Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise; turning 30 is the worst. Jay Z might have spent the last decade attempting to make good credit score rap the modern embodiment of nouveau riche cool but ask any 22 year-old with rock-hard abs and a nuclear-strength Krebs cycle about the prospect of getting old and Jay’s “30 Is the new 20” sloganeering will elicit sarcastic guffaws. For the 99% of us, there is no beach chair in St. Tropez and impossibly beautiful celebrity wife that awaits us when we exit our twenties, just middle class mediocrity and the crushing expectation of an age-appropriate lifestyle. If maturity seems undesirable to you then go ahead and abandon the pretense of growing up and allow the Reverend J-Zone to be your spirit animal. You will probably end up broke but, at least, you will have some good stories to tell.
For those who are unaware, J-Zone was a mostly forgotten 2000s indie rapper whose 2001 magnum opus, Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes, remains a cult favorite amongst underground hip-hop heads. Despite his acerbic sense of humor, inventively diverse boom-bap sound and no-bullshit charm, Zone failed to catch on with hip-hop fans—almost assuredly because his innate desire to alienate his would-be core fans with fur coats and Trick Daddy references—and he decided to hang up the mic five years ago. Zone is best known these days as a writer for ego trip and the author of his 2011 autobiography, Root For The Villain, perhaps the music industry’s greatest ode to failure ever written. After finding the post-rap life to be mostly disagreeable, Zone has finally returned to rapping with his first album, Peter Pan Syndrome, in six years.
If you are a fan of weirdly inventive, sample-based production and sardonic, razor-on-the-tongue rhymes, Peter Pan Syndrome will not disappoint you. Zone is as sharp and funny as ever delving into topics about what life is like in your 30s when you are left pining for your glory days but know they aren’t coming back. Zone is rap’s underachieving older brother, malcontent with how has life has turned out but good-humored enough to leave you in stitches about it. Much like Zone’s encyclopedic knowledge of 1990s hardcore hip-hop, Peter Pan Syndrome feels stuck in 1993 but with an authenticity that escapes modern boom-bap revivalists of today. Zone is able to craft an album that feels as if it is a cross between Death Certificate-Era Ice Cube and the warm nostalgia of Masta Ace’s career-reinventing Disposable Arts.
The album’s central thesis and unlikely heart is Zone’s exploration of life when you heroically refuse (or perhaps fail) to grow up. Peter Pan Syndrome is an argument against maturity in all forms. Zone rails against texting (“Gadget Hos”), dead end jobs, (“Honest Day’s Robbery”), “grown & sexy” caesar cuts (“Black Weirdo”) and hip-hop’s growing obsession with fine art (“Jackin’ For Basquiats”). He does this from the point-of-view of a man who both desperately still wishes he was 21 but has little to no interests in relating with today’s actual 21 year-olds. Peter Pan Syndrome is perhaps the first album written from the perspective of the dreaded old man in the club.
Admittedly if you have no idea who Tim Dog is or you think that Wu-Tang Clan qualifies as “old school”, Peter Pan Syndrome will probably have very little to offer to you. Rap is a young man’s game, so J-Zone’s hilarious hostility to the modern world is unlikely to win over Drake fans anytime soon. However to those who can appreciate dirty jokes and wanton misanthropy, J-Zone will seem as if he is the Pied Piper of the perpetually immature. -B.J. Steiner