Producer J-Zone Speaks on Classic Break Beats and How to Chop Samples (Video Premiere)

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For more than 15 years, Queens, New York’s J-Zone has had a career in music that is as unconventional as his sound. A lover of records, both old Funk, R&B, and other sources of breaks, as well as rugged Hip-Hop (Ultramagnetic MC’s, Mob Style, C-Bo), Zone’s entrance into the industry came through a “floor-sweeping” internship at Q.U.’s Power Play Records Studios. Studying Large Professor’s tremendous (and under-heard) work on Akinyele’s 1993 debut Vagina Diner, Jay Mumford applied what he saw to his own canvas.

Five years later, while studying at SUNY Purchase, the drummer and DJ would be producing his final project-turned-1999 debut LP, Music For Tu Madre. The album would, in time, garner tremendous underground acclaim, both for its ruggedly unique sounds, but also the arrogant, defiantly misogynistic and sarcastic raps. Speaking with Rodney Hazard for the ongoing “Learn From Legends” series, Jay recalls making his album due to flaky rappers and limited resources. Unable to afford the “$90 records” in posh Downtown Manhattan stores, Zone applied his own percussion knowledge, cleverly pulled from his crates, and resulted in a style all of his own.

In the 2000s, rappers did start showing up for Zone, purchasing his beats and seeking his production talents. In addition to credits for Biz Markie, R.A. The Rugged Man, and Casual, Jay produced “Stoney Lodge” for Cage’s debut studio LP, 2002’s Movies For The Blind. A would-be Eastern Conference Records affiliate in his own right, Zone’s work stood alongside fellow Hip-Hop mainstays El-P, RJD2, Necro, DJ Mighty Mi, and the late Camu Tao. From his Queens studio, Zone explains giving the Smut Peddlers MC a track that required deep digging, some thoughtful alterations, and a Latin flavor.

Now a successful self-published author, Jay offers some truly unique advice for budding producers, which includes Rodney Hazard. Urging them to be original, and avoid listening to contemporary Hip-Hop (or Rap at all) in making their work, Zone pushes the creative line. More of this advice, along with some unexaggerated anecdotes thrive in Zone’s heralded (by Questlove and others) self-published memoir, Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit and a Celebration of Failure.

After five solo albums, a Jimi Hendrix-inspired remix project, and work with Boss Hogg Barbarians partner Celph Titled, J-Zone adapted his work to his passion for drumming. 2013’s Peter Pan Syndrome was drenched in satire regarding ageism and responsibility as much as it was Zone’s own percussion. The Old Maid founder has even followed with his own line of breaks, in the spirit of 45 King.

If it were up to J-Zone, he might sardonically assert that he’s the last person from whom to take advice. However, a working musician in 2000, a working musician in 2015, he may be in the elite class, with no sugar-coated advice at all. This is high fiber, and heavy mental.

As Rodney Hazard has done with each previous installment (see: Da Beatminerz and M.O.P.’s Lil Fame), he applies the lessons from the legends into a fresh mix of his own. Teaming with Ryshon Jones, Rod applied Jay’s approach to sampling in making “Cupid’s Robbery,” which deals with a pretty self-explanatory theme.

“When I heard the beat it just took me back to feelings I used to feel for someone, and I tried to write from that experience,” notes the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania MC.


Rodney Hazard’s Victim Volunteer releases March 31.

Stay tuned for more Learn From The Legends videos.

Related: Lil Fame Talks Production Techniques, M.O.P. Beginnings and Biggie Smalls (Video Premiere)