featured interview

J-Zone The Storyteller Despite the fact that J-Zone rocked in front of thousands of people on Belgian Dour festival, his nickname was the Old Maid Billionaire, and he got sick of being rich, Jay never made it to rap stardom. Sick of performing for seven people on average in the US and selling less albums in his career than Kanye West does in one day, Zone decided to step back from the game. After some successful blog posts about Tim Dog, Disco Rick, and his tape fetish, J-Zone bundled his writing pieces in 'Root For The Villain: Rap, Bullshit And A Celebration Of Failure', an anecdotal biography mixed with columns about today's society...

J-Zone, why this book?

I had been writing 2000-3000 word pieces over the years and I wound up posting them on Dante Ross' blog when I was writing for him. The response was really positive, but I couldn't keep up with the blog world. With blogging, you have to post new content multiple times per week or people will forget about you. There was no way I could keep up that pace because I was writing full articles. So I decided to chill with the blogging and focus on developing the 26 anecdotes I had and compiling them into one cohesive book. It's like making an album versus dropping a new song on iTunes every week ... putting ideas together into one cohesive project is my strength and my preference.

I also did it because I wanted to shatter the myths about musicians having to be famous to publish memoirs. I felt I had some interesting stories and ideas, but musicians who never made it big usually don't write books. I wanted to show people that as long as your story is interesting and you know how to write, you should tell your story. We've been trained to believe that you have to be as famous as Jay-Z, Kanye, Common, LL Cool J, or 50 Cent to tell your story. If you only sold 1000 CD's but you have a great story, you shouldn't feel like you have no right to put it on paper.

The book starts on an autobiographical note and then turns into a collection of 'think pieces', how come you decided to add that?

I'm an artist, but I'm also a person. So is every artist who has put a book out. I've always felt that a lot of books from artists are about what they did to make it in music. But they're scared to tell their opinions on everyday stuff. Ice-T and Luke spoke about other stuff besides their careers in their books, and that's why they seemed more realistic than the other artist books. I decided to tackle some life issues that I'm dealing with now, to bring a human quality to the artist view. To write about albums I made, artistic successes and failures, and places I've been on tour is cool, but I always thought it made a better read when the reader got a glimpse into the mind of the artist when it comes to everyday life and issues that affect the average person, not just music.

There's a lot of humour and cynicism in the book, but besides that you write open and bluntly, such as about your first masturbation act, your grandma, your family heritage, you obviously felt comfortable in your pen? A big difference with the rapper J-Zone?

Well, even as J-Zone I always made attempts to be more honest than the average rapper, but the book is definitely much more personal and candid than my music. J-Zone was a character that was based on my real life, but there was definitely stuff I held back, didn't explain fully, or exaggerated for entertainment purposes. The book is a better platform to be frank and real about shit.

Ever thought of this book becoming a best seller and people browsing through your discography again and buying your albums like never before?

(laughs) No, I didn't. But a few people have discovered or re-discovered my music because of the book and that's cool. Questlove went on Twitter and suggested people to read my book and check my albums and said he admitted he'd slept on my music. Even though I'm not very active in hip-hop these days, it feels good to see appreciation for stuff I thought was long forgotten.

This book is an overview of your musical career, what's the overall conclusion at the end of it all? Were there any moments where you thought 'I shouldn't have done it or different or this or that' at a certain moment?

I'm perfectly acceptable with where I reached and what my music was. Would I make the same music today? No. But would I change anything I did in my career? Hell no. I don't have any regrets because I did things my own way and never sacrificed my creative vision. It didn't always equal money or success, but I've realized that when you don't abide by the music business rules and try to do things the way I did, the road can be bumpy. I'm cool with that and can sleep at night knowing I always did what was true to me, regardless of whether people liked it or not.

Would things be different if you would've lived and made music in Europe?

I think so. I'd say 70% of the mail orders for my book have been from Europe or Australia. That's partly because most Americans order my stuff through Amazon, but it's also because Europe appreciated me more. If it weren't for Europe, I wouldn't have even had a career. My man J-Ro from the Alkaholiks has been living in Sweden for a long time; he told me to move out there years ago because we're more appreciated as artists overseas. I definitely think being in America (and especially in New York) made things harder for me.

