Sunday, August 14, 2016

Root for The Villain: Rap, Bullsh*t & A Celebration of Failure... Behind "The One's & Two's" with Rapper, Producer, The Du-Rites Drummer & Jack of All Trades J-Zone (The Witzard Interview)

Self-described husband, dad, crate-digger, beard cultivator, and Flea Market Funk founder DJ Prestige heroically recounted "Bug Juice" as "pure Funk with no option on Soundcloud for the Funk genre, this may be the record that makes them put Funk in there, seriously. This instrumental is heavy, and J-Zone's drum break towards the end solidifies this as one of our faves of 2016." J-Zone & Pablo Martin are currently holed up in the studio readying their "Bug JUice" 7-inch EP for September with a full-length album to likely follow as soon as October or November. J-Zone's own on-site biography additionally notes that he's currently "also preparing for the roll out of SuperBlack," yet another super-group formed with the likes of legendary De La Soul-affiliated producer Prince Paul and American TV producer, filmmaker, writer, and The White Mandingos member Sacha Jenkins. "Um, I pretty much think of myself as like a jack of all trades, but master of none—that's my tagline; I mean, I'm not a master producer, I'm not a master emcee, I'm not a master writer, I'm not a master drummer, I'm not a master DJ, I'm not a master musician, engineer, etc." J-Zone lamented during the introduction to a rather self-loathing Fish-N-Grits Promo. Below, I've included a comprehensive 12-question interview I was lucky enough to coordinate with J-Zone himself over the past couple weeks via email; it effortlessly spans everything from his 2009-13 self-imposed sabbatical to working with luminaries Biz Markie & Broken Bells to his newly-formed genre label-eschewing groups, The Du-Rites and Prince Paul-assisted SuperBlack. So, feel free to kick back, put on a vinyl (preferably Fish-N-Grits), and enjoy my latest interview with one of Hip-Hop's most original rapper-producers... Jay "J-Zone" Mumford!!!


Matt Horowitz
The Witzard "Senior Editor"

I. While Fish-N-Grits is a wonderfully-assembled Hip-Hop album unto itself, I would almost prefer to classify it as tongue-in-cheek “anti-Hip-Hop” album, which seems like a fitting classification; however, with that said, who would you likely say are a few of your current favorite rappers (or even producers) who you believe could effectively help save and resurrect Hip-Hop as a whole?

I don’t believe Hip-Hop needs to be "saved or resurrected;" there’s good music and bad music like it’s always been, it’s just more marketing and branding-based now, which gives us a lopsided perception of what’s out there. There’s plenty great music flying below the radar, but half the people have the "if a tree falls in the forest" mentality about it and the other half find it easier to listen to the same music they’ve been listening to for 25 years and complain, rather than seek out new stuff they may like. There’s great music out now, but it takes more effort than ever to bring it to people’s attention, so most of us blow it off. Most of my critiques aren’t so much about music, but all the crap that goes along with it. If you want to make sample-based, Boom-Bap Hip-Hop with a 4 BPM tempo range—fine, but adhere to those values in the present time, instead of trying to bring back 90's or worrying about who samples from what source. If you want to be a modernized Trap/dope boy, that’s fine as well—but you can do it without acting like some blog or bottom rung artist slot at SXSW will really make a difference or that the blue verified check [verified on Twitter] by your name makes you artistically legit. Just let the music speak for itself without all the codes and rules.

II. How would you say your 2009-13 retirement and Peter Pan Syndrome-aided resurgence ultimately affected your latest and first true solo album (excluding Lunch Breaks and Backyard Breaks) since 2013, Fish-N-Grits?

