On the surface, the funk duo comprised of Jay “J-Zone” Mumford and Pablo Martin seems as unlikely of a pairing as putting mofongo in your quinoa salad or mixing beef tripe into your Cream of Wheat. J-Zone is a hip-hop producer/rapper/DJ from New York City with an encyclopedic knowledge all of things funk and ig’nant hip-hop. Martin is an Argentina-born, self-described punk rocker who is also a respected engineer, guitarist, and connoisseur of ’60s and ’70s TV theme songs. But despite their divergent musical backgrounds, whenever they converge as the Du-Rites, whatever they play sure is funky.
J-Zone has recorded hip-hop as the aforementioned triple threat for close to 20 years. After a calamitous series of events, he retired from recording music in 2006, sticking to the production end, and eventually writing and publishing Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit, and a Celebration of Failure about his experiences. He returned to recording hip-hop music in 2012, but also began sharpening his skills as a drummer, working with producers like Danger Mouse and helping to score films. Martin plays guitar for the legendary Tom Tom Club and works as a sound engineer. He has mastered many an underground hip-hop album over the last two decades, meeting Zone while mastering his first album Music For Tu Madre. After working together behind the boards for so many years, the two decided to collaborate on an album after Zone rediscovered his passion for music as a drummer.
The Du-Rites have created a groovy, trippy, greasy, and hard-to-the-core instrumental funk album in J-Zone and Pablo Martin are The Du-Rites, released this past October. It’s so soulful and nasty that it will leave a ring around your ear canals. Martin handles the guitar and keyboard duties, while Zone plays the drums, bass, organ, turntables, and contributes the essential shit-talking and ad-libs.
Besides obvious influences like The Meters, Booker T & the MGs, Kool & the Gang, and Funkadelic (particularly early ’70s Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow Funkadelic), the music is evocative of lesser-known, yet equally funky groups, like Ebony Rhythm Band, the Warm Excursion, The Counts, and The Dynamic Corvettes. Like many funk/soul bands from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that recorded music on the 45 RPMs J-Zone likes to spin for DJ gigs, the duo keep their songs short and sweet. With only one track crossing the three-and-a-half minute mark, the Du-Rites successfully do much more with less, infusing traditional instrumental funk and soul with other musical styles.
The album is a modern funk head-snapper. “Play the Right Hand,” a mellow, slow-grooving track plays like a two-minute instructional record on how to play funk. The extra-sparse “Bookie” is another winner, displaying the duo’s abilities at creating solid stripped down funk. While “Man with the Golden Tooth” sounds like the theme song for the villain in an unreleased Shaft sequel, “The Chief and I” showcases the Du-Rites at their darkest and most sinister, with its warped guitar licks and gritty organs making the track sound like an evil version of a Menahan Street Band track.
The all-too brief “Going to the Moon” features a killer Martin guitar solo, as well as one of J-Zone’s special talents: talking shit. He spits venom at Starbucks, Facebook revolutionaries, and police officers who “can beat you upside your head, then tag #bluelivesmatter on Instagram.” The album draws to a close with “Du-N-it,” possibly the Du-Rites’ most polished track. Martin’s slick guitar groove and quirky synths set the tone, while Zone keeps things moving with his precise drumming, odd vocal samples, and testimonials from his adopted alter egos Chief Chinchilla and Pimpin’ Polyester Pete.
We recently caught up with the funk duo and talked in-depth about a myriad of topics, from learning how to compose music, to complicated band dynamics, to the travails of touring, to learning how not to hurt yourself while playing drums. And remember, as J-Zone says, if the Du-Rites ain’t on your stereo, then your stereo ain’t really on.
ALBUMISM: You guys have been working together for 15 years. At what point during your working relationship did you first realize that you could do a project together?
PABLO MARTIN: It all started when I learned that J was playing drums. We'd known each other for a while. He posted this ad on Facebook looking for people to play with and no one replied. So I called him and said, "Let's go, let's play." We started playing from there. We sat on the material for years, probably. At the same time, I was playing with my band. When I play my music I'm in rock, new wave, I'm old time rock roots. I had a problem with the drummer that was playing and J was around and I was like, "You've got to come and work here. You've got to play rock and if you don't know how to play, I'll teach you. So come, I need you to play." And he did!
