AVC: Were you able to support yourself from music?
JZ: I tried to. After Al-Shid and Hug left, the next two solo albums I started taking really low-paying shows, but I said, “Well maybe if I do it in volume I can survive.” So I took a lot of Chitlin’ Circuit shows. I was doing a lot of beats for very little money, but I was doing a lot of vinyl, like a lot of shit that nobody even knows about. If my house wasn’t paid for and I didn’t already have a studio… I was basically lucky in my own situation because if I was any other person trying to live off that, I never would have made it. Like in 2006, I put out three albums and barely made anything, but then I landed a Super Bowl commercial that paid 30 grand, so I got lucky.
AVC: In the book you talk about the last tour you did as a rapper, which sounds pretty dispiriting.
JZ: I did a show with Gnarls Barkley, and after that I basically stopped performing. I just said, “I’m going to try to work behind the scenes and get more DJ gigs and see what I can do,” and out of nowhere I got a phone call from a promoter in California saying “We want to book you” and they were paying decent, good money—better money that I ever got in the state. This is a pretty major agency, but they didn’t know who I was. Somebody had apparently recommended me, and they had money to play with. So they booked me, and on websites promoting my appearances they actually had a picture of somebody else. It wasn’t even me! I think it might have been a reggae star, or it might have been one of those Southern rap stars, like a real, real dark-skinned dude with gold teeth and dreads. They didn’t even know who I was! So I didn’t feel good about it, but I needed the money.
It was San Diego and L.A.—it was a back-to-back, so I flew up to San Diego and I did the show. Dick Stallion, my partner, had just gotten married and moved out there, and he had stopped a long time ago. He was like, “Yo, we’re getting too old for this shit,” but he was like “I’ll join you for old time’s sake.” So we got up there in suits did our own thing, our Go-Rilla Pimps shit. We did all our stuff, and after the show he says to me, “I’m never doing this shit again. It’s over.” Everybody in the crowd was half our age, so there was this disconnect. We were hanging out with 18-year
-olds after the show—we’re 30, 31, and we’re sitting there thinking, “What the hell is this?” The next day I went to L.A. I was staying with Danger Mouse, and I played the Knitting Factory in Hollywood’s main room. So I get there and the opening act—I don’t know who they were, but the place was totally packed—I could barely squeeze into the dressing room. I thought it was going to be interesting because I’ve never had a crowd like this in years. So I get in, I go backstage, I’m hanging with the guys, I poke my head out a half-hour later after the noise died down, there’s nobody there. I found out the policy is opening acts don’t get paid, but they have to bring X amount of people to get on the bill.
So what happened was, I guess these kids had such a following at their college or whatever that they packed the place. As soon as they left, everybody left. So I’m looking out behind the curtain and I’m like, “Yo, there’s nooobody out there.” [Laughs.] I was like, “Oh shit.” So I looked at Bilal Bashir, he used to DJ for Divine Styler, and he did a lot of Ice-T’s productions, and he’s a friend of mine, so he went and set up and he DJed for me. Danger Mouse was there. Some guys from MADtv and some of Danger Mouse’s other friends from Hollywood were there. You had A-listers backstage with me and nobody in the crowd. [Laughs.] So I get out there and think, “Fuck it, I’m a professional. This is what I do.” I get out there and there’s five people there, and they’re texting. They’re not really watching the stage. Nobody’s watching me, and I’m there performing. I got to about the third song in the set, I finished it, and I walked over to the DJ booth and I pointed to the set list and I took a pen off the table and I crossed out seven songs—there were like 15 songs—I did three, I crossed out seven. I thought, “I’m going to do these last five songs, and I’m never doing this shit again.” So I went through the next five songs, by the end they were actually kind of into it, but it was too late. I went backstage, I got my shit, and I said, “I’m going for a drive.” Danger Mouse gave me the house keys and said, “Yo, come back whenever you want.” It happened in an instant: After that third song, something clicked in me and I thought, “I’m just not doing this anymore.”
AVC: So that was a real moment of clarity, when it just didn’t seem to be worth it anymore.
JZ: There were three stages. The first was the Chitlin Circuit tour. The second was that show. The third was when I had to destroy all my shit. After that it definitely all seemed to be over.