say it’s subject matter to be associated with any particular racial group or ethnicity. But, in general, from what I’ve known, black audiences just don’t relate to a lot of the revolutionary shit that’s actually pro-black.  And they don’t respond to people being nerdy and quirky.  That’s just not cool.

Over in my neighborhood if it’s not Lloyd Banks, 50 Cent, Young Jeezy-type of stuff then it’s straight R&B.  Hip-Hop like I do for the most part is just not accepted.  Most of my fans were in Europe.  For whatever reason, language barrier, all that stuff be damned, all I give a fuck about is who’s supporting my shit. I make records for myself and people who enjoy it. I don’t give a fuck what color people are.

At first, you admit it’s odd, Blacks and Hispanics started Hip-Hop and you’re making music and there’s nobody Black in the crowd.(laughs) Nobody Black buys the records. It’s kinda weird. At the end of the day though, man, I’m thankful for people who support me. I look out for people who support me. I don’t make music for any particular group. I just make music and it so happens that I’ve had very little Black support over the years. I never really got the support.

Planet Ill: I believe it’s on Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes, you have a line “Even when I beatmake/Zone is still a cheapskate/hittin’ up the dollar bin/it’s all about the Washingtons”. Is that true?

J-Zone: Yeah! (laughs) Yeah. I mean, I’d paid more and I’ve bought expensive records, but I’m frugal. That’s just how I am.

Planet Ill: What are your favorite kinds of records to go to for inspiration?

J-Zone: I listen to funk. I’m into a lotta Psych. Psych shit. That shit is crazy. Funk shit. Jazz. Old School Hip Hop. But not just your typical Golden-Era classics. I listen to the most random shit.  All over the place. West coast, southern, Midwest, I’m largely inspired by Midwest and southern early 90s rap, like the Rap-A-Lot stuff.  Because when you’re not in LA and New York you’re basically invisible to the A&Rs, so you kinda have this DIY aesthetic that’s kinda bootleg. 

I was REALLY influenced by Rap-A-Lot. Early Cash Money shit, early Master P shit, low budget album covers, all the Mob Style shit from New York.  I’m really inspired by out-there obscure hip hop shit, moreso than the classics cuz they don’t have no major label backing. They’re just coming out like “yo, we’re breaking all the rules, we’re not clearing no samples, we’re putting all this crazy subject matter on here, we’re not censoring NUTHIN.” Ya know, and that was my approach.

Everything I did was raggedy, from the beginning. I listened to that, my old funk 45s, and my jazz, psyche rock…that right there. But also black comedy, Dolemite, Skill and Leroy, Dynamite the Super Spook, Lawanda Page, uhhh….Redd Foxx, all that Laugh Records comedy shit, Richard and Willie, all that real greasy chitlin circuit comedy shit, old detective shows. I get influenced from everything.

Planet Ill: I’ve got some friends who have been wanting to know for years and years and years, where you got the sample from for “Stroke Happy” and “Nose Job” cuz that shit’s pretty crazy.

J-Zone: “Stroke Happy” I put on the Ego Trip Blog “J-Zone’s Top Ten Sample Flips.”(Editor’s note*http://www.egotripland.com/j-zone-sample-flips/) It’s like a porno record, a stag record. “Nose Job”(long exhale) hooooo, I have the record. I don’t remember. I have it…somewhere. It was a kiddie record about the human anatomy. I haven’t seen it since I made that shit.

Planet Ill: Obviously, in Hip-Hop, artists are projecting an idealized or extreme version of themselves. You’ve worked with everybody from Tame-One, to Cage, and Masta Ace and all sorts of folks. Which artists actually do walk the walk and talk the talk, which artists in real life are actually closest to who they are on record?

J-Zone: I didn’t work with him but I almost did, Suga Free is EXACTLY the way he is on record. The pimp from California. I was trying to get him on A Job Ain’t Nuthin But Work. I couldn’t afford him. He was down, he picked a beat, I just couldn’t afford him…PRECISELY the way he is on record. Says the same shit.(laughs) He’s one of the realest characters in Hip-Hop. He’s a stone.cold.fucking.pimp.

