J-Zone Bio

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My bio is written in the first person because everyone I know is busy.

My childhood aspirations of playing bass guitar in a funk band died when Jheri curls fell out of fashion at the end of the 1980s. (Those aspirations would manifest three decades later, though). Shuttling back and forth between Jamaica, Queens and Westchester County (New York), I discovered rap music was more than just an instruction manual for my teenage shenanigans – it was a viable career option. It offers no 401k and a higher likelihood of being shot than in Corporate America, but my average lifespan at nine-to-five jobs has been about two months.

After my first internship at Power Play Studios in Queens in 1992 (where I watched Large Professor work on Akinyele’s Vagina Diner LP), I met Vance Wright (Slick Rick’s DJ), who owned and operated Vee-Dubbs recording studio in New Rochelle, NY. I started working there in 1994, at the age of 17. I learned the basics of the music biz, audio engineering, and being a gofer – one of my first assignments was to pick up grilled turkey sandwiches for Greg Nice of Nice-N-Smooth. I also produced my first record during my three-year stint at Vee-Dubbs, for a rapper named Preacher Earl. All of the money I made from my first production credit was blown at the mall. I didn’t pay for health insurance then, so it was cool.

I went on to attend Purchase College (SUNY) and my senior project, Music For Tu Madre, accidentally became my debut album and release on my Old Maid Entertainment label in 1998-99. I had no idea what I was doing business-wise, but the modest success of that album was enough to secure consistent distribution and continue releasing albums and side projects at a pretty quick rate through 2008. In that decade-long run as a producer, MC and DJ, I collaborated with and/or split show bills with Biz Markie, E-40, Lonely Island, Gnarls Barkley, Prince Paul, Masta Ace, King T, Pete Rock, Just Blaze, R.A. the Rugged Man, Large Professor, Tha Alkaholiks, DJ Premier, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Devin The Dude, to name a handful. On the turntables, I rocked deep funk and soul sets at well-respected festivals and parties like Mobile Mondays (NYC), Soulelujah! (Boston), 45 Sessions (Oakland), Soul Summit (Chicago), Hot Peas and Butta and Soundset (Minneapolis).  I’ve also taught music production, history and business courses and served as a guest lecturer at Purchase College. As a writer, my work has been featured everywhere from Ego Trip to SLAM Magazine.

But despite some small victories, I eventually grew frustrated and bitter with the music business/rap game, lost the passion for it all and walked away from everything in 2009. I learned after unsuccessfully looking for a steady 9 to 5 for four years that I’m unfit for that world and my “real world” resume is laughable at best, so the retirement never stuck. In 2011, I wrote and published my first book, Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit and a Celebration of Failure, chronicling my hip-hop ups and downs with no filters and plenty of profanity and punctuation errors. It received positive reviews in respected media outlets like The A.V. Club, SPIN Magazine and The L.A. Times, as well as receiving public endorsement from Questlove, Chuck D and more. It probably deterred some people from pursuing a career in the arts, but reality is a dish best served ice cold!

In 2013 I returned to making music and to my surprise, my “comeback” album, Peter Pan Syndrome, was fairly well-received. But it wasn’t actually a comeback – more like a transition. I had taken up playing drums seriously during my music business hiatus and it helped re-ignite my passion for music. Between the release of the aforementioned album and my seventh and final hip-hop album (twelfth including side projects), 2016’s Fish-N-Grits, my primary focus gradually shifted entirely away from being a hip-hop artist and a jack-of-too-many-trades and back towards my roots as an instrumentalist and composer. I have a series of drum break records (2014’s Lunch Breaks, 2015’s Backyard Breaks and 2018’s Guerrilla Drums) being sampled by producers worldwide.  I’ve done studio drumming for Danger Mouse, Marco Polo, Broken Bells, Lord Finesse, Pharoahe Monch, Karen O, Michael Kiwanuka and many more. I’ve shared a drum chair with Questlove (at NYC’s Mobile Monday’s party) and currently hold the sticks in bands in funk (The Du-Rites, Zone Identity, the legendary Manzel), rock-n-roll (Lulu Lewis), and sweet soul (Ben Pirani and The Means of Production). My passion for drumming also inspired me to launch an interview series called “Give the Drummer Some” through Red Bull Music Academy/Red Bull Radio. I’ve been fortunate to have in-depth discussions with legendary drummers like Questlove, Mike Clark, David Garibaldi and Bernard Purdie as part of my drumming education. (Check ’em out on this site).

But my pride and joy is none other than The Du-Rites, my instrumental funk band with Tom Tom Club guitarist and my longtime mastering engineer, Pablo Martin. Our eponymous debut (2016) and sophomore effort, Greasy Listening (2017), were well-received and album #3 (Gamma Ray Jones) was released in November 2018. Our first live album, Soundcheck at 6, dropped September 2019 and we’ve released a slew of 7″ singles in the tradition of the funk bands I grew up listening to. The Du-Rites have played on records behind Eddie Palmieri, Robert Glasper and Ghostface Killah, while the film score  for Bobbito’s  Rock Rubber 45s features our music prominently. With me holding down the rhythms and playing organ and Pablo on bass, guitar and synthesizer – I pick up the bass sometimes for my 11-year-old self –  I’m finally making the music that started this wild ride back in the 1980s. It took 30 years to get here – with a lot of insane twists and turns and a rap career sandwiched in-between – but sometimes the scenic route makes the ride more exciting. My ride as a blue-collar musician/artist has been up and down and I plan to quit at least once a year, but it’s still in progress and I don’t have a presentable enough photo for a job interview. The small victories and urge to make it funky should keep me going till I can’t anymore.