J-Zone: After Taxes

J-Zone named his acclaimed 2002 album Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes, and while the IRS hasn’t sniffed him out yet, plenty of beat-buyers have. The Queens slick-talker, known for his penchant for early ‘90s gangsta rap, now has greater desire to be the respected producer that he’s become on the low, having produced for Biz Markie, Akinyele, and Sadat X. In 2006, those board talents are evident in To Love a Hooker, Zone’s first instrumental project as well as his promo-only “Experienced!” tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps taking a cue from inspirations, Scarface and Showbiz, J-Zone’s pushing his mic to the side until his mix is taken a little bit more seriously.

If that’s true though, the “Old Maid Billionaire” went on holiday with a bang. Earlier this year, he and Celph Titled formed Boss Hog Barbarians, a concept group that could have Larry Flynt doing wheelies, and many critics applauding. J-Zone breaks down the struggles within the niche he’s carved, offers to press up your lyrics over his beats, and tells all why King T is still tipsy after all these years.

AllHipHop.com: So many people in the independent Hip-Hop community express frustration with the misogyny, the violence, and the other elements of commercial gangsta rap. You seem to really appreciate a lot of it. That said, what’s your take on that argument?

J-Zone: I used to be one of those people. My first record, Music For Tu Madre was actually a sire – kinda poking fun. When I made that album, I was a 19-year-old kid in the comfort of my college dorm; I could turn on the TV and see Puffy and Ma$e dancin’ around in their Number One and Number Two jerseys and [criticize them]. It’s easy to do that when you’re in that microcosm or comfort zone. When you get out in the world, you see how hard it is to pay bills. So if Puffy can find a niche where he can make 50 billion dollars, he’s gonna take it. I also realized that the independent scene ain’t as open to artistry as we think it is. You have the political types, you have the kind that’ll spit 87 f**kin’ bars but can’t make a damn album, and you have people that just talk killer s**t. When I came out doin’ more comedic stuff, I wasn’t accepted at all. I was the black sheep of the independent rap game, and kinda still am. Yeah, commercial radio gets kinda redundant – how many times can you talk about what color your car is? But we have the same problem – how many times can you talk about smashin’ MCs? Underground artists are guilty of the same s**t.

AllHipHop.com: You mention comedy. Is there a time where you don’t felt taken seriously? Or, is there a time when you think people don’t get the joke?

J-Zone: Both. And that’s why I’m f**kin’ with mostly instrumental [albums] right now. I have my To Love a Hooker record, and I’m workin’ on another concept album for next year. I put a lot of time into my production. I really take it seriously – and you’re gonna love it or hate it – but I do spend a lot of time on it. When I rap about my life experiences, I don’t take that seriously. But, even though we’re in a beat generation, my personality on records is very potent, up-front. I [have] started my record off with a burp and got girls singin’ about me – it’s very in your face. So if that personality is a joke to you, no matter what the musicianship sounds like, you’re just gonna think of me as a clown rapper and a clown producer. I think that’s what happened with my solo records.

AllHipHop.com: I’m probably one of those critics that, when you say “love or hate,” hated the production. Just listening to To Love a Hooker, your sound is changing. I recently read that you started using ProTools. Is that what flipped the script?

J-Zone: I broke my rules. When I first started rappin’, if you listen on “Q&A” I said, “I won’t make synthesizer beats, blow me / The only Casio I own is my imitation Rollie.” I said that. On my first two records, I never did hooks, I never used no synthesizers. As my career went on, I got bored. In order to make good music, you can’t be bored; you have to be motivated. Conceptually, Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes was my best album – in terms of putting s**t together, I don’t think I’ll ever top it – but beat for beat, I thought that might’ve been my weakest record. I hit a ceiling at that point – I was doing the same thing. I was doing a lot of stuff for Eastern Conference [Records], for Biz Markie, my side projects. One day I stood up and said, “These records all f**kin’ sound the same.” Sick of Bein’ Rich was my turning point. Little by little, I started changing things. I was trying to find a new sound. Before I was in love in with Hip-Hop, I was in love with Funk – but I always kept my loves separate. That’s exciting to me – doing s**t I said I’d never do. That’s what’s making my production grow.

AllHipHop.com: To Love a Hooker could appeal to an E-40 or Pimp C fan… but it may also speak to fans of Peaches or Princess Superstar. Who do you see as the audience?

