In the J-Zone Zone

My new favorite blog has everything: humor, enlightening social commentary, a unique perspective. No matter what the topic, I always find more than a few quotable remarks to think about. But since I’m not the type to actually comment on blogs, I’ll use this space to give props to the blog’s author, in hopes that he keeps up the good work.

So thanks, J-Zone.

Since June, the longtime light-hearted rapper and producer behind such underground classics as Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes and A Job Ain’t Nuthin’ but Work has had space reserved on music industry vet Dante Ross’s website for his thoughts and ramblings. This was no shot in the dark; J-Zone has long been an artist willing to speak his mind online, from his old website to his MySpace blog to his eye-opening 2007 article, “5 Things that Killed Hip-Hop” (which has since been reprinted in a pop-culture textbook). But he’s really stepped up his game with this most recent opportunity, holding forth on everything from NYC socializing to his meticulously organized cassette collection (yes, he still owns and carries a Walkman) to the greatness of his grandma.

But my favorite posts I’ve read so far have been the ones on social media. J-Zone has long had a conflicted relationship with online communication tools (he doesn’t even like to refer to himself as a “blogger”), and has recently found a special place in his hilarious rants for those two behemoths of the way we now interact: Facebook and Twitter.

On the 25 August entry of Facebook Thugs, J-Zone offered what is probably the most accurate description of the appeal of Facebook I’ve seen so far: “There’s nothing like catching up with old friends/acquaintances that you haven’t seen in years and having everybody of significance from your pre-k days to the current girl you‘re trying to smash all in one place.” But he also notes the downside of all these connections, which is that it means you have to interact with all sorts of people, whether you want to or not. Depending on how you use Facebook, you might deal with:

  • jealous exes who hate hearing about your current relationship (“What happens between you and your significant other is your business. Nobody gives a f**k.”) If you’re not around to constantly monitor your page, this could result in some ugly retaliation.

  • friends of friends who feel the need to weigh in on your debates with inane comments (“I used to watch Jerry Springer and wonder… ‘where the f**k do they find these ignorant ass people? I don’t know anybody like this’. NOW I know where all the ignorant people congregate. Wanna know where? The comments section of You tube and in your friends’ non-mutual friends on Facebook.”)

  • pointless posters (“If you want attention, run into KFC butt ass naked and tell the manager you’re there to shoot dice with Colonel Sanders.”)

  • relentless promoters (“If you’re in Seattle and are inviting people from St. Louis to your event, maybe you should stop and think about what percentage of these people will just happen to be in Seattle on that given night.”)
  • Given his feelings on these annoyances – particularly those last two – it seemed curious that, on 10 August J-Zone decided to give in and join Twitter (as he says of the sign-up in a subsequent post, “I felt like I boned a distant cousin.”) As those familiar with the microblogging service know, Twitter is a hotbed of pointless posting and relentless promotion, and it can sometimes be difficult to cut through all the nonsense to actually get some benefit from it.

    Had it not been for the organizational power of the TweetDeck application, I probably would’ve quit a few weeks after I started Tweeting for work. Notice that I said “for work” – promotion of my website was the reason I joined up. When there’s a new promotional tool out there, you often feel like you have no choice but to participate, so I can get why J-Zone felt it was something he had to do.

    Again, he pinpoints the issue: “If you’re “tweeting” to “promote” or do “business”, you’d better throw in a few hundred meaningless “tweets” a day to stay on top of the feed or you won’t even be seen.” Success on Twitter is, unfortunately, tied to constant action/interaction, and often that means quantity over quality.

    J-Zone, of course, adds a few other problems he has, including the name (“Twitter sounds more like a verb describing what you to do to your balls with a remote in the other hand while you’re watching Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball), the bird logo and all the ridiculous acronyms used to keep thoughts under the 140-character limit. But by far his biggest complaint about Twitter is what it represents: the fact that promotion is becoming more important than the things being promoted. “If Tweeting all day is what it takes to stay relevant in 2009, then the random music I do and this blog will stay a hobby/occasional source of $$ that friends and whoever stumbles across them can check out.”

    I can totally understand his frustrations with having to be a constant promoter, but I’d be a little sad if J-Zone gave up on Twitter (he is still occasionally active, mostly to add links to his blog posts). Because just as he’s been at the forefront of making musician blogging something more than just a simple promotional tool (along with artists like David Byrne and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats), he could help redirect the use of this powerful service.

    Like college, or Play-Doh, a social media tool is what we make of it, and while Twitter mostly serves as another promotional jungle, there are some artists out there who use it for something more (Mashable and Pitchfork offer some good examples, including Lily Allen, Grizzly Bear and even Dave Matthews), and actually accomplish what we, as fans, desire: the ability to get to know and interact with artists who previously only spoke to us through their music.

    More than MySpace and Facebook, where communication is still done on more of a broadcast level, Twitter allows real-time give-and-take. If we want to know more about the inspiration for a certain song, or about the artist’s real feelings on a certain city, we can ask. And we might even get a direct response. Say what you will about Twitter (and Kanye West, for one, has), but that’s pretty cool.

    Now, I understand the hesitation to give in to yet another tool that may not even be around or relevant in another few years, and even more the desire not to add to the relentless stream of chatter that threatens to overtake us all. But just as you can tweak Facebook to limit annoying interactions, you can take control of how you want to use Twitter.

    Don’t want people to know what you’re doing every second of the day? Don’t tell ‘em. Sick of dumbed-down language? Don’t use it. As much as it doesn’t seem like it, it is up to you. Lead and the people will follow – literally. But the worst thing you could do, J-Zone, is to deprive us of another avenue through which to receive your wisdom in between blog posts. OK, maybe I just want to see #itsfleshlighttime as a trending topic.

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