J-Zone Interview

New York emcee/producer J-Zone is back with another album chock full of the ignorance and bugged out but always dope beats we’ve come to expect but this time with a twist. Here, Zone gives AGP the lowdown on his music, ‘dat old gangsta shit’, soccer and the Bo$$ Hog Barabarian$ LP – his great new collaborative project with Celph Titled…

So Zone, your album with Celph Titled of the Demigodz has just dropped under the group name Bo$$ Hog Barbarian$. The album is called 'Every Hog Has It's Day', explain to those who might be unfamiliar what to expect from the album....

Foul language, loudmouth groupie ass drama, hoes gettin’ smobbed on, a lot of bass, a heavy funk influence and a crazy sense of humour. If you don't have or like any of the aforementioned qualities, it will be a worthy drink coaster.

How did you hook-up with Celph Titled and how did you come up with the Bo$$ Hog concept?

We’ve been friends since 1999. We were both fans of old gangsta rap tapes and crazy off the radar shit from all regions of the US, not just classic NY hip-hop. We always wanted to do some shit outside of the box that we've been placed in by the listeners.

You have a declared love of that misogynistic, ignorant, style of rap and showcase it on your ‘Ign’ant’ mix CD series but what are your favourite few albums from this sub-genre?

Wow, there's a lot. We'll focus on the rarities. Both Tweedy Bird Loc albums are amazingly ignorant. Ron C's ‘Raw 4 Life’ is oh so cold on the ladies. Ganksta Nip's ‘South Park Psycho’ is a 5 star ignorant album. Too Much Trouble and the Convicts had respect for absolutely nothing at all, they were the best. Poison Clan, Project Pat, C-Lo (not Goodie Mob, another dude), X-Raided (he was MEAN!!!) Suga Free...there's a bunch. Overall, I gotta say Tweedy Bird Loc's ‘No Holds Barred’; misogyny, violence, coastal wars, dissing every rapper alive, blatant racism; not for the faint of heart at all.

Your beats have continued to develop on this album showing a different, perhaps unexpected side to your work with your own take on what is considered the classic west coast sound of big bass and funky-ass samples. How did you approach the creation of these tracks? Was there a specific sound you were going after?

I'll always have my trademark of odd sounding beats, but I decided to use sounds more prevalent in the music we were payin’ homage to. Like I can still make a bugged beat out of a vocoder, electric guitar or synthesizer sample, it doesn't have to be a damn accordion all the time. I didn't stray from the crazy sounds; I just used different types of crazy sounds. All my shit is bass heavy, but I made sure the 808's were extra thick. And I also have more complex basslines here. The beats are more bassline driven because the bass plays the forefront in funk. My older beats, the bass kinda just complimented the main music. This didn’t happen overnight though. If you listen to ‘A Job Ain't Nuthin’ But Work’ and ‘Gimme Dat Beat fool’, little by little I made the transition to a more funk driven sound. Each album was more funk inspired, so it was a gradual change up to Bo$$ Hog.

Your production style is unique and recognisable yet no two beats are ever similar enough for you to be pigeonholed or considered formulaic. How do you keep innovating? Do you make a conscious decision to switch things up with each project or is it just your natural growth as an artist? How do you feel your production skills have developed since 'Music For Tu Madre' and in what direction do you feel your production style is heading next?

Well like I said, I always keep it bugged sounding, but you have to take bugged to a different area sometimes. Like fans of my first 3 records, a lot of them hate the new direction. But what am I supposed to do? You say I’m not pigeonholed but I did get pigeonholed after ‘Pimps Don't Pay Taxes’ in 2002. I did beats for Tame 1, Cage, Al-Shid, Huggy...and people were saying my beats all sounded the same. Like it's cool to have your own sound, but the hard part is to keep your own sound while doin’ variations of it. On ‘$ick Of Bein’ Rich’ and ‘A Job Ain't Nuthin’ But Work’ I started to experiment with different sounds and got a lot of bad feedback. But what am I supposed to do? If I stay the same as 1999-2002, I'm a one trick pony. If I change, I fell off. I can't win, so I just please myself and hopefully people grow into it. It was definitely a conscious choice to change direction.

"...That's the fun part. Breaking your own rules makes you grow as a musician...”

