Our boy J-Zone has been putting in work for years perfecting the craft of transforming dollar bin records into sample laden, off key, yet banging production that underscored gems like “Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes,” “Music for Tu Madre,” and “$ick of Being Rich.” In the last year or so J decided to back away from the mic in order to focus more on beats and instrumental projects. You can check him out on the latest from the Juggaknots, Outerspace, Del, Akrobatik, Lil Fame (MOP) and Sadat X. His first full length instrumental release is the groundbreaking create- your- own story project ‘œTo Love a Hooker.’ The album includes movie clips, a cast of characters, scene descriptions in the liner notes, some crazy beats, and an easy to follow storyline about a dude’s wife leaving him and him falling for a hooker. The set up is there, the only thing missing is the lyrics for you to add. We got up with Zone to talk about the industry, instrumentals and scoring pornos. Word.
Halftimeonline: How’s the life of an instrumentalist these days?
J-Zone: Quiet, haha.
Halftimeonline: What made you make the switch to doing just instrumental albums after you have put out so many other joints and created a niche?
J-Zone: Everybody knows I was always a producer first so I always wanted to do something with just beats but I kinda got sucked into the artist thing. When I first came in the game I just wanted to sell beats but I did ‘˜Music For Tu Madre’ cuz I couldn’t get anyone to rhyme on my shit. I didn’t want to rhyme at all but people liked it so I just kept adding to it. After my third album I got comfortable with rhyming. I didn’t have to rap about destroying emcees or be political. I could just get on records and be a clown or a nut, have fun and do it for the sake of entertainment. I realized if I do that I don’t have to wait around for other people to get on my beats. I didn’t have to deal with people saying I can’t rhyme to it, it sounds too crazy. It was easier to make my own shit but then I realized the personality that I have on my records is so in the forefront that you love or hate the character J-Zone so much that you lose the musicianship. I had a lot of creative concepts on all my albums and dope production but if you don’t like that character, that asshole that J-Zone was then it doesn’t matter what I do you’re going to overlook it. I would go on message boards and see posts that might talk about me as a producer and then someone would answer that motherfucker is corny or he thinks he funny but the answer would have nothing to do with the beats. My character started to overshadow the musicianship and concepts. Even with my stage show I would always come out and try different things like do parodies live or do shit to bother the crowd but that would get overlooked because if a guy standing there in a fur coat is an aberration to you it takes you by surprise. So whatever I do afterwards doesn’t matter. People are all wrapped up in the J-Zone character so I said I’m gonna put all my attention to beats.
My personality and whit is still there when I do beats but if my jokes, cussing or rhyming ain’t your taste maybe you can recognize the musicianship now. Plus I’m not an emcee, I’m a rapper there is a difference. When I’m at your radio show I’m not gonna rhyme. I rhyme in the studio and onstage. Anywhere else I don’t rhyme. I don’t freestyle, get in ciphers or drop 16s for mixtapes but all that shit is expected from emcees. That ain’t me. I like writing funny rhymes and doing shows but that’s it.
Halftimeonline: Since the instrumental game is blowing up right now did you study the scene a bit before figuring out what kind of project you wanted to do?
J-Zone: I definitely studied the scene. I always wanted to do one because the thing that got me into making beats was Mark the 45 King’s beat records like ‘˜The Masters of the Game’ and ‘˜Tuff City Break Squad.’ I used to go buy all of his beat records. That’s what got me started. My instrumental versions of my regular albums would always sell pretty decent too even though they were vinyl only. After a while I was like there is a niche for this but I wanted to make it something special. Then Donuts came out, Madlib did one, Large Pro did one and everybody started doing them. I was like wow there are a lot of people who are tired of someone fucking up the beat by rapping all wack. So I saw the chance to do one but I didn’t want to just compile a bunch of beats. I had to make mine different because of the artist within me. The artist within me said you have to make this a concept record. If I was a regular producer I could just throw beats together but as an artist you’re always conscious that a listener’s attention span is only 30 seconds. So it’s like how do I keep that attention without someone rapping on it. That’s what made me come up with the concept.
I had been writing a movie for fun on the side and the ‘˜To Love a Hooker’ shit was the plot but I never did anything with it. So I was like yo I have all my favorite beats no one ever picks when I shop them and I started looking at the story and was like oh shit I have music to fit these scenes. I had a beat with the ‘˜hoes get the money’ shit but nobody I shop beats to is gonna rap about hoes get the money and I’m not rhyming anymore. I originally wanted to give it to Suga Free but I didn’t have a connect. Then I saw there was a scene in the movie about a pimp going at a hooker. Then I had some strip club beats so I put that into the story and it fit. Plus I just got tired of rhyming cuz I’m not the way I am on records all the time and you feel the pressure to live up to that character. I hate to sound like an old man but I’m getting older and I’m at a point in my life where that character is in me and I can become that person but people who see me out in the street are like yo J where’s the bitches? Yo J that girl looks like Lucy Liu go talk to her! It just began to be like when I’m hanging with a girl I might be talking too people are like I hope you didn’t buy her no drink!