We've been playing that project for a couple of years with the other guys. It's always fun and it's always good. In between when our guitarist in the other band had two kids is the period when we started playing together so there was a lot of down time. When we canceled rehearsals on the holidays, I would call J and say, "Let's go and let's keep working on this." What we'd come up with, we'd have hours of jamming from that.
J-ZONE: It really came about because of the other projects like that. People get busy. That's the dynamic of a group. I'm in other groups now, and people are busy and things get put on hold, but as a musician you have to keep working, not only to financially support yourself, but it's like your heartbeat. If you're not working you're dead.
When it comes to hip-hop I don't do shows anymore, I don't tour as a hip-hop artist, I was making stuff like Drum Break records, Fish and Grits, Peter Pan, but I wasn't touring so I would make the records and just put them out, but I needed something else. Pablo had his bands, I had mine, we had one together, but like you said, one of the guys in the band had two kids back to back. It was like “Goddamn, we're missing our other guitarist.”
I wasn't even thinking we were going to come out with a real album. I thought we'd come out with something, but I thought we'd just take six cuts and throw them on iTunes, just like, "Hey, look we did this." It's easy to put music on iTunes now so it was like, "We'll just throw that out there." I had no idea it would be a vinyl release and people would be liking it and shit. We had no idea.
It was kind of like a “try” project for both of us, and it ended up being a priority project because when things get slow you have that energy. It has to go somewhere. It got slow for both of us. All the energy went into it and then it really started to sound good when we were prioritizing the record. And probably around May or June we were like, "Holy shit, we've got a record here." So we worked on it until July, just the last couple of months it was like pedal to the metal, a new song every week. Keep going.
ALBUMISM: How did you guys envision the album coming together?
J-ZONE: When we were making it, at first we didn't know it was going to be an album, then we said, "Let's do an EP." We weren't even thinking about it. We just kind of made it. Not until the very end, I would say around May or June this year when I really starting putting songs together. That's when I started to see the skeleton and started saying, "Okay, we're going to make an album."
ALBUMISM: How'd you guys first conceive this thing if you said it wasn't until May when you were like, "Okay, this is going to be an album?” How'd you first envision it? Was it just you guys jamming together and you said, "Okay, this works," or was it something else?
MARTIN: We just got together for jamming. It was very informal. In the beginning there were jams, and then we'd take the files home and basically end up writing all the music we could. It seems like we did the jam, we had the drums and J was doing his stuff, and in my free time I would put the things together and say, "What do you think about this with the jam we did?" Then when we had the idea of doing the album, then we were both working, writing and we sped up a lot.
J-ZONE: Yeah, we definitely sped up. When I started playing keys and composing, writing a song and doing everything except the guitars and sent it to him, "I need guitars. I need bass added to it." When we realized we didn't have as much music as we thought we did...Pablo basically composed all the early stuff musically. I was just doing the drum but toward the middle it was like we had to speed up and I was like, "Well, I have a lot of cool vintage keyboards and stuff. Let me just work on my music theory a little bit and start playing keys and try to get a sound I like." That old hip-hop stigma that you can't get that vintage sound from live instruments anymore. I believed that for years and years and years, like, “Ah, you can only get it if you sample it! Otherwise it doesn’t sound… good.”
I put some time into it [and did] some research. Why do these keyboards, drums or guitars…sound how they sound on all the records we used to sample? I did some research and then I started working on my chord progressions. Pablo’s a lot more advanced than I am, so a lot of times I would write stuff and bounce it off of him or he would say, “Take this note out of the chord. There's too much color in the chord.” I was learning as I was going, but it was a lot of trial and error. But once we get a workflow going, then it's just, “Do your thing as a musician.” There’s not as much stop-and-go once you learn what your formula is.
ALBUMISM: How was the experience of composing the music?
MARTIN: I've been composing all my life. That's mainly what I do, what I like to do. Funk, I know how to do it. I have these things that I know how to play: reggae, I know how to play funk… It's natural. We chose funk because it was a common ground for both of us. We started jamming and that's how we started talking about music. It was fun to that point. It was uncompromised.
ALBUMISM: J-Zone, was the composing experience new to you?