I got sick of everybody expecting a big band or accordion or xylophone sounding beat with 9,552,812 sound-bites in the song. I was like 'fuck that, gimme a rock record or an 80's cheesy new wave record and let me challenge myself'. Sound-bites are a part of my sound, always will be, but maybe if I break my own rules and try a bugged out hook and use fewer but more meaningful sound-bites, after saying on record I don't do hooks at all...that's a challenge! How can I, after dissing hooks, do one and make it dope? That's the fun part. Breaking your own rules makes you grow as a musician. When you experiment, whether it works or not, you get excited to do music. When you're stuck in one sound, it gets boring and you lose the passion to make music. I did what I had too to stay excited about music. I also feel I got more versatile, cause I can still do a beat like ‘Candy Razors’ or ‘Q&A’ if I felt like it, but I can also make some pimp ass shit for Snoop if need be. That's growth, regardless of how you feel about my newer music. Next? Classical music, ho!

What's your studio set up? What tools of the trade do you have?

It's simple. I didn’t get Pro Tools until early 2004. I'm not a gear head at all. I still got a 16 track analogue board from 1993 that shorts out, MPC-2000, turntable, CD-J800, TR-Rack sound module, Oxygen-8 MIDI keyboard, some old outboard gear like tube compressors and shit. I'm an old school ass dude, fuck all that spaceship shit.

The arrangement of your songs is very intricate and each track seems to constantly evolve and switch up, it's never just a looped up beat for 3 minutes. How long do you spend on a particular beat? In both actually arranging the samples to sequencing the beat as a whole? What are your methods, without giving away any secrets!

I never work on a beat for more than an hour or two at a time. I ain't with that 8 hours on a beat shit. With that said, I don't know how long the whole thing takes. I'll work on a beat for 2 hours, go away, come back and work an hour on that beat the next day, then when I get vocals, take 2 hours to sequence, and then another hour or 2 looking for like sounds to compliment and cut up. I guess the whole process is like 5 or 6 hours, but it's spread out, never at once.

You're beats seem to cull samples from bizarre sources, almost as if you buy a load of foreign records from a bargain bin and flip up anything and everything that's in front of you. Is this the case? How much does sample clearance affect your decision to use obscure sources? How do you find the samples and breaks to dice up?

Like I said, I just go for oddball shit, any shit. New Wave to fuckin’ big band I've messed with. If its dope I'll chop it up. I'm used to chopping and reconstructing and blending shit from when I had the SP-1200 back in the day. It has 10 seconds of memory, so you cant just take big loops. When I got the MPC, which has 20 times the memory, I still used the same approach. Like how Bomb Squad and Ultramagnetic used to take small pieces from everywhere and make new shit. That's the fun of makin’ beats to me, and in the long run it helps with clearance issues. Plus, I play just about all my basslines. I don't use that method to avoid clearance, I like to do that. Even if sampling 20 bars was legal, I would still do piece collages and chop shit, its just happens that flipping shit beyond recognition can help hide the obvious.

Yeah I read somewhere you played the bass guitar. Do you play any other instruments?

Bass I played for 8 years. I was nasty! I fell off though, haha. I played guitar, sax, trumpet, drums, trombone...everything except piano. I hated that shit; I thought it was for hoes! But I taught myself recently cause its the universal instrument and I spent a lotta money on these synths I got!

Were you solely into hip-hop growing up or were there more diverse influences that affected how you make your hip-hop?

I played bass as a kid, so I was always into funk first. That's why Bo$$ Hog was so fun, cause I never explored my funk influence in my rap career until recently. When rap started sampling funk records, that's when I got into it. I listened to all types of shit and played mad instruments as a kid. I never had no toys and shit, just instruments, haha! I was a weird ass kid with a big ass Afro. An only child, in my own music world and shit, drawing album covers of me in a funk band!! Bugged ass kid, haha! I was a space cadet.

I get the impression from your work that you are sometimes reluctant to pick up the mic and that you favour producing and the musical side of things? Is this the case?

Yeah, definitely.

"...I like to do shit for myself cause my favourite beats of mine, nobody picks! Ha-ha...”

Do you prefer producing beats for yourself to rhyme on or for other artists? Do you tailor the tracks when working with other MC’s or do they pick from beat CD's?

I like to do shit for myself cause my favourite beats of mine, nobody picks! Ha-ha, but sometimes it's more fun to hear somebody else on my shit. Celph, Al-Shid, Devin, Casual...all them dudes I like to play shit for. I tailor make sometimes, but most times it's beat CD's. Bo$$ hog was 50/50.

Do you have plans to expand Old Maid Entertainment as a label, maybe signing and producing other artists? Or is it strictly a medium for getting your own shit out?

Just for me. I'd love to produce an entire album for one artist and press it myself on Old Maid, cause labels ain’t doin much nowadays. But I have no desire to sign anybody. I don't want no 4AM phone calls from rappers asking for money to pay their child support, haha!

How does the J-Zone / Captain Back$lap persona we hear on record differ from the real life J-Zone? Do you really drive a battered up car and walk round in a pimp-ass mink!!?