But in terms of guys I worked with? Ahhh, who’s the guy I worked with who’s most like how they are on record? Devin The Dude! He’s exactly the way you think he would be. He smokes a TON of weed. He’s super laid back, just a nice guy. Just totally, totally, no frontin’, no Hollywood shit. He’s probably one of the nicest people I’ve met. One of the most humble and laid back, and on some music shit. Like, havin’ a good time, making music, smoking weed…just…like I don’t even smoke and I smoked with him.(laughs)  He was like, “Hit this joint.” And I was thinking ‘how am I gonna turn that down? I been listening to Devin for so many years.” He’s just like the way he is on record. Just a really, really good person and talented artist.

Planet Ill: What about Cage and Tame One? You’ve got a number of real dope records with them.

J-Zone: I didn’t work too closely with Cage. We co-headlined a couple of shows together but I didn’t real deal with him that much. Like, I spoke to him on the phone and we had a couple sessions together but I wasn’t around Cage that often, but to get a take.

Tame is COOL.  Tame is just, like, a regular cool dude. And he’s real talented. Dope emcee.

Planet Ill: There’s a documentary coming out in the fall called Adult Rappers and you have a role in it. What’s it about?

J-Zone: It’s pretty much about…Adult Rap. Rap is not a genre of music where guys stick around long enough til we watch them get old. Rap is youthful music, and a lot of the appeal is the rebelliousness and immaturity. So as you get older you rebel less and get more mature. How do you bring that across in your music? And the dude, Paul, real talented film maker. He directed the film. He just interviewed a bunch of us, I’m in a lot of it. He gotta lot of clips of me. And I submitted some music for the movie. Ya know, it just follows a bunch of different artists in their thirties around for a year. Independent guys, and basically it just deals with how we deal with getting older. Do you quit? Do you stay with it? Do you change what you do? How do you tell people this is what you do? If people don’t take you serious when you tell them you’re a musician?

All’s we wanted to do since we were younger was be artists. And then to a certain extent our dream came true. Some of us made it bigger than others, but all of us had careers as artists and when it comes to an end or it changes form and you get older how do you deal with it?  It’s really interesting because my part in the movie, it started when I had already quit the music shit. I was working a regular day job, getting fucked over, working on my book at the same time. Ya know, but I was on some “I’m not doing no music shit” and by the time they were done filming me a year later I was getting ready to put a 45 out. I was getting back into music, playing drums. It’s a great movie but it’s also scary because we’re getting older and shit.

It’s weird, when it comes to Hip-Hop there’s three different kinds of artists, and I say this in my book. There’s the artist that blows the fuck up and when the music’s over they’re already a celebrity, so if LL Cool J doesn’t wanna make another record again he doesn’t have to. The bottom line is LL at this point does music because he wants to, he doesn’t need music to pay his rent. He’s a musician and it’s his passion. 50 cent, same shit. Jay-Z, same shit. Eminem, same shit. Kanye, they’re all in that boat. And then you have artists who never made it at all but they always had day jobs. So they were always working a job and they were a musician for a hobby or at night, maybe had a couple of records and did some shows, but the whole time they had a square job so when they finally get tired of that shit and wanna have a family they already have a life in place. But the hardest position is the guy like me who was in the middle. Like, I was lucky enough to make a living as a musician, as a professional full time musician/artist/writer etc, and I did it for a long period of time. But when it died out and started trying to get into the job market I was already in my thirties and in the job market they don’t value music biz experience. So they’re like “what have you been doing for the last ten years” and you’re like “Uhhhh…I was a rap artist.” So it’s like people don’t believe me when I say “Yo, I couldn’t get a job.” Like, a decent job.  Nothing sustainable that I could pay bills with. So I got back into it partially because I had to. I just had to find a way to be passionate again. 

The film deals with that.  If you’re somebody on MF Doom’s level you can always find a way to parlay it.  If you’re somebody on a real low level then you had a job. But someone like me?  It can be tricky. I can’t just go into an employment agency, they look at your resume and they’re like “uhhh, yeah, so you’re a rapper?”