When I was away from music, I had completely lost passion for it. It was a dark place. When I decided to come back to music, I promised myself I’d only do things that are a step [in] the direction I want to go and never do anything that took the joy out of music for me. Fish-N-Grits represents everything I wanted to do with my artistry, as far as Hip-Hop goes. I want to expand into Funk and other genres as a musician and composer, but I need to get there gradually, so I made an effort to emphasize the musicianship more with the newer albums. Lyrically, I think I was pigeon-holed as a novelty act early in my career because of the comedic approach, so I wanted to add some more serious stuff to show my range and balance out the humor, which will always be there. As a working musician, I have to do things I don’t enjoy to make a living at times [and] that’s just a given reality all artists have to accept. But at this point, I have my limits because the money isn’t everything. My biggest thing is refusing to go backwards. I don’t tour or perform any of my older material—I actually don’t perform live as a rapper at all. Can’t freestyle worth a sh*t, don’t have a head full of unreleased rhymes on stash, don’t really consider myself an emcee; I make Rap records for cathartic purposes and no other reason whatsoever. Where I am as a rapper is as far as I want to go and I make no bones about it. The instrumentation and production side is my primary focus, so I have to be careful about what I put out there because going backwards will create more expectations for me to revisit what I’ve already done and wasn’t happy doing anymore. My Wikipedia [page] still says “rapper” as my primary occupation—I haven’t done a rap show in nine years! I’d be homeless, if that were true.

III. Would you care to further, albeit briefly within the confines of this space, describe your work with Biz Markie, Broken Bells, DJ Premier, Danger Mouse, The Lonely Island, and Pete Rock?—which were mentioned within your self-penned Bio, yet not fully explained.

Danger Mouse is a long-time friend. We met in 2000 when he worked in a record store in Athens, GA. He recorded his Ghetto Pop Life album with Jemini in my basement and I rapped on a song. In recent years, I remixed two of his Broken Bells tunes and played drums for him on a few tracks—one of which ended up on Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate album. He introduced me to The Lonely Island and I produced “Santana DVX” (featuring E-40) on their Incredibad album. I produced the 2003 single “Chinese Food” for Biz Markie. As for Pete [Rock], I did some scratches and mixing for his album My Own Worst Enemy with Ed O.G. I opened for DJ Premier as a DJ a few times, most recently at the Soundset Festival.

IV. You’ve said yourself that “The Du-Rites [is] probably the closest to what [you] aspired to in [your] Funk-drenched 80’s childhood;” and with that said, what do you have in store for the terribly unsuspecting world? How did you come to form a band with your long-time mastering engineer and Tom Tom Club guitarist, Pablo Martin?

Just some nasty Instrumental Funk! It’s a niche market, but that’s always been where my heart is. I just never had the resources or the right mind and skill sets til now. When I first started playing drums, Pablo called me to sit in with his band, PABLO, because the drummer wasn’t showing up. They were patient with me as I learned my instrument and how to play with other musicians, instead of just jamming [alone] in my basement. I eventually became the drummer in that band, but for a moment, the rest of the band was busy with stuff and both Pablo and I had other side projects that were kind of dragging. The PABLO band is more like Rock, so Pablo and I decided to make a pure Funk project on our own. That became The Du-Rites and it’s ironic that it’s coming out before all the other projects and is actually getting really good feedback. It was initially inspired by restlessness and a desire to "Funk out."

V. Now, I know that you’ve released subtly Macklemore-bashing “WHITE PRIVILEGE” and “Secondhand Gunsmoke” (Your Old Droog RMX), but what’s next for your group SuperBlack with legendary producer Prince Paul and TV producer-writer Sacha Jenkins? What ever ended up happening to your seemingly abandoned SUPERBLACK RACE MUSIC MIXTAPE PT. 1?

The SuperBlack “WHITE PRIVILEGE” track was recorded in 2014. It had nothing to do with Macklemore. It had just been sitting for so long and when he dropped his song, we figured if we didn’t drop ours then, there wouldn’t be a better time later. That was just timing and opportunity. The album was completed late 2014, but all the conflicting schedules and deciding how and where to release it has slowed things down. It will come out on Mass Appeal Records in 2017. The [RACE MUSIC MIXTAPE PT. 1] will drop sometime later this year most likely, but I don’t know when.

VI. Stereogum Senior Editor Tom Breihan recently described Fish-N-Grits as an album consisting of “painstakingly assembled Breakbeat-Funk instrumentals [wherein] J-Zone had to record the drums and bass parts himself, then chop them up the ways he wanted...” would you care to further explain this rather tedious, yet incredibly effective process?

