J-Zone Bio

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My bio is written in the first person because all my relatives were busy.

My childhood aspirations of playing bass in a funk band died when Jheri curls fell out of fashion at the end of the 1980s. Shuttling back and forth between Jamaica, Queens and Westchester County (New York), I discovered that rap music was more than just an instruction manual for my teenage debauchery – it was a viable career option. Rap 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 off of that transaction was blown at the mall. I was under my mom’s 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 the debut release on my Old Maid Entertainment label in 1998-99. I had no idea what I was doing business-wise, but still had the gumption as a producer/MC and entrepreneur to follow up with A Bottle of Whup Ass in 2000 and Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes – all three albums were joint efforts with MCs Huggy and longtime collaborator Al-Shid – in 2001. The modest success of the early releases was enough to secure consistent distribution and continue with Sick of Bein’ Rich (2003); A Job Ain’t Nuthin’ But Work (2004); Gimme Dat Beat Fool! (2005); Boss Hog Barbarians: Every Hog Has Its Day (with Celph Titled), Experienced! and To Love a Hooker (all in 2006) and Live at the Liqua Sto (featuring Chief Chinchilla, my alter ego) in 2008.

I eventually grew frustrated with the music industry and walked away from it in 2009. I learned after unsuccessfully looking for a steady 9 to 5 for four years that I’m unfit for the 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 garnered 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, RJD2 and more. It probably deterred some people from pursuing a career in the arts – there’s surely a talented artist crunching data in a Burlington Coat Factory suit right now because of me – but reality is a dish best served cold!

As a hip-hop producer, artist, DJ and engineer (1999-2015), I worked and split bills with Biz Markie, E-40, Lonely Island, Gnarls Barkley, Masta Ace,  King T, Pete Rock, Just Blaze, R.A. the Rugged Man, Large Pro, Tha Alkaholiks, DJ Premier, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Vinnie Paz and Devin The Dude, to name a handful. On the turntables, I’ve rocked deep funk and soul sets at well-attended and/or respected festivals and parties like Mobile Mondays (NYC), Soulelujah! (Boston), 45 Sessions (Bay Area), Soul Summit (Chicago), Soundset (Minneapolis), Moneytown (D.C.) and the Hot Peas and Butta BBQ.  My Gator$-n-Fur$ radio shows from 2007-08 are a good place to start if you need glimpses of my all-over-the-place musical taste (download ‘em on this site). 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; to Red Bull Music Academy (where I currently have an interview series called “Give the Drummer Some”) and in a Common Culture textbook. But despite being somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades over the years, I eventually narrowed my focus and returned to my roots as an instrumentalist.

In 2013 I returned to making music and to my surprise, my “comeback” album, Peter Pan Syndrome, was fairly well-received. I had taken up playing drums seriously during my music business hiatus and it helped propel my return. Between the release of the aforementioned album and my seventh and final solo album (12th overall), 2016’s Fish-N-Grits, my primary focus gradually morphed into drumming and composing, which landed me into my current space as a working musician. 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, Michael Kiwanuka and many more. I’ve also played on records behind Eddie Palmieri, Robert Glasper and Ghostface Killah, while the film scores for Fresh Dressed, the Stretch and Bobbito Documentary and Bobbito’s  Rock Rubber 45s all feature my drumming and composition in their sonic backdrops. I’ve shared a drum chair with Questlove (at NYC’s Mobile Monday’s party) and currently hold the sticks for bands in funk (Zone Identity, the legendary Manzel), rock-n-roll (Lulu Lewis), and sweet soul (Ben Pirani and The Means of Production).

But my primary focus 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. With me holding down the rhythms and playing the organ and Pablo on bass and guitar – 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…presuming you make it out alive! My ride as a blue-collar musician/artist has been up and down and I plan to quit at least once a day, but it’s still in progress and I don’t have a presentable enough haircut for a job interview. The small victories and urge to make it funky should keep me going till I can’t anymore!