I’m a musician now and that’s what I’ve always been and sometimes I’m like ‘damn, it’s too late.’  Going back to school cost too much money. It’s just crazy, and that’s what the whole film deals with. Some of the guys are fathers, they’re family men, so how do you raise your kids up when you’re on this rap shit?  All this is stuff that’s in the movie.  It’s kinda like my book in that this is stuff that we all think about, it’s just never been explored before.  I think the movie’s gonna do really well.

Planet Ill: You’re a well-known hoops aficionado and you covered NYC high school hoops for a period of time and it’s a city known for turning out great point guards. Right today, who are your top 5 NBA point guards?

J-Zone: Right now? My favorite point guard is Rajon Rondo.

Planet Ill: Me too!

J-Zone: I think Rondo is the best point guard in the league. People talk that jump shot shit, but the bottom line is this guy can get people shots.  He gets 15,18 assists at will. That’s just crazy! I was arguing with Pete Rock the other day and he was like “Ah, he’s selfish” but you CAN’T be selfish with double digits in assists! You can’t.  To me, Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the NBA. After that I would have to say Derrick Rose. After that…uhhhh, we’re going more in the shooting guard territory. I like Steph Curry. I like James Harden. I’m not a Chris Paul fan. I’ll put Jeremy Lin over Chris Paul. I’m not a Chris Paul fan. (chuckles) I think Chris Paul is overrated.

I’ll take Lebron as a point guard anytime. Lebron is a matchup problem, man! I’ll put Lebron up in there too, ya know what I’m sayin’? He’s a hell of a point guard man.

Planet Ill: How bout Kyrie Irving?

J-Zone: Him too! That motherfucker’s quick as shit. He’s not on a good team but Kyrie is gonna be a serious force in this league. Tony Parker’s older but he’s still one of the better point guards. Umm, Iono, I’m just not feelin’ Chris Paul. I liked him when he was with New Orleans but over the years I’m just not that big of a Chris Paul fan.

Planet Ill: You got any new music coming soon?

J-Zone: I got an album. Short album, but an album, coming out September. I’m flirting with two different titles right now so I can’t say the titles. Half of it is instrumental, up-tempo stuff with live drums and the other half is traditional, humorous J-Zone, way out there shit. Umm, I learned to try to balance and give people a taste of the direction I’m going but also give them that old J-Zone 1,2. I mean, I can’t run from it.

People who want new music, they want that shit. So a lot of irreverent humor. I’m rhyming on a lot of it. I never thought I would be that way again, but, ya know, I got inspired. Inspiration just comes. It came and I’m rapping about…it’s funny and it’s off the wall, but I’m also addressing the issues going on in my life right now. Do you try to go get a nine-to-five? Do you stick out the music? I’m 36 but damn that twenty-two year old is BAD but she’s throwin’ me rhythm so I’ma go talk to her. (laughs)

All these things, cuz Facebook and all that shit and all these blogs, they all make you feel bad about aging. ‘By this age you should be doing this.’ ‘By this age you should have this.’ ‘If you’re doing this and this and this, then you’re doing this wrong.’ And this, that, and the other and ten reasons  why you’re not this and that. Every day you’re being inundated with this SHIT about getting older and where you should be going and what you should be doing. And I’m looking around like ‘Damn, I’m not doin’ NONE of this shit.’ Some of the songs are funny just like “FUCK IT!!! That bitch is twenty-two and she’s BAD. I don’t give a FUCK!”(laughs)

And then the windows of opportunity for certain things are closing, so I’m addressing a lot of that shit on there. It’s been a fun process but it’s been a lot of work.

Planet Ill: Do you have any guest stars on there?

