When I first heard you were writing a book, I was really excited to read it and now that I have, I’d definitely recommend it to everyone. How did the idea for a book come about in the first place?
I had been writing stuff and posting it on my blog on Dante Ross’ website in 2009. The stuff was getting good feedback and people wanted more, but a lot of the material was stuff I’d written over the years so I was really just archiving. The blog game is like the mixtape game - you have to drop something very often or you’re forgotten. I was writing pieces that were 2000-3000 words and there was no way I could keep that up at a one post per week rate, so I decided to compile them into a book and make it a cohesive project. I was always a full-length album-driven artist when I was doing music, not a mixtape or 12” single artist. I like pulling a bunch of one ideas into one project, so a book was a good option. I also wanted to write one because my grandfather wrote one and he could never get it published, so I’m kind of living out the dream for him.
What were some of the challenges you faced writing a book?
The editing process was much harder than the writing. It was also hard to revisit some of the rougher moments at the end of my rap career because I’d already put those moments behind me, but I found that writing about them helped me find humor in them.
You mention in Root for the Villain about how you never “broke through” to the side of super-stardom, yet you still had a very successful career as an MC. It seems like you wrestle with the notion of success and failure on an everyday basis.
Of course, because we live in a world where everyone is judging you 24/7. It’s easy for you to find pride in what you’ve accomplished because you know what went into it, but on the surface people will trivialize what you’ve done and been through. When it comes to hip-hop, if someone says “I’ve never heard of you,” its not like they’re curious and trying to check for you because you may have been slept on for a multitude of circumstances. It means you can’t be worth much if you’re not known on a major scale. It’s like, “Oh, he only has 500 YouTube views, 4,000 Twitter followers, 1400 Facebook likes, and no Wikipedia page; he must be wack!” So when music is all you’ve been about and your career didn’t produce tangible commercial success, people start mentioning failure. And as artists, many of us forget to separate our artist personas from who we are as regular people. If J-Zone didn’t sell a lot of records, Jay the person feels like a failure because when music is both your passion and income, the two entities are connected. I had to learn to separate myself from J-Zone to appreciate what I’ve done.
Do you feel you ever look at the ideas of success and failure as mutually exclusive?
They’re both relative, not exclusive. I personally only see things as a failure if you don’t meet your goal and you don’t learn from the experience. As long as you walk away with something, it can’t be a total failure. And even if it is, so what? It’s not a dirty word; you have to embrace it and use it to your advantage. A lot of people misunderstood what I meant by “failure” in the book title. I don’t believe I’m a failure, but by the standards of the music business and the average person who’s not in the know of how it works, I was.
You titled your book Root for the Villain. Was that a nod to Nas’ “One Time for Your Mind”? Where did the title come from?
(Laughs) Nah. It just meant to support the person who walks the road less traveled and refuses to play by the rules simply because they’re there. That road is one where things can easily go wrong, but it’s cool to show love to a cat who has the balls to do things his own way and not compromise.
It’s been entertaining reading your various writings across different websites over the years. What got you into writing?
I always wrote, since middle school. Even when I was doing the music full-time, I wrote columns for Hip-Hop Connection, SLAM Magazine, The Source, Hip-Hop DX, and Elemental. It was a side hustle for as long as I’ve been active in the music business.
Are you still making beats and networking with artists today?
Not so much. I made a few beats in 2011, maybe 3 or 4. One of them came out, a remix I did for my man Has-Lo. I do beats when I feel inspired; it’s more like an occasional hobby now. I started learning how to play drums just to keep some music going in my life and I DJ from time to time, but that’s it for now.
Do you have plans for any new J-Zone albums in the near future, especially with the publicity you’ve generated with Root for the Villain?
(Laughs) No, I seriously doubt it. I had my time. Not saying never; maybe I’ll do a comeback album from called “Live from the Nursing Home” in 2041.
Any plans for new books in the future?
I hope so! I want to write another one, but I can’t do it in the same style as this one. “Root for the Villain” is 34 years of living rolled into about 200 pages. I want to work on a biography for another musician or maybe write a book about one thing in particular. I definitely want to keep at it, but I have no idea what the next one will be about. It just has to come to me naturally.
You’ve been covering high school basketball for a while. What prospects in the NYC area should we be on the lookout for in the future?
In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve interviewed and/or covered Kemba Walker, Charles Jenkins, Sebastian Telfair, Tobias Harris, Kyrie Irving, and Lance Stephenson when they were in high school - they all went to the NBA. That being said, NYC basketball is down at the moment. New Jersey and other places around the country are much better areas to recruit talent. But there are a few bright spots here. Leroy “Truck” Fludd from Boys & Girls HS in Brooklyn is a tough dude; he dominates games. Jefferson HS in Brooklyn has a young, rugged team that’s real exciting to watch. Mount Vernon always runs a great program; they always have talent and good coaching and the players go on to be solid young men. So there’s a few bright spots out there.
If you’re the GM of the Knicks, what moves are you making to turn them into a serious contender?
Put the New York Liberty on the court instead.
Do you think fans will dig into your older music after reading the book?
So far they have.
Has your grandmother, Evil E read Root for the Villain yet?
Yes. She liked it and thought it was funny, but said I curse too much and had a tough time reading because she needed a magnifying glass to see all the print.