In part one of “A Conversation with J-Zone” the rapper/producer discussed his return to the rap world, his foray into drumming, and his opinion on rap baby boomers. In part 2, J-Zone talks about feeling like a “black weirdo”, how his approach to the music business has changed, and if he’ll hit the road in support of his new album, Peter Pan Syndrome.
TRHH: Another song that spoke to me is ‘Black Weirdo’. I feel out of place in nearly every situation. Have you felt that way for most of your life?
J-Zone: I felt that way all my life. Because being black and being lighter skinned you’re dealing with light skin vs. dark skin. Going to a school that’s majority white with a small black population you’re dealing with it from black friends who are supposed to have your back because white students don’t like you either. Being an only child and having eclectic tastes, my mother was into a lot of revolutionary stuff so she had African influence stuff in the house. My dad was into jazz and he also went to college at Southern Illinois University and his roommates were white boys from the Midwest. They introduced him to rock–Cream, Deep Purple and groups like that. All these influences were in my stash when I was growing up. When it came time to dating and shit like that I was different, I was just into different shit.
When I got older and stopped doing the music shit I was working on the book in 2010 and was working in a school. I worked in a school district that was majority black. The staff, faculty, and students were like 80% black and 20% Hispanic. I had a semi-high top fade. I’d be listening to weird Hip-Hop shit in my car and they’d invite me to these grown and sexy party’s where everybody on the flyer is dressed like Cedric the Entertainer. Everybody is wearing a Steve Harvey suit and they’d always want to invite me to church. I don’t down nobody’s religion but it was like Tyler Perry movie gone bad. That was never my experience, I never related to that. My experience from the black perspective was from the knowledge side. My mother made me read Malcolm X, Soul on Ice, and Seize the Time. I’m growing up learning about the Panthers, all the stuff James Brown did with the Civil Rights Movement, and inventors. When they say “black experience” they don’t talk about that. It’s like this nouveau Steve Harvey, Tyler Perry, Nia Long grown and sexy thing.
I saw the movie Good Hair and that’s where I got the idea for the song from. I wasn’t rapping then but I felt like I gotta do something about this. I’d be in the barbershop and hear, “What are you getting those haircuts for? You know you ain’t got no job! You can’t get a job with a haircut like that.” That’s the problem. Instead of starting our own businesses in our own neighborhoods we feel like we have to go elsewhere to find a job and you feel like you gotta straighten your hair to get a promotion. I got into this big argument with this woman in the barbershop and I said, “That’s why Trayvon Martin happens. We don’t have no respect.” You come into the black community and a lot of things aren’t black owned. You wonder what the image of success is and what’s considered normal and status quo. I’m a young black dude with a business but I’m quirky, I’m different, and into different things and they don’t understand it so they knock it down. They say I’m not grown but I’m trying to do the best I can.
I was always raised to believe that ownership was the key. That’s what my family always told me, to try to own something on your own terms instead of asking somebody for something. In that environment a lot of people’s image of success is to assimilate into mainstream culture. In terms of what’s successful for us I live in a black neighborhood and I go to the library and Tyler Perry has his own section of DVD’s on a display and I’m looking in the black interest section and it’s a girl waiting for her man to get out of jail, this brother is on the down low, this dude is a player, and everything is in the hood. You don’t have no history! That’s part of our experience? Really? To a lot of people that’s what the black experience is. I refuse to believe that shit. To me that’s just not what I do. The fact that I listen to a little rock, old school rap, I get crazy haircuts, I don’t wear the standard shit so they wonder about you. It presents a problem with dating and social circles and I don’t fit in anywhere. It’s not just alienating the black bourgeois, I’m going after everybody on this album because I’m not on anybody’s team—I’m on my own team. A lot of my friends who are black, quirky, different, or a little bit of a nerd, these are the things that they go through. People may hear that song and might not like it. I’m not saying it’s true for everyone but I’m saying it’s something I deal with so I have a right to talk about it.
TRHH: On the song ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ you said, “I know the real world exists I just refuse to join it,” Why do you refuse to join it?
