It’s been said, famously, that there’s no 401k in hip-hop. That might not be completely true for the Jay-Z’s of the world, but certainly for the J-Zone’s. It’s been almost a decade since Zone’s last proper solo album, A Job Ain’t Nuthin But Work, and his latest album, Peter Pan Syndrome, suggests that it’s been a long, hard decade. But like the rest of Zone’s catalog, he’s carved out an almost Dolemite-esque persona for himself, that is able to pick the mic back up, slip back into character, and poke fun at things like he never left.
J-Zone has had a decade to hone his craft, and in that time he’s picked up a new skill – playing the drums. So while his earlier sample-rich works founding him borrowing beats from various different sources, his new material finds him looping his own drum kit, giving the album a sound all it’s own. However the rest of the record is still heavily rooted in samples, with heavy influence from producers like Sir Jinx and Prince Paul, as Zone brilliantly puts together a concept album about getting old in hip-hop.
J-Zone was quite prolific in his earlier years, dropping albums almost annually, however the schtick almost began to wear thin, despite attempts to try something different, such as his instrumental LP, To Love A Hooker, or a collaborative record with Celph Titled, as the Bo$$ Hog Barbarians. However with such a long absence between records, hearing a new album from him is refreshing, as he hasn’t missed a step. He’s sharper and funnier than ever, making poignant observations about class, race, sex, and the music business.
“Gadget Ho”, a song about girls addicted to their smartphones, is one of those tracks that wouldn’t have been able to come out ten years ago, as the technology wasn’t there yet. The same can be said for “Trespasser”, which examines the gentrification of formerly scary parts of New York City, something that wasn’t an issue back then. The time off has given J-Zone a variety of new topics to cover.
But the most interesting of these is the idea of a failed rap artist, something covered at length in his 2011 autobiography, Root For The Villain. While he wrote the book with a distinct voice, here it’s put into poetry, making his observations all the more interesting. The album’s intro, “It’s A Trap”, is an unapologetic rant about the post-rap lifestyle, while “Rap Baby Boomers” puts it into rhyme form, sampling (and destroying) the already-irrelevant Soulja Boy, who ironically is a victim of his own vitriol. The album’s title track, “Peter Pan Syndrome”, is almost an autobiographical account of his time in the industry.
The solution comes on tracks like “Jackin For Basquiats” and “An Honest Day’s Robbery”, which finds Zone and his alter ego, Chief Chinchilla, turning to a life of crime to make ends meet. It’s a story all too familiar, but it’s presented humorously here like we’ve never heard before. Songs like these will make you laugh out loud, yet if you were ever involved in the music industry in any form or fashion, they will sting a bit too.
J-Zone also spends a great deal of time examining the “post-racial America”, on songs like “Opposites Attract” and “Miscegenation On Ya Station!”, and even takes a look inward on “Black Weirdo”, with some of his own theories about why he can’t get a date. Also deserving of mention are Zone’s instrumental interlude tracks, like “Molotov Cocktail”, “Gimmie A Hit”, and “The Drug Song (Remix)”, which help sew the album together nicely.
Peter Pan Syndrome is one of the most original and honest records of the year, one that will resonate with many hip-hop fans that grew up in the 80′s and 90′s. Today’s generation may lack the frame of reference to early Ice Cube, De La Soul, or 3rd Bass records that this album is clearly influenced by, however Zone’s brand of humor is likely to strike a chord with just about anyone. Hopefully that’s true, and Zone can finally live off of his art.
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