Comedic Queens, New York emcee, producer and musician J-Zone's rap comeback in 2013 with the Peter Pan Syndrome album was no stunt, as he's followed it up with a new album, Fish-N-Grits, out today, April 1st on Old Maid Entertainment. Zone, whose real name is Jay Mumford, grew up a musical prodigy and early blooming instrumentalist who translated his obsession with funk records into a hip-hop career starting in the mid to late '90s. Around 2007, he took a disillusioned hiatus from the business, wrote a book about his troubles (Root for the Villain) but eventually and fortunately hopped back into the game with Peter Pan, bringing to the studio his newly developed drumming skills. The LP was a hit, at least with rap's truest fans, giving him more well earned motivation and credibility. Although J-Zone hasn't changed much over the years - he still has a witty, hilarious sense of humor, keen awareness and sharp musical prowess - the rap industry has, for better and worse, and in Fish-N-Grits, Zone gives his full two cents on its current problems. Considering his record and reputed perspective, it would be beneficial that we also at least consider his messages here.
Though he has a point that rap and hip-hop today have sort of taken a dive, J-Zone is a little negative about the entire game overall, yet his rebellious spunk and brash attitude do make for a great deal of spirit, energy and passion in F.N.G.'s recordings. The opening skit ("Shut Up, Make Music, Swagboi vs. Purist") pitting the new generation of rappers against the old (in which neither side wins by the way) is fashioned in the style of a boxing match of all formats, and in "Rap Is A Circus," he's not only intensely critical of everyone in the business and everyone trying to get in the business but he also adds the title-corollary that "We Hope The Elephants Trample Everybody," some more of his humor coming out. Even though he may go overboard with his emotions, hip-hop heads will know just what he's rapping about. Some of his other talking points of concern include what he and some others view as unwelcome gentrification of established urban communities, police malfeasance, cigarette smoking dangers, rich complacent hypocritically soft celebrity role models, and out-of-state NYC transplants naive to the culture of the big bad Rotten Apple. With the exception of the topics of unfamiliar new movers and ghetto-sprucing, the rest of Zone's subject matter is new territory unexplored on his previous albums.
Between those heated purposeful diatribes, J-Zone dollops a healthy serving of funky instrumental interludes onto our eardrums, soulful segments of playful, exciting, natural drum-work, sample cuts, mixing board wizardry and likely a host of other sound-making techniques from his composing mind and hands. His stylish meticulous skills are on brilliant display in these five or so half-song length treats of segue-music. He is joined by guests Has-Lo and his longtime friend and trusted collaborator Al-Shid plus his jocular, roughneck alter-ego Swagmaster Bacon and his high pitched voiceover commentating partner Chief Chinchilla on most tracks. Together they fuel the giddy anger and angst signature of this project, very briefly lightened up when Has-Lo and Zone pen a nostalgic ode to Cadillac love in the black community, "Caddy Coupe." J-Zone's criticism of quality-lacking artists with shady intents and bad priorities opens the door for others afraid to be less than overly positive about hip-hop, at a time when the praiseworthy threshold and standards of acceptance are sinking, proving that in order to legitimatize and adequately value the art form, its weaknesses must be pointed out when they surface. Zone does a good job at restarting that trend here.