J-Zone: I just don’t think anything is worth dreading getting out of bed every day. I’ve been down to my last dime but my most unhappy time was when I hated getting out of bed. You can’t run from reality but it’s also questioning, what is the real world? The real world is, go get this job, marry this kind of person, have these kids, because that’s what we say to do. If that’s not what I want to do I’m just not going to do it. But by doing that I have to accept and understand that there are going to be consequences. If you’re black, over thirty, and don’t have kids, people think you’re gay—that’s it! I’ve had chicks from other ethnicities say that shit to me like, “How are you black, over thirty, never been married, and don’t have kids?” That goes to show that there is a standard there and there is an expectation for somebody in my position to be in, whether it’s positive or negative. If you refuse to conform to the expectations that are there for you to fall into then you’re going to have some problems and do a lot of explaining. The older I get the more I have to explain.
TRHH: How is your approach to your rap career different than the first time around?
J-Zone: I ain’t got no expectations, man. That’s it. I did the record for fun. I wasn’t planning to do it. Everything was like an accident. I just came back from South Carolina shooting some videos. I had never done a video before but I knew I had to because that’s the modern thing. At the last minute I realized, oh shit I gotta shoot a video and promote this! I just made the record and was going to throw it out there. I literally was going to press up a couple of CD’s, tapes, throw it on iTunes and call it a day. People are like, “You gotta do this and that,” so I’m getting sucked in to a lot of the things that I hate but I’m doing it now and not taking it personal. If somebody doesn’t review it, gives it a bad review or ignores it, whatever. If the record don’t sell or the video only gets 100 views, whatever.
This time around I’m not connecting my personal worth as J the person to the success of a J-Zone record. Before the two were inseparable and that’s why it crashed because when the record didn’t do well I thought I was a failure. This time around I’m aware of how the music business works, I’m aware that I’m older, my demographic is a lot smaller than it was ten years ago. I don’t know yet. The point is I’m going into this like I’m a new artist again. I have a history and a catalog and some stripes but I’m going into this as a new artist just doing his thing. Hopefully people like it, if they don’t, know I’m not going to let my personal worth get caught up in what the record does. This time around I just understand the business. I don’t get too high or too low. I just make the music I like and try to enjoy the ride.
TRHH: In the book you had some sad stories about touring. Do you plan to go back on the road in support of this album?
J-Zone: That’s something that I’m juggling with right now. Like I said, I made the music not thinking about anything but the music. I haven’t been on stage since 2007 at a Knitting Factory show where I just bounced. I got a bunch of DJ gigs lined up, but in terms of getting back on the mic I’ll do what I can to promote the record, but in terms of rapping on stage I forgot the words to all the songs. I’d have to re-learn them. I put in trash, delete after all that and wiped it out. I’d have to really prepare but it’s one of those things. Do I wanna perform, being dead honest with you? No. I don’t want to but if I get a chance to travel Europe again and do this I might have to put all the energy I got back into it and come up with a show because this is what I do for a living. To get a chance to go overseas again I might do it. To drive to Jersey and do a rap gig, there’s a chance I ain’t gonna do that shit [laughs]. Come on out to Manhattan and do a 25 minute show? That ain’t gonna happen. But if I get 20 dates in Europe or Australia I couldn’t turn that down, man. If they step to me and say in two weeks you gotta go here, then the next two weeks I’m going to be working 24/7 to get back in shape to do it.
TRHH: Who is Peter Pan Syndrome for?
J-Zone: It’s for Hip-Hop kids born in the 70’s, early 80’s and even the 60’s who realized that it’s not something you have to outgrow, you can still enjoy it. People who might take care of their responsibility but they don’t see a problem enjoying life. They realize that the kind of haircut you wear, the music you listen to, or your attitude toward dating might be the same as when you were 25 but nobody has a right to judge that because most of the people doing the judging are miserable themselves. It’s also for fellow black weirdos. To be the stereotypical black man in America over 35 who is respectable, what are you supposed to be? I’m just trying to be a trendsetter. There is nothing wrong with being an oddball. People think being an oddball is trying to be cool or ironic. They act like that’s something you gotta leave in your twenties but as long as you’re taking care of your responsibilities, why not? If you wear what you gotta wear to work but you listen to your Hip-Hop, on the weekend throw on your Patrick Ewing shoes, Reebok Pumps, or throw on your old Starter hat, that’s OK. You don’t outgrow enjoying life. As long as you ain’t hurting nobody why should you stop enjoying life just to fit in with everybody in your age group? Life is too short to be miserable out here.
Purchase: J-Zone – Peter Pan Syndrome