Some of it is me, some of it is an exaggeration of me, some is just entertainment and not like me at all. I really had a beat up car, deal with women that are headaches, I'm cheap as all hell, I love basketball, hate dancing, hate people with bad hygiene, etc!! I really dated a girl with outta control kids, but not five kids, she had two. But then a lot of the girl bashing is just venting. I don't walk around callin’ every girl a bitch and a ho. I wanna meet girls that ain't like that. But at the same time, if a girl does some dome dumb shit or tries to play me, she'll be called all types of derogatory names. I'll call the bitch out. I can be that way and have been that way, but despite what the records say, I wish these crazy chicks didn't push me there! It's all just therapy for me, just getting’ out the frustration by talkin’ a whole lotta shit. I only become Captain Back$lap when you rub me the wrong way, I'm far from that if you're cool with me.

Both your lyrics and your skits are funny as fuck. Where does the sense of humour come from? Who were your comedy influences?

It actually comes from depression, haha! I get down or get frustrated a lot cause I'm a perfectionist. And when shit goes wrong, I'm hard on myself. Like if I'm in a dry spell with chicks or my pockets is empty or my confidence is down, I make a funny record to cheer myself up. I'll poke fun at my situation or the people that's makin me miserable and it helps me to cope with the frustration. I didn't rap like this before some chick in college fucked my whole head up. She played me and Back$lap was born! But it's all to help cope and bring humour to the situation rather than let my spirit get down.

As we touched on before you're work contains lots of sound-bites from Movies and TV programmes. You must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of movie dialogue that you can dip into for a line that fits the song you're working on? Are you a big movie fan? What are your favourites?

My favourite movie is Hollywood Shuffle by Robert Townsend. Watch it, and you'll see how it influenced me in a major way. Berry Gordy's Last Dragon, Car Wash, Menace II Society, Soul In The Hole, Baller Blockin’, I'm Bout It, Fresh and Willie Dynamite are some other favourites.

You're one of the few artists at the minute who constantly produces funny and listenable skits that survive repeated listens and don't fuck up the flow of an album. Why do you include them in your albums? What are some of your favourite skits in hip-hop history?

I never use them now unless they connect two songs for smoother transition or to convey a point, usually about the song before or after it. If I don’t need ‘em, I don't use ‘em. My early albums had some skits that were just unfinished ideas or shit that sounded good that I wanted on the album, but didn't necessarily have a place. As my career went on, I used them less and less ‘cause unless they have a specific point, they're moot. Obviously Prince Paul, Dr.. Dre and DJ Pooh are the skit masters. The best skit ever though was on Poison Clan's ‘Poisonous Mentality’ album. JT Money (the main rapper) shoots a kid five times because the kid asked him to respect women.

"...I will never play, watch or give a fuck about soccer...”

You've made a few tracks with UK artists before such as Jehst on ‘Staircase II Stage’ and Diversion Tactics on ‘Dollars & Pence’? Which UK artists do you check for and would you like to work with UK cats again?

The UK showed me love when nobody here knew of me, so it's all good. I like both artists you mentioned, I check for Verb T and my boy Lewis Parker got some beats. My boy Harry Love too. What happened to Pitman? He was pretty funny!

You're a huge sports fan; has our beautiful game Football (Soccer to you) ever appealed to you? Will you follow the United States in this years soccer World Cup?

I will never play, watch or give a fuck about soccer...no offence, haha! I refuse to watch grown men wearin’ clothes like that. Girls’ soccer I'll watch. I’m strictly basketball.

You put out a remix project last year with you behind the boards remixing tracks by the likes of Easy-E and M.O.P. Which artists would you most like to produce for? Who would you most like to hear spitting on a J-Zone beat?

Suga Free, Too $hort, Baby, Redman, Project Pat, MOP, Ghostface, Snoop, E-40....guys you wouldn't expect. I wanna do a beat for a female rapper that's just raw as hell, on some Roxanne Shante shit. That would be dope.

What’s up next for J-Zone? What are you working on? Is there another solo album coming soon? Any plans to tour the Bo$$ Hog Barbarian$ LP?

No solo albums now, just production and stayin’ behind the scenes. I been dealin’ with an injury for about 10 weeks now, I'm just tryin’ to get my health together. I wanna get the fuck outta New York. I'm just focusing’ on myself now, kinda chillin’ on the J-Zone shit for a bit. Just makin’ beats and lookin’ for new talent and behind the scenes work. Soon as I feel better, I wanna do some shows. Celph doesn't tour, so I'll be out solo tryin to keep the Bo$$ Hog buzz up.

Any shout out's, links, adverts or other miscellaneous shit you want to get off your chest?

Zone don't play no soccer. Peace...

from ukhh.com

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