J-Zone: That’s what I’m trying to establish. The thing that influenced me to do instrumental albums is when 45 King started doin’ it with 45 Kingdom or Master of the Game. J Dilla did Donuts, Large [Professor] just dropped something, Ayatollah, and mad people are doin’ ‘em. This s**t is catchin’ on. Being that I’m known for off-the-wall s**t, I knew I’d give my instrumental album a theme. I was listenin’ to Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves, and I thought, “What if any artist could buy the album – the storyline is there, the skits are there, and the lyrics aren’t. It’s like a make-your-own concept album.” It’s something that could go totally over peoples’ heads and they’ll call it corny, or it’s something that could catch on. People are always hittin’ me up for beats, and I’m sayin’ “Show me what you can do.” They never do. Now I can say, “Buy To Love a Hooker and do the whole f**kin’ album. If you’re really as dope as you say you are, I’ll take the whole f**kin’ record and put it out with the vocals on it.” Louis Logic heard about it, he said, “Yo, I’m gonna do the whole album.”

AllHipHop.com: You and Celph-Titled did the Boss Hog Barbarians project earlier this year. It seemed to be a very grassroots-minded effort, but the critical response, at least in my eyes, has been pretty warm. It looks like a joke to some folks, but you’ve got Beatminerz production on there…

J-Zone: It wasn’t a “we did this in a weekend” thing; we are a legitimate group. We are gonna give the group an identity, and the identity is gonna be versatility. All the beats gotta be funky. We were accepting beats from fans, other producers, and so on. People were sending us s**t. Nobody was hittin’ us on the head. So me and Celph said “F**k it, we’re gonna do the whole album ourselves.” At the end, I hit up Mr. Walt [of Da Beatminerz], and the first beat he gave me was “Hell No, Ho” and the s**t was crazy. Me and Celph both grew up listening to EPMD, Rakim, all that s**t, but we also listened to C-Bo, Spice-1, Mac Mall, E-40…

AllHipHop.com: I noticed that the cover was inspired by The Geto Boys’ Da Good, Da Bad & Da Ugly album…

J-Zone: Celph had longboxes lyin’ around of all the old Rap-A-Lot s**t. We were like, “Yo, everybody shows how they were influenced by old school, East Coast rap. Nobody, from New York, has ever come out and shown how they were influenced by C-Bo and Cash Money Millionaires and Willie D.” That’s the concept of the album. The four beats Celph did sound like some E-40 s**t. My beats sound like J-Zone with an early ‘80s Disco Funk thing like that. That’s my L.A. production influence – sounding like a pimpish Bar-Kays studio session. That’s my Doggystyle influence. We thought people would hate this record or love it. When it came out, it was kinda quiet. Over time, it started to sell consistently. It was easy to get lost in the sauce because we did it independently. But I got people hittin’ me on MySpace, loving it. It’s that kind of a record.

AllHipHop.com: You mention those influences. What is it like when you’re making your albums, and you call up King T or Devin the Dude and explain to them that you’re an indie rapper from Queens trying to get a verse? What’s that initial reaction like?

J-Zone: Mind blowing. My career could end tomorrow. I live by Kennedy Airport; I could go outside and a plane could go too low and hit me in the head. I’ll be laid up in a hospital bed and can’t move. But the one thing I can say is that I got a chance to work with people that I grew up listening to. I never sold the most records, I never made the most money, I’m not the most well-known. When I was 15-years-old, I had all these guys’ tapes in my walkman. I had a rough time in high school, so music got me through a rough period. To have them on my s**t or to do a beat for their s**t, that’s a f**kin’ honor to me. I’m always gonna be a fan first – I don’t give a f**k if I win a Grammy tomorrow. To have King T on the phone, or to email Devin, or to have J-Ro and Masta Ace in my basement doin’ vocals, to go all the way down to Maryland to work with Biz Markie, eatin’ Chinese food. This is the guy I used to watch in my living room in videos. Twelve years later, I’m in his studio, workin’ on a record! Casual, Akinyele, Sadat X, Prince Po, MF Grimm, Da Beatminerz – all these dudes, it’s crazy. I’m still f**ked up!

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of legends, rumor has it that you may have beats on Redman’s next album. Is that true?

J-Zone: Redman, his personal assistant, had been talking to Ethan, my DJ from Fat Beats. I guess [Redman] was workin’ on one of the mixtapes he was doin’, and wanted to know some samples. So I called [his personal assistant] with the info, and she said, “Where can I get these records? He needs them now.” I put her on with Sound Library. I was doing this for a while. All I asked was that I can slide him a beat tape. A few weeks later, I find out there’s three or four he liked. But we couldn’t work it out. I was willing to give him my album [beats], but I never heard back in time.

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