J-Zone: Yeah, I’m putting a song with Breeze Brewin. I’m working with my boy Has-Lo, outta Philly. He’s really dope. I did a remix for him last year. He’s got a real dope style. I’m talking to Al-Shid and Celph Titled both. I’ma try to get them on board. Celph his busy, I gotta see if I can hit him up and get him up here in the time that I need. If I can get Celph, Shid, and Breeze, that’s good enough for me man. I wanna keep it in the family. Those guys are all family. Those are guys I work with on the regular. Me and Shid are from the beginning. Me and Celph is tight. Me and Breeze go way back. Me and Has connect on some music shit. Those are the guys I’m working with and I’ma do the rest myself. I don’t got time to chase people around.

Planet Ill: Actually, I was wondering as a fan, whatever happened to Huggy Bear? Is he doing the family thing?

J-Zone: I haven’t spoke to Hug probably in about ten years. From what I heard, he put out a single shortly after we did our last thing. And he called me up to congratulate me when I put out “5 Star Hooptie” cuz he heard it and told me it was dope. But ya know, people move on and I heard he’s doing the family thing. And wherever he’s at I hope he’s doing well. But I think he’s just doing the family thing. That’s what I was told.

Planet Ill: Out of all the newer producers out since you were doing your thing who are you really feeling? Black Milk? 9th wonder?

J-Zone: I haven’t really been in the loop with that much hip hop shit in the last couple of years.  Just because after ’08 when I stopped…’09 I was blogging. 2010 I was totally off the radar. NOTHING. I would put up a tweet every once in a while but I had no blog, no nothing. 2010 I was tryna get a job. That didn’t work out. (laughs) 2011 I put the book out. And just last year I started listening to stuff again.

I’ll admit I’m a little outta the loop. I know Black.  I know 9th, they’re dope. I knew them from way back from when I was doing shit cuz we were all…Oh No, and Madlib, we were all basically working at the same time. And they’re all dope, but I knew all them from back then. Like, 2003, 2004.

But recent stuff? New groups I’m not familiar with but pretty soon I’m gonna start checking on more shit. I wanna get more in tune with what’s out there. I don’t wanna be like one of these dudes “Nah, I only listen to the old shit!” and yadda yadda yadda. I’ve learned that you can’t do that. So I want to learn about some of the new cats that’s coming out and hopefully work with ‘em if we vibe on some music shit.

Planet Ill: Well, hey, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’m a huge fan and I appreciate you taking the time outta your day to do this. This has been really awesome. Keep doing what you’re doing and do you have anything else you wanna put out there?

J-Zone: Root For The Villain, the book is available now. The 45 sold out. I have an album coming out, so be on the lookout for that. I don’t even know how hard I’m gonna promote it. I might throw it out there as a surprise and not tell that many people cuz nobody’s expecting me to do it. I might just take the opposite route, so instead of promoting the hell out of it I might just wake up one day like “Yo, here’s a new album.”

Planet Ill: I think as soon as one person finds out on the internet with your fanbase being as loyal as it is, it would probably spread like wild fire.

J-Zone: Yeah man, that’s what happens. I’m not worried about doing big first week numbers or getting on blogs that don’t give me no love. Like, even though it’s a blessing and a curse, I think Twitter and Facebook have helped me a lot. Ego Trip, in particular, has helped me a lot because I have a direct line to people who give a shit. I used to diss ‘em, but now I’m really thankful for Twitter, Facebook, and the Ego Trip blog, cuz those three things have really helped. And the fact that I write for Ego Trip, a lot of other blogs follow the Ego Trip because the blogs are linked and a lot of artists and producers submit shit to me to review their shit.

All I care about are the people that want the stuff, and I make sure I get it to them. Like the book. Questlove, Chuck D, they found out about it through somebody, so I’ve learned that you do what you can to promote it. You try your best.

Sometimes nowadays the internet is so vast, it’s very difficult to stand out. So when you sit up there and try spam people and email people a hundred times a day you just become a pest. I think if the quality of the music is good and I get it to the right people, the people that like what I do and make sure that they know about it. Then I think it’ll do what it’s supposed to do and the people that need to hear it will hear it.


Peter Pan Syndrome is out now! Cop it on J-Zone’s Bandcamp rightchea


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