Music for Tu' Madre

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Taking hip-hop back to the elemental, J-Zone produced, engineered, mixed, rhymed and DJed on, promoted, and pressed his 1999 debut Music for Tu Madre--literally his senior college project--himself, even selling copies out of the trunk of his Mazda Protege, according to legend, before the ink had yet to dry on his college diploma. There's also another, musical quality that the album shares with an earlier era of rap music: an absurdist sense of humor. In fact, J-Zone--a one-time apprentice to Slick Rick partner-in-rhyme Vance Wright--elevates lampoonery to the same high art as Biz Markie did before him. "Unintentional" though the album may have originally been, its pleasures--the production par excellence and a not inconsiderable number of gut laughs--are entirely of a voluntary nature. At just over forty minutes, it isn't exactly the EP it purports to be, and lucky for listeners. J-Zone and his troop of side-men MCs, most impressively Al-Shid and Huggy Bear, skewer every aspect of hip-hop culture that comes into their purview, whether the sorry state of radio ("FM Blues") or around-the-way girls who think they're all that but lack both the "all" and the "that" ("Candy Razors") or the music's commercialization and lack of artistic vision ("5 Years?"), though they save much of their deprecation to preemptively deflate their own egos and J-Zone does get serious on one of the album's finest tracks, "Inauguration Day." Music for Tu Madre may be juvenilia, and occasionally sophomoric at that, but it is full of such brilliant sparks of wit and musical merit that it more than rewards the effort it takes to track down, either in its original vinyl and cassette pressing (beyond rare and almost impossible to find) or in its proper 2002 CD reissue (extremely limited but still intermittently available). Above and beyond that, if the album earned its creator anything lower than a B+ in class, there was obviously some kind of grade fix in the works.

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