New York rapper/producer J-Zone has been making hip-hop since the late nineties, so he knows a thing or two about rap music. He released albums steadily until 2007, when he retired, wrote a book about his experiences. Like all great retired rappers he only lasted a few years out to pasture before the allure of the mic drew him back. In 2013 he released “Peter Pan Syndrome,” and he also put out albums in 2014 and 2015. His latest “Fish-N-Grits” is an examination of the current state of the music industry, and J-Zone is having none of it.
“Fish-N-Grits” is presented as a battle between two rappers from different generations. In one corner, hipster rapper in skinny pink jeans Swagboi Blog Lover; in the other, old school Purist Generation Xer, who “always types his social media posts in capital letters so his message can be heard loud and clear.” J-Zone and his sped-up alter ego lay it all out in opening track “Shut Up, Make Music”:
“Generational debates have reached a boiling point, and both sides fail to realize that in the grand scheme of things, nobody gives a f#$k. So for the twenty-year-olds jumping on the lets bastard 90s bandwagon, you weren’t even born yet. And to the forty-eight-year-old, worrying about what fifteen-year-old kids are listening to, worry about your cholesterol, please. The moral of the story is there are only two types of music: Good and Bad. So make good music or shut the f#$k up.”
The album goes into “Time For a Crime Wave,” where J-Zone and his alter-ego lament how boring gentrified Brooklyn has become, and how the city needs a serious crime wave to chase off all the recent transplants and hipsters:
“Bored and still
Here I am on another high class date
With another high class brat from Boredom Hill
She has the audacity to state
That 60 grand a year ain’t enough for her to make
I’m sick of gentrifiers saying life ain’t fair
Cuz now that Brooklyn is a branch now you can’t afford to live there
Or how it’s such a f#$king pain
Bums begging for change
Kids dancing on the train are a threat to your safety
Where the f#$k you think you moved to?
(Get the f#$k outta here) You need an au pair
Go back to Eau Claire and pump out a few babies”
He goes on to dis the NYPD and reminisce about when goons ran loose in record labels in the 90’s.
“I’m Sick of Rap” fires shots at old-ass rappers who want everything to be like it was back in the 90s even though times have changed, even though no one in the 90s wanted to take it back to the 70s. On “Rap Is A Circus…And We Hope the Elephants Trample Everybody,” he calls out people who snitch about who their favorite artists sample, and then get mad when said artist stops sampling and starts making synthesizer beats because he can’t afford to get sued over samples anymore.
“Fish-N-Grits” is funny, but beyond the humor J-Zone is making some real points about the state of the record industry and hip-hop in particular, and how pointless old school nostalgia is. Has-Lo, Al-Shid, and Swagmaster Bacon are featured on the album, but the majority of the rhymes are performed by J-Zone and his Quasimoto-like alter ego. He’s doing this even as he’s making hip-hop that fits in with what Genex Purist would want to listen to – based on jazz and funk loops and centered on actual rhyming skills. The music is all made by J-Zone and friends, so there are live drums throughout the album and several funky instrumental tracks. The beats hit hard but don’t sound slavishly throwback.
“Fish-N-Grits” offers an important perspective for aging rappers and rap fans. It’s pointless hating on the Travis Porters and Drakes and Futures of the world, even though their take on hip-hop has little to do with what EPMD, Tribe, or Gang Starr were doing back in the proverbial day. When Tribe dropped “Low End Theory” no one was complaining about how they weren’t sampling disco songs or keeping true to what hip-hop was in ’77. Time changes, technology changes, sampling laws change, and music changes. There’s good music and bad music. Listen to the good stuff and avoid the bad, or shut the f#$k up.