Inspiration always knocks on the door when you’re trying to get some sleep. That’s the only explanation I’ve got for returning to being a recording artist after my well-documented and firm retirement from the music business in 2009. I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance under Paula Deen's ass that I’d ever make another rap record again, but every Jay-Z needs a broke cousin counterpart like J-Zone to return to a (much) more modest rap arena after sworn retirement.
Like my turbulent ups and downs in the music biz inspired my book (Root For the Villain), the rollercoaster ride of life-altering decisions and expectations that have come with post-rap life (and one’s 30s in general) have inspired my first J-Zone solo album in nine years, Peter Pan Syndrome. Of course it’s somewhat of a concept album; would it be a J-Zone project if I didn’t defy every possible trend and staunchly stay in my lane, record sales be damned?
The term Peter Pan Syndrome is used to refer to men who refuse to grow up. It generally has a negative connotation, but as I attempted to “grow up” after the rap thing fizzled out, I realized something – doing that has cramped my style. The clock is ticking, the reset button is broken, people around me expect certain things, everybody has one eye on the person next to them and the other on the events of their Facebook walls…nobody wants to be the odd man (or woman) out. Ironically, “growing up” in adult terms is probably the most intense form of peer pressure I’ve ever experienced. Even the pressure to drink my first 40 at age 14 wasn’t this bad. Kids, stable careers and marriages – I'm man enough to admit those ideas somehow still scare me at 36.
As a rap artist who’s made it big enough to survive on modest earnings, but not big enough to really stack money and become a household name, I’ve landed in an odd position. I never formally entered the workforce until my mid-30s and my lack of “real world” experience has made a career search a grim, albeit hilarious ride now that I’m trying to find my place there. Bringing home $50 a day after taxes and expenses with no room to advance (and eventually working a total of 80 hours per week to make it $150!) was hardly ideal living in New York, but that was my reality for a good while and if I couldn’t produce something entertaining out of that quicksand jog, I wouldn’t be worth shit an artist. It was also pretty funny to literally be laughed out of an employment agency earlier this year for my “unverifiable” work history in the rap game. Then all this talk about lacking “experience” and my peers saying I can’t be walking around with a retro haircut if I’m serious about finding a nice, secure, dead end job. The nerve! The domino effect comes into play when attempting to date, discuss life with family or wonder what the fuck will be written on the tombstone. (I’ve opted to not date or tell my family and friends jack shit about where my life is headed and be cremated when my time’s up.) I’m a Pisces and we ignore reality like a Kardashian would ignore a laid off civil service worker trying to kick game.
So when people ask me what I “do” now, I’ve finally accepted the skepticism that pervades the air when I reply, “[Gulp] I’m an artist and a writer, but not one of the rich ones. Yet.” I learned this when instead of taking out a $20,000 loan to get a Master’s degree in something I could hopefully land a stable job with, I spent $3,000 on vintage drums and gear, took some drum lessons, studied the recording techniques of Stax and Motown and sat in my basement for hours learning rudiments and playing to James Brown records. I probably would’ve been better served working on my Linked In profile (I’m currently killing the game with a whopping 6 connections), but I ignored reality, curbed my spending to the point of not going out to socialize for months, practiced hard for a year and eventually became half-decent enough to do something I’ve always secretly wanted to do: complete an album on which I played a majority of the drum breaks myself. Only an artist is delusional enough to do that shit in his or her 30s. I’ll never be good enough to hold Bernard Purdie’s tuning key (and as adults, we’re trained to feel guilty for putting in time to learn shit like that unless it yields immediate monetary results), but I was able to incorporate something new into my signature production sound to give it a slight twist from before. Every blog post I was preparing to publish on my platform at Ego Trip was re-written in rap form and select moments from my book got the same treatment. I called up some old friends (rappers Al-Shid, Celph Titled and Breeze Brewin of The Juggaknots and cameo-makers Prince Paul, R.A. the Rugged Man and Oxygen), some new ones (rapper Has-Lo and multi-instrumentalist Hot Sugar) and my alter egos (unemployed shit-talkers Chief Chinchilla and Swagmaster Bacon) to help me create what is without a doubt the most honest record of my career, yet still by far the most vulgar, lowbrow and juvenile, considering my age. Sounds like a contradiction, but I am a walking contradiction. I guess being a 36-year-old with a severe case of Peter Pan Syndrome and a full understanding that I have it will do that. At least I don’t play video games. Wish me luck, because if this doesn’t work, I’m gonna start doing slip-and-falls in different Whole Foods locations across America for money. Anything to never get on monster.com again.
Peter Pan Syndrome will be released in September 2013 on Old Maid Entertainment on limited cassette tape (with download card), digital download (iTunes, Bandcamp, etc.) and limited CD. A small run of vinyl is a possibility for later in the year, but not confirmed yet.