After tallying a string of modest hits in the late 1980s and early '90s and helping Jay-Z establish himself as a hip-hop force, Jaz-O felt disenchanted with the music industry. Yet the industry has love for the Brooklyn rapper/producer, as evidenced by the reception his new album, Jaz-O & The Immobilarie Family Present Kingz Kounty, is getting.
The collection, which was released Tuesday, includes the mixtape favorite "Let's Go!" (which features Jaz-O, Jay-Z and singer Shareefah) and the DJ Premier-produced gems "718" and "Love Is Gone."
Kingz Kounty seems like the perfect vehicle to reintroduce the multitalented Jaz-O to the scene. "I always wanted to do it, but I had given up a couple of times because I'm not really into the politics and the bullsh-- of the industry," Jaz-O said. "I'm just a musician at heart. I was disappointed in a lot of things. I feel right now is the best opportunity for me. Skillwise and lyricwise, I never really lost a step."
Many of the Jaz-O songs that appear on Kingz Kounty were originally slated for Jaz-O's forthcoming solo album, but he wanted to help put some of his protégés on before making a full-fledged return.
The two most promising members of Immobilarie are rapper Dibiase and producer Zukhits. When Jaz-O connected with fellow Brooklyn resident Dibiase at New York's Port Authority a few years ago, the two realized that they shared similar musical and literary passions. They soon decided to go into business together.
Dibiase's younger brother, Zukhits, happened to be an up-and-coming producer. Zukhits, whose wide-ranging beats carry Kingz Kounty, shares production duties with DJ Premier, Jaz-O, Craftworks and D.R. Period on the album.
Jaz-O feels especially proud of Zukhits. "Productionwise, he's my protégé," Jaz-O said. "What's so good about it is that his music sounds nothing like me. I like that, because he took what was necessary from me and utilized things that he came upon on his own and made it grow. I appreciate that, because I didn't want to make a mini-me."
As has been the case throughout his career, Jaz-O showcases those important to him. Pioneering hip-hop MC and lyricist Grandmaster Caz, who penned the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and was a member of the Cold Crush Bros., appears on the Kingz Kounty cut "Slut."
"When I heard Grandmaster Caz, it was like a light came on," Jaz-O said. "His timing was just perfect, his voice was perfect and he wrote all of the routines that the Cold Crush did. A lot of them were jingles from old pop and R&B songs, but it was crazy the way he flipped them. I didn't know it could be like that. From that day on, I endeavored to get my timing like that, to have the same clarity and vocal punch."
Jaz-O also extended a hand to Jay-Z early in his career. Then known as The Jaz, Jaz-O featured Jay-Z on his first two albums, including the singles "Hawaiian Sophie" and "The Originators." When Jay-Z emerged with Roc-A-Fella in the mid-'90s, Jaz-O was then known as Big Jaz and produced early Jigga hits such as "Ain't No N---a."
After a few years, the two drifted apart. When Jaz-O was preparing for what would be Kingz Kounty, Jay-Z delivered only one verse, for the single "Let's Go!" Jaz-O is more disappointed than bitter about the lack of involvement from his former protégé.
"Everything that I did for him as far as his career was concerned, I did all of those things to be an agreeable person," Jaz-O said. "The feeling just wasn't reciprocated in the way that I understood it. I feel that there is a code to friendship, and I never thought that we would do things together in the business as business. I thought it was all personal, that we were on the same page. Obviously we weren't. I really found that out when I tried to get back in the game."
Despite Jay-Z's lack of involvement, Jaz-O has plenty of work to keep his mind on other endeavors. He produced "Black Widow" for Kool G Rap's next LP and contributed an untitled track for GZA/Genius' next album. He is also working with M.O.P. and is managing singer Shareefah, who appears on three Kingz Kounty songs.
Of course there's a Jaz-O album in the works, too. "My album is going to express what Marcy Projects was and what it really is and what it's going to be," he said. "It means a lot to me, and during the course of my album, people will start to see that it's very important because it has a lot to do with the shaping of hip-hop today. It has a lot to do with who and what I am, why I am this way. It has a lot to do with the truth."
After more than a decade in the business, Jaz-O feels content that he's on the right path to acceptance.
"People have been surprised," he said. "They're like, 'People not only remember this cat, they're actually checking for this cat.' The world is already starting to know. Like, 'Damn, where did that come from, from your boy [Jay-Z]?' I was standing in front of Hot 97 one night and Lil' Cease and them were outside. They were like, 'We heard the song, man. Now we know where it came from.' I appreciated that, because sometimes I need to hear that. Going years and years being around people, it's good to see that people really recognize the sh--."