Book Review: "Root For The Villain" By J-Zone

While J-Zone vows to never touch the mic again or rock a stage, he has absolutely proved himself with one of the best and most sincere autobiographies Hip Hop has ever witnessed.

Jay-Z, Master P and Too $hort aside, rappers don't typically retire. They just lose their deals, stop going to the studio and wait for the Vh1 Hip Hop Honors to hopefully include them one day. Admitting that the most he's ever sold was 12,000 units, it felt a bit odd years ago when Queens emcee J-Zone announced his retirement (from releasing records and rapping; he does still produce). Jay was part of the late '90s New York City underground Hip Hop class - the same one that delivered Talib Kweli and East Flatbush Project, and revived careers for the likes of MF DOOM and Freddie Foxxx. In a climate of "adapt or die," J-Zone refused to budge. At its best it led to international touring and meeting childhood heroes. At its worst, it led to unpaid invoices for beats, phony handshakes and a broken spirit. Root For The Villain captures this struggle with an unflinching, self-published memoir. J-Zone has the courage to tell the reader how he J.O.'d to Ice-T's first wife, as well as how a respected Indie Rap entrepreneur played him.

As one of the back-cover praises says, J-Zone knows more about Hip Hop than 99.9% of people out there. As one himself, Jay studied underdogs, and chronicles their work and with supreme analysis, from Threat and YGz to Mob Style and Audio Two. The book beautifully captures how J-Zone discovered Hip Hop through a childhood love of record-digging. Transcending fandom, Zone's writing highlights family, being an isolated outcast and the social climate of '80s and early-'90s New York City. A rapper who often scoffed at curious questions about his own race delves into the subject, through talking about his grandparents and through Hip Hop.

Although the last third of Root For The Villain is a collection of insightful essays, the book is really a maxi-memoir (to use cassette language). Of that late '90s class of DIY emcees, J-Zone is the first with a book. He writes about the determination to record in a studio, missing his prom to assist Slick Rick hit-maker Vance Wright, and cutting cassette J-cards of Music For Tu Madre while lane-changing on a work-commute. Regardless of whether you like J-Zone's music, or even cared enough to like it, the book is a hallmark to the work-ethic and attitude often lost in Hip Hop today. For a decade, J-Zone earned his living as a rapper. However, he never wanted to rap. He just couldn't find emcees to rhyme on his college senior project. In turn, J-Zone toured the world on multiple occasions, turned down an Atlantic Records deal, and produced for Lonely Island. Still, he stamps himself a failure in the field. Although it's curmudgeon tone and incessant irreverence makes for a great read, there's honesty in all of the producer's words. While there's definitely a constant Andy Rooney, "kids these days" tone in J-Zone's work, this book has more to offer an aspiring "blog rapper" than Full Sail Recording classes. They may be the reason J-Zone felt boxed out and discouraged with the industry, but this book is for them.

Beyond just self-rapper-help, Root For The Villain is a phenomenal read. It makes Hip Hop fun again, and very tangible at a time when most of it happens on computer screens and in iPods. J-Zone may very well be a better writer than he ever was a rapper, as in both fields he has a masterful balance of blunt truth and outrageous mockery. For instance, after a bout with professional depression and recluse, J-Zone recalls Fat Beats notifying him that thousands of his unsold CDs were going to be melted, and offered them to him instead. This is a sad recollection, brutal for any artist. With tongue-in-cheek humor, J-Zone explains his decision. This is a Hip Hop's Navin R. Johnson story, and just as compelling, with just as promising an end.

It's easy to forget the artist in Hip Hop. Like larger societies, the top percentile has what the other 99 seek: appreciation, wealth, stardom, resources. J-Zone's accounts show what happens when things don't work out, and dreams equate to a few highlights and a lot of letdowns. However, with its powerful commentary on New York, online dating, flash-in-the-pan rappers, and the deepest experience a fan or artist can seem to search for, it's not a depressing read. This is inspiring, and while J-Zone vows to never touch the mic again or rock a stage, he has absolutely proved himself with one of the best and most sincere autobiographies Hip Hop has ever witnessed. While many critics and fans always claimed to struggle to identify with J-Zone's world of hookers, onion rings and tampon theft on records, with text, he's an eloquent Rap genius we can all relate to.

