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J-Zone: Peter Pan Syndrome

J-Zone: Peter Pan Syndrome

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Rating: ★★★¼☆ 

Truth be told, rap music’s often struggled with artists who have a sense of humor. Outside of the outright goofiness of the Biz Markie-types or the turn-of-phrase punchline crowd, hip-hop audiences often don’t know how to take an artist who won’t take themselves too seriously, no matter how seriously they take the music. J-Zone’s been one of the most genuinely entertaining personas in the rap underground, yet while this would be an absolute asset in pretty much every other line of work, to a degree it’s unfortunately overshadowed the fact that he happens to be one of the most consistently innovative and dope producers in the genre. While he retired from live performances in 2006 and releasing music in 2008, his popularity reached a resurgence following his excellent autobiography of industry mishaps Root for the Villain, which has reminded the hip-hop universe how much his presence was both missed and absolutely needed. Thank God and/or Tim Dog, J-Zone has returned with a new album Peter Pan Syndrome.

Ten years ago, J-Zone’s persona in underground hip-hop was the uproariously fun cynical voice that both heckled the game and celebrated the “ig’nant’” side of rap before it was cool. Now, 10 years later, his character has evolved into a lovable curmudgeon, but instead of being a bitter stuck-in-‘93 type like so many of his real life contemporaries, Zone’s isn’t necessarily mad at a changing world. He’s mad that the world’s changed…for this?! Everything from the soft batch nature of the past two decades of R&B to the castrating nature of texting to the silliness of the name-dropping Basquiat trend all get pimp slapped with the sharpest of backhands.

While five years feels like three entire lifetimes in rap, J-Zone sufficiently covers everything that he hadn’t been giving a chance to weigh in on without feeling like Peter Pan Syndrome’s a to-do list of saved ideas. Zone keeps things moving, barely 1/4 of the album’s tracks clock in at over three minutes, allowing him to make some quick great lines and witty observations and then move on to the next one without running it into the ground. J-Zone is also joined by cameos from frequent collaborators Al-Shid and Celph Titled, both of which help make Peter Pan Syndrome feel like a proper addition to J-Zone’s discography. There’s also a handful of instrumentals and sound collages proving his ear and hands are as skilled as they’ve ever been.

While there are certain familiarities with his previous works, Peter Pan Syndrome isn’t another case of a nostalgia act going through the motions or a star re-emerging to hit all of their marks once there’s renewed interest in his output. J-Zone hasn’t cared what anybody’s thought or said about him at any point over the past 15 years, why would that start now? Instead we get J-Zone presenting us with the next logical evolution of his sound and his character. While it may not be the best starting place for new listeners, Peter Pan Syndrome is going to leave longtime fans satisfied.

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