J-Zone: The J-Zone character began to take over my life. Then when I’m out I put pressure on myself like what would J-Zone the rapper be doing in this situation. I’m tired of chasing hoodrats. As you get older different things become important to you even though some of those things will still be within me. I’m still cheap and I’ll still cuss a bitch out but sometimes I just wake up and I don’t want to be that way. Right now in my life I don’t feel like getting on records and upholding that image. I’m trying to go somewhere else in my life professionally and personally and that character might hold me back from going where I want to go. So it was also a personal decision to fall back off that rapping shit.
Halftimeonline: Going back to the concept of the record when you first threw that out there what was the reaction from people when you told them what you were doing? That’s an interesting way to create an album.
J-Zone: It was mixed. For instance I told Louis Logic and he flipped. He was like yo that’s crazy I don’t think anyone’s done that before. I want to hear that and I’d love to try [and rap over] it. A lot of fellow artists would bug out and be like oh shit! Wordsworth told me to send it to him the other day. Artists would flip out but the first time I told Ethan, my partner at Fat Beats, he was like it doesn’t sound interesting enough. He was like I don’t think people are going to like it, you have to be more creative than that. Not to go off the subject but that’s when I realized I’m a producer’s producer and a rapper’s rapper. I get all of my acclaim from people who do what I do. When I go have sessions with the Beatminerz we play each other’s shit and the mutual respect is there. [It feels good] to have producers who are big time who I didn’t think they even knew who I was come up to me and say I love your shit. Like Lil Fame from M.O.P coming up to saying yo your shit is crazy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into the regular fan. The people who I’d never thought would take to it respect it but I can’t get the consumers to latch on. I tell producers about ‘˜To Love a Hooker’ and it’s like yo that’s nuts, rappers are like I want to try it but the regular fan is like yea whatever. So it’s almost like I’m making records for my peers. I’ll make a record and send it to Pete Rock, Large Pro, or The Beatminerz and they all love it and it’s like ok time to work on the next record. I already know once it comes out people are just not going to get it.
Halftimeonline: Word, we were talking the other day about how hard it is to keep a project in the eyes of the public and how it’s so fickle.
J-Zone: Oh man, me and Mr. Walt were talking about that. He said they worked on their record for twelve months but were only gonna get 3 weeks of burn. You have an 8 week opportunity. You do what you can and it’s like 52 weeks vs. 8 weeks. It goes up on Sandbox and Hiphopsite, you may be lucky enough to get the front page for a week and then in a week or two something bigger or different is up and you’re forgotten. You’re all the way down the page. Luckily I’m the kind of artist that slow burns and I have a catalog so years later shit will still move and trickle out. I guess if people like one record they go back and get the others but I don’t have that initial buzz out the gate. So when I press CDs I never know how many to manufacture. Now that I’m back independent again it’s a crapshoot. With ‘œExperienced’ the reviews were mixed but people knew it was a promo only thing and they had to grab it. With Boss Hog Barbarians people hated on it but it sold well because you had two different artist fan bases all buying it. So to me ‘˜Hooker’ was the best out of all of them and it’s what people want from me. They want me to back away from the Captain Backslap shit and do something more artistic. So I figured this is going to do well. The press was great. I had allhiphop, The Source and all that but the preorders sucked. I was like damn I got all of these shits in my living room what the fuck. Maybe it will sell consistently over time, maybe it’ll flop or maybe something will happen and it will pick up big. I don’t know what’s gonna happen but every record I do is like that.
People say they want to hear major label people over J-Zone shit. So I did ‘˜Gimme Dat Beat Fool’ and I was playing some of the promos and people loved it so I thought that shit was gonna fly. I pressed 1,000 copies and the preorders came in and I didn’t have enough so I pressed another 1,000 and maybe 150 of those thousand went out. Then boom two weeks later it just died on the operating table. I made my money back because it’s so easy to make profit on CDs because they are so cheap to press but it just showed me you never know how people are gonna react to shit. People say they want something, you do it and then they don’t bite or you had that two week window where it seems like the record is gonna pop but then another record comes out and your shit is dead. I’m pressing my own shit so everything is funded with my own money. When I did ‘œTu Madre’ I pressed 1,000 and they said we need more. I was like well ya’ll gonna have to pay cuz I don’t have any money for it. Same thing with ‘œBottle of Whup Ass’ they just flew. Then it was times like with ‘œExperienced’ where I made it limited edition where it flew. I never know who will buy my records. So I don’t know what percentage is buying my records for the jokes and the antics and what percentage is buying it for the beats, musicianship and me just being J-Zone. People who are into Captain Backslap probably won’t like the Hooker record. It’s really hard to figure out what’s going on.