Purchase Root For The Villain: Rap, Bull$hit, and a Celebration of Failure by J-Zone

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14 Comments

  • bg

    pimps donr pay taxes has the IRS sending me shit all the time. Love my nigga Jzone thug penis and huggey bear. its so sweet to beat your meat it feels so good it feels so nice

  • Rick

    For those of you who say that you love Hip Hop and haven't heard of Zone...you are not a true fan. This dude is a fuckin' genius. his beats were some of the best RAW UNCUT GRIMEY beats i had ever heard. I have always said this and will continue to say it. If Wu Tang were to get him to produce an entire album for them. It would be ranked right up there with 36 chambers. Zone's & RZA's beats have that same GRIMEY NY sound that made me fall in love with hip hop....Music for tu Madre is a semi classic to me. This dudes lyrics will make you laugh your ass off.....GOOD MUISC!!!

  • TheTruthIs

    You hate on Zone but you know ish, this book is hilarious and I'm sure you know ish about rap industry or even about the world that exists out of your crappy 9to5

  • TheTruthIs

    You hate on Zone but you know shit, this book is hilarious and I'm sure you know shit about rap industry or even about the world that exists out of your crappy 9to5

  • J-Son

    For all the haters, you missed the point as usual. As any true artist can attest, especially the DIY ones, what you think about music versus how the industry works can sour your attitude with a quickness. J-Zone has proven his love for Hip Hop time and time again, knows more than all of you chumps put together.

  • stevep

    J Zone is that dude. Reps Hip hop to the fullest. mad underrated producer.

  • Anonymous

    I still bump the album he made with Celph Titled... Boss Hog Barbarians. It's hilarious.

  • itis

    J-Zone is a wimp. Quit the music biz, when the going got tough. Wrote a book like he grew up. Matured beyond rap. Sorry, J, you seem like someone who got into rapping for the wrong reasons. It's not money drugs and bithces for everyone. Many rap their whole life, never making one dollar, but they still love the art of doing what they love. Meanwhile J-Zone is writing depressing books, about his own failures. J-ZOne was a pretty good producer back in the day, I thought it was corny when he announced his retirement. Now he sits on twitter all day talking about rap. J-Zone's music was super goofy, but you could always tell he was a negative, down, depressed, kinda guy. I wish him happiness, but I'm not going to buy or read his book. The market for this is even smaller than his music, unfortnately. Does J think he's too old to rap and have fun? Seems like an utter waste of talent to me. Unless of course he just can't do it anymore, which I find hard to believe. Man up and make some music nigga.

    • TROY

      I'm missing your logic. More rappers need to retire for less.

    • Smif-N-Wessun

      Thats the kind of vibe Im getting from the whole setup. You only have to look at rappers like O.C. and Jeru the damaja etc. who genuinely love rapping which comes across in their rhymes even If they havent sold millions of units. J-Zones approach to rap seemed depressing, kind of like a lets come out with a style and hope Its succesful outlook. Like you said, If his production was on point he should have just left the rapping thing alone and actively pursued rappers(brushed off the unpaid beat problems etc.). But I cant get down with guys that give up so easily after a little challenge. PUTS couldnt even get their cd's distributed by Fat Beats when they started out, let alone having It out for sale. Look at where they are now........

  • TBM ADIYM

    I never read a whole book but after excerpts from this book i read on egotripland.com i think this gonna be the first book i ever read a whole if i found it in shop in central europe. And hey dudes at hhdx write a whole name of the book which is: Root For The Villain: Rap, Bullshit, and a Celebration of Failure. P.S. excuse me if my english sucks, i'm so sorry.

    • Doubl Negative

      Homie, you don't need to apologize for your inadequate grasp of the English language, you just ought to be ashamed that you've never read a book. I suggest you stop wastin' your time with frivolity like comin' to this site and do something more constructive like readin' Invisible Man or a Malcolm X biography. And why isn't this J-Zone book on Amazon's site?