For the vocal songs, I looped myself playing drums like I would a record because you can’t have drum solos and sh*t going on when I’m trying to tell a story with vocals. But on all the instrumentals, I was playing drums live all the way through because that’s how Funk records were made in 1969. Leave the mistakes in and everything.

I’d have the basic music tracks sequenced with no drums in the MPC-2000, dump it into ProTools and start adding stuff over it like bass lines, etc. Then I’d create and rehearse the entire drum track in my head, set my metronome to whatever the tempo was, and record. Then, I’d slide the whole drum track back over the music and the song structure would fit what was going on with the music because I played it to fit what the sequence of the song. It was a weird process, but I got used to it. Sometimes I’d just play drums live over the music, if the feel and swing were something that a click was too sterile for and I wanted some raw spontaneity.

VII. What were some of your initial inspirations and sources of influence behind your often Hip-Hop-lauding brand of “Comedy Rap?’ I myself, sense similarities to your SuperBlack band mate Prince Paul’s Negroes On Ice album from a few years back, which he recorded with his similarly-minded son, DJ P. Forreal.

Of course [Prince] Paul himself was a huge influence, but also Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, and other folks of that ilk. A lot of it just came from everyday life, though.

VIII. What can you tell me about your “Robbin’ Brooklyn Hipster Chicks” collaborator Swagmaster Bacon? When can we likely expect to hear his debut on your Old Maid Entertainment imprint?

He doesn’t say much and doesn’t like much. He’s only made two songs. It won’t be a good fit for Old Maid, though. Mo’ Pork Enterprises, a subsidiary of Old Maid, will be a better fit. They may want to get behind a Bacon EP.

IX. “Half these tunes from my limited edition 7-inch series (all of which are out-of-print now) and half are unreleased,” reads Fish-N-Grits’ liner notes... what can you tell me about the overall formatting, concept, or lack thereof concerning your latest album, J-Zone?

I just wanted to take everything I do and everything that inspires me and throw it in a blender: Funk, beats, drums, humor, social commentary, storytelling, live instrumentation, bizarre samples, family, hatred of the music business, satire, alter-egos, and other artists I respect. Fish-N-Grits and Peter Pan Syndrome both show the full range of what I’m about. I don’t think any of my other albums really accomplished that.

X. How did you initially end up getting involved with The Fresh Dressed film score and The Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives documentary film score, as well?

Fresh Dressed was through [SuperBlack band mate] Sacha Jenkins. The Stretch & Bobbito thing was through my long-time friend, DJ Eli Escobar. Eli and I went to college together. We had a radio show together and we’d play each other beat tapes and stuff. He composed the music, but needed that sampled drum sound without sampling, so he had me come in and re-play all the break-beats that were sampled. I’ve known Stretch and Bob for ages, too. Bobbito and I have worked together on numerous endeavors from music to basketball, so it was a good fit all around.

XI. Would you care to briefly describe the premise behind your first published book, 2011’s Root for The Villain: Rap, Bullsh*t & A Celebration of Failure? Do you currently have any immediate plans to write and publish a proper follow-up?

I was just in a bitter place about my experiences in the music business, at the time and felt my story would be more relevant to the average musician than say Jay Z’s or LL Cool J’s. All the dark sh*t and disappointment, but also the small victories and unique experiences. Music bios are enjoyable to read because we love the artists, but they’ve always felt milquetoast and out-of-touch. I wanted to write a book about a story that’s all too common, but never documented, and leave all the gory details in there. I was able to get past the bitterness, have a laugh, see the book do pretty well and get back to music because of it. It served its purpose and there are no plans for a follow-up, at the moment.

XII. And now, for a question submitted by fellow fan and beat-maker, John Bachman (Jumbled): “You’ve collated with a lot of great emcees—who else would you like to work with? Someone who would sound great over your beats (who could really be anyone)!!!"

Definitely Suga Free. That guy is the best.

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