Considering your distrust with social media, how come you have Facebook and Twitter?

I was hesitant to join both, but I had to do it. I'm paranoid when it comes to the internet and social media, but there's no denying that it increased my book sales and the awareness on me in general. If it were up to me, I'd have no social media in my life, but it's also helped me make money. You just have to deal with it because that's where the world is heading whether I like it or not. If I were as famous as Dr. Dre, I wouldn't need to use social media. I don't have that luxury, so I do what has to be done.

You're talking about Facebook in your book. What do you think about Twitter?

At first, I hated it. I'm still not a huge fan of it, but I see its purpose and importance. If it weren't for Twitter, I would've sold 30% of the books I've sold to date. Like I said, it's a double-edged sword and a necessary evil. Twitter has helped me immensely.

You come from an era of cassettes but still you did publish the book in an electronic version, a Kindle version... Did somebody else told you to do that?

As much as I hate it, there are people who only use Kindle. I don't want to alienate potential customers. I don't have a Kindle, so that's why I also made my book available on limited edition cassette tape audio books. I adapt to survive, but I never forget my roots with the cassette tapes!

In our previous interview you taught us more about some artists; MC Sergio, Royal Flush and Mob Style for instance...we mentioned one artist you didn't know Rated X...have you looked for it yet?

I still haven't heard it yet! I'll look for it online because I've never seen the tape or CD anywhere.

You also told us about Milk Dee maybe releasing Audio Two's 'First Dead Indian'...any news?

Milk told me he was going to release it when I saw him three years ago, but it's still not out. I doubt it will ever be released, to be honest.

To what extend did you stop digging for music...do you still look for rare/unearthed old school rap acts?

I don't dig every day like I used to, but I'm always on the hunt for early '90s stuff I haven't heard! That will never stop.

You mention the Baritone Tip Love album in your book, please tell us more about it...

It's the alter ego of Phil the Soulman, a renowned record collector and vinyl dealer from Philadelphia. It's very similar to my Chief Chinchilla album or Madlib's Quasimoto stuff. It was probably the first rap album recorded with the pitched up voice/alter-ego thing. It came out on cassette only in 1991. Phil sent me a copy himself; I've never, ever seen it for sale. It's the rarest rap album I own, but I think there was a limited vinyl re-issue a few years back. Production wise, I think its a Top 5 all time rap album. It's sounds like the Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, Pete Rock, and Shock G of Digital Underground all collaborated in the studio. Lyrically, it has a lot of concepts and humor. It's like a J-Zone album really, but I never heard it until 2004, so the similarities are scary.

What are some of the main differences between writing prose and writing rap lyrics?

Writing prose, you're less confined to the beat. You can also step out of character more easily with prose. Every rap I wrote, I was always thinking about how it would come across when I had to perform it at a show. Usually, the rhymes I wrote and the songs I made weren't ideal for shows, which are about being hyped and having a lot of raw energy. Maybe 25% of my entire catalog would go over well in a live setting. Writing prose, I don't have that problem.

In his foreword to your book, Ego Trip's Chairman Mao wrote 'If he's indeed done making music and has turned his attention to writing, our professional field just got a little stronger'....are you continuing writing books?

I want to write another book, but the whole experience will drain you! My eyesight is going from 10 months of re-editing and over a year of writing. My brain is tired from remembering details. It was so fun to put the book together, but I can't even think straight now! I'll start thinking about what to do next in the Spring, but for now I'm exhausted and have no idea what's next! I'm just happy to finally see it brought to completion.

You mentioned a quote by Oscar Wilde. What other writers do you like?

Sudhir Venkatesh, Donald Goines, the Ego Trip crew, a lot of authors. Most of the stuff I read is nothing like what I write, though.

Besides a book by Spring, what's next for J-Zone?

Learning to play the drums. Besides that, just taking things a day at a time and wearing clean underwear at all times!

Shout outs?

My sidekick, Chief Chinchilla, who's in jail for tax evasion. Come home soon, Chief!


POSTED 12|30|2011
conducted by cpf

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