Thursday, March 1, 2012

Root For the Villain by J-Zone

(Old Maid) Underground rapper J-Zone opens his self-published memoir with salutes to his two grandfathers, one a quiet, righteous man whose archives revealed some secret radical writing, the other less of a saint, but also possessing a distinct second personality. This schizophrenic nature describes the book pretty well. Athough J-Zone’s humorous, sarcastic, weary but proud worldview remains intact throughout, the book is very much delineated into two parts. The heart of it is a devastating account of his commercial failures and a “career” in hip hop that kept him in day jobs for decades. While there are optimistic tales of his early days apprenticing in studios and having sell-from-trunk success with his atypical comic compositions, the bulk of his stories are about meager sales, disastrous tours (including terrible travel tales of playing to handfuls of disinterested folks on the chitlin’ circuit) and disrespect. Even his greatest triumphs – European club tours where fans and groupies unfamiliar with his work were excited just to see American rappers – would be sub-asterisks in a successful artist’s memoir. However, there’s so many superstars’ memoirs, and their perspectives are always skewed by success. How often can one read a completely thorough breakdown of the mechanics of the industry as seen from the bottom? Less compelling are his blog-like accounts of day-to-day travails, which include a fair amount of crass misogyny. But even those musings are OK, especially his rundown of the best used record buys he ever experienced in his life. Although J-Zone likely did better than he would have in his modest career by staying independent, I wouldn’t have minded a professional editor guiding this project, but of course, no commercial press would have taken a chance on something like this, so I’m glad J-Zone went for it. Also, he loves his grandma, so that should make you buy this book.

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