When it comes to his music J-Zone has never been the type to hold anything back. This week RapReviews found out the same can be said for his interviews. During our conversation with the Hip-Hop veteran he was extremely open about his thoughts on making records, pleasing a fickle audience, and how things change for artists after they hit a certain age. J-Zone also spoke about some of the projects he’s been working on, including one with the SNL song making trio of Lonely Island, and one with underground fave Mr. Lif. All in all, in an industry not usually noted for its honesty, this is one interview that’s bursting with it.
Adam Bernard: Your career has spanned nearly 15 years; what have been some of the most interesting and unexpected turns you’ve experienced?
J-Zone: Hmmm, interesting and unexpected? Well, from a positive note, I never would have thought I would have brushed anybody in the pop world, like getting the chance to do a show with Gnarls Barkley. I never thought I’d hear guys who sell millions more records than I do say they’re fans of my music. I had a real humble beginning. Even though I was around a lot of famous people at the time when I was 17 interning for Vance Wright, meeting Greg Nice, Grand Puba and different people like that, I never thought that people I was a fan of growing up would grow to be peers and fans of mine. That was unexpected. On another side, when you come in you’re just so innocent. You hear all the stories, you watch all the VH1 Behind The Music shows and you figure this is the independent rap scene, I’m not on Def Jam, I’m not like a worldwide star, none of that applies to me… you’re in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately the more prolific you are the more open you are to twists and turns and criticisms, ups and downs. I’ve made ten albums. My third one I did with Huggy Bear and Al-Shid, the two guys I came into the industry with. After that we kind of went our own ways. We’re three adults that had different visions musically. When I came out with my fourth album, to us it was just like OK, we’ve moved on, but my fans never forgave me, so I spent 25% of my career building what was known as my glory era and 75% of my career trying to find a new direction and reinvent myself and try to get another spark. Making the music was always fun, but all the business stuff later on in my career… I never expected I would spend more than half my career trying to reinvent, trying to find my niche, and not knowing where the fuck I am. Music’s always been a hobby, but when it becomes your career everything changes. As soon as you release the music to the public it’s no longer yours, it belongs to somebody else to receive it how they want. It got to the point where I got really bitter and I don’t like being that kind of person so I kind of stepped away. I’m known to take hiatuses on the regular and get into other things.
AB: I can understand that. I’ve been writing about Hip-Hop for close to ten years and a few years in I was like yo, I need a new hobby.
JZ: Yeah, it’s like when things start off as your hobby, you’re a kid, you’re 14, 15, and you’re buying NWA and EPMD and De La Soul and Ultramagnetic records and you’re such a fuckin fan and when you’re 17 or 18 years old and you get into digging for samples… I used to go into Salvation Army stores and be in there for hours with the dust mask on. I would even dig through boxes of crap classical records. You’re young and it’s almost like sex when you’re 17 and 18, you’re just gonna fuck for 24 hours. When you’re young you’re just happy to be getting pussy, but when you’re older you’re like OK, I don’t want to fuck with no hoodrats, this girl has to have a good head on her shoulders. As you get older you’re like, I’m not wasting my time. I’d rather have 30 minutes of good sex than just be fuckin like a dog for eight hours. It’s kind of the same thing once something becomes your career.
AB: Is there still fun in it for you? Your career, that is.
JZ: Yeah, when I’m making the music I’m having a lot of fun. When I did my latest project, Chief Chinchilla, I was down here just having a blast and the whole reason I did the Chief Chinchilla record was just for me and for fans of my mixshow and it was just something fun that I wanted to do. I hadn’t made music in two years, so for me to come down here and do that, I was having the utmost amount of fun and I told myself I’m not gonna let the outcome of this record affect me. I did the YouTube videos and had a blast doing them, but then when the album came out I got sucked back in. It’s like it’s magnetic. I busted my ass as much as I could promoting it. After a while I started hearing, “well the album isn’t an official album.” They started calling it a mixtape because it was in a slimline case. I was like, well I got 50 boxes of full packaged CDs sitting here that didn’t move, I wanted to do a limited edition that I could get rid of, and people complained about that. Then it was like, well, Chief Chinchilla is just a Quasimoto rip off because I have my voice altered with speed. I was like, well, when I was rapping in my regular voice people complained. The sales were shitty, but when you Google it it’s everywhere. It’s on a million blogs, but then I looked at my iTunes sales and was like wow, this is paltry. I got the press for a minute, but then I was like you know what, this isn’t the reason why I did the record. I did it to have fun. Music is supposed to be fun, period. Fuck it. I just said you know what, I’m just not gonna think about it and that’s what it is. It’s funny, man, music is like a girlfriend, when you first meet her it’s the honeymoon years and then once you get married and it’s on paper and that’s your livelihood…
AB: The honeymoon’s over.
JZ: The honeymoon’s over. That’s what happens. Even now, I haven’t made a beat since I finished that record in August. When I do make a beat it’s a real dope one, but that’s once every few months. As a kid I would wonder “what ever happened to that group? Why did this producer slow down? Where’s Sir Jinx? Where’s DJ Pooh? Where’s 45 King?” Guys that I idolized as a kid. Then you hear 45 King DJs or does a beat once every couple of years, or that DJ Pooh is doing stuff for VSOP liquor behind the scenes. You hear guys doing music for TV shows. Keeping up with the industry wears you down. Sales shouldn’t determine how you feel about things, but ultimately it’s unavoidable. You tend to chalk that up to your worth when something doesn’t sell. You get the critical acclaim but it doesn’t always match up in sales. It just gets frustrating. It’s a tug of war that you go through in yourself when you’re doing stuff. Between the ages 18 and 31 I changed a lot as a person.
AB: I think we’re all supposed to between those ages.
JZ: Exactly, but I mean in terms of something I was a fanatic about, I still love music but sometimes just the thought of being around Hip-Hop, I get bad vibes, I think about some of the downs, but then that’s my fault. Sometimes I gotta think about the positives. Not many people have the opportunity to have a career and I did, so I’m really grateful for that. I take the good with the bad and when I’m feelin it I do it in spurts. When I get motivated I do something. If not, then I do other things.
AB: In what other ways have you seen yourself change with age?
JZ: When you’re 22, 23, 24, even if you’re sleeping on a promoter’s couch in Denmark you’re out there and it’s a beautiful thing, but now that I’m 31, going on 32, I pay my own health insurance, I have homeowner’s insurance. At this stage in my life I’m doing adult shit. I can’t afford to be running around on the stage and hanging out a Hip-Hop show and go home with enough money to get gas and a subway sandwich, I really gotta think about securing my future and saving. At this point, it’s sad, but I can’t continue to try to grind it out with the young guys because I have a lot more responsibility.
AB: So are you working on anything right now?
JZ: I’m not really working on anything right now, but I have something coming out with Lonely Island, that’s the three guys from SNL, they wrote “Dick In A Box” for Justin Timberlake and they did “Jizz in My Pants” recently. Their album is coming out and I did a beat on there for a song called “Santana DVX.” It’s about Carlos Santana champagne. They actually got E-40 on the song and I’ve always been a huge E-40 fan, I have all his old shit. I got that coming out in February and that’s my first major label placement. So in the midst of Chief Chinchilla not doing well, that’s my up. That’s something I’m really looking forward to. I’m looking forward to seeing if I could possibly move into comedy. Maybe going into comedy and sketches and doing music like that, maybe that’s something where I can find more success and really be myself without people saying oh, that’s a novelty act and yaddda yadda. I also did a beat on Mr. Lif’s album that’s supposed to come out on January 20th and I have DJ gigs here and there. I’m supposed to go to Europe in the spring, but besides that I’m just doing the sports writing and teaching part time.
AB: Yes, the sports writing! I know you have the crazy hoops knowledge from that gig, so lemme know who’s gonna win the NBA title so I can place my bets now.
JZ: In the NBA, even teams that are shitty, even the Thunder, they’re all still grown men talent, they’re still the best talents in the world, so you can expect a Boston to lose to the Knicks now and then. It goes to show you it’s so inconsistent, it’s just really about who comes out to play.
AB: So your prediction is…
JZ: Everybody’s saying Boston. I can tell you this, the Lakers ain’t gonna do it. I will say that. Pau Gasol is just soft. He’s a soft ostrich. I like the Hornets, but they’re still too young. I say Boston does it again. I’ll say Boston and Houston for the finals. I’m gonna pick the obvious in saying the Celtics are gonna win, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the Rockets go to the finals. You gotta go half and half.