J-ZONE: Not the act of putting together songs and then...even when you're making beats, you're composing. You're putting drops here, you're putting changes here. But I think the projects I did from Peter Pan Syndrome up to this record...those were transition records. Peter Pan, Fish and Grits and all the 45s that I put out the last couple of years, all those records were transitioned between what I was doing as a producer for maybe 15 years and the Du-Rites. Because I started playing drums in 2011, 2012, so all my new stuff has live drums, but I'm playing live all the way through on those records. So I'm learning how to play as a drummer in terms of song structure. When are the turn-arounds, the fills, the breakdowns...except for the musical part I was just doing it on top of samples. Composing from a drumming standpoint was already jelling the last few years, but composing from the keyboard, without sampling, that was new to me.
I was a bass player when I was young. Getting back into the bass wasn't hard. Really to compose, the drums and the bass weren't hard but to do the keyboard stuff, the organs, to compose melodies...I would start with the organ. I've never done that in my life, start a song based on an organ riff. All the songs I composed began with an organ riff. Once I had it, I would kind of loop it up hip-hop style like it was a sample and then I would do the drums next and then the bass line and then I would go back and do it live all the way through. So you can get all the little mistakes and you can get all the little varying changes. Instead of looping, you can play it a little messed up a couple of times to make it sound human.
Once I would have the drums looped up and the organ looped up then I would go back and play to a click track, but I'd play live beginning to end. Leave the mistakes in and put changes, add a little color to the chord on this one but not on this one. I would just go live from front to back. I was always kind of scared of the keyboard. Now, with this album, I've used them before but this is my first time actually composing the music around actual chords, using a keyboard, chords, melodies and shit. That was new for me.
ALBUMISM: Were you guys both musically self-taught, or did you take lessons and study and everything?
J-ZONE: Both. Bass, when I played as a kid I was self-taught. I'm self-taught, but I would get “Tighten Up” lessons. With drums I was self-taught but then I took a couple of lessons with one of my students at a college, actually. I used to teach production at my old college and one of my students was a drummer. And after class I would give him production tips and he would teach me a couple of things. He would actually show me rudiments and different things.
I'm self-taught in terms of sit down at the kit, put on a record and mimic what the record's doing, develop your foot coordination, my grip, my technique with my hands. All that was self-taught. But in terms of, “This is a paradiddle, this is a ratamacue, this is a five-stroke roll,” actual rudiments, I had him and then I had another teacher when I was doing Peter Pan Syndrome, I had my right symbol way up high. I used to see videos of guys. I didn't know that where you place your drums can really fuck up your body if you're not careful. Any instrument. If you don't play your instrument the right way, you can actually hurt yourself. It's not a drum machine. It's an instrument. I actually had a teacher right after Peter Pan came out, I took three lessons and he basically showed me how to set up a drum kit so I'm comfortable so I don't hurt myself. He lowered my rise symbol…The ergonomics; drums you can really hurt yourself if you're not careful. I’m not a spring chicken. I'm not a 10-year-old playing drums, I'm pushing 40. In order for me to be able to play ‘til I'm 70, I've got to be properly set up. But it was $60.00 an hour, so I was like, "I'll take two or three lessons just to…” He taught me a little about reading.
Then I took a lesson with Mike Clark who is one of the most sampled drummers of all time. He was Herbie Hancock's drummer. He was the drummer for the Head Hunters. Mike is expensive. Mike is a legend. I took one lesson with Mike, and I said, "Listen man, show me what you can do." I said to him, "Based on what I'm doing, how can I funk out what I'm doing? What are some [things you can show me]?” He basically showed me some of that shit that you used to do back in the day. It wasn't like we were setting up here trying to do a whole bunch of theory. It was like, "Show me some grooves and then show me some warm-up exercises to really get my hands loose."
I just had him show me some licks and some practice routines for my hands; warmups. He showed me a sticking where you're playing doubles but it sounds like triples. He showed me stickings to really make your hands loose. He showed me different grooves.
The short answer is I'm self-taught basically but I took tune-up lessons. When there was something I really wanted to know how to do and I couldn't figure it out, I took a lesson. When my wrist was hurting because my shit was all fucked up…“Well, let me hire a teacher and have them fix my kit so I don't kill myself.”
MARTIN: I'm completely self-taught. My thinking is sink or swim. I just have to listen. I learned from the records mostly. But I study a lot of records, so I was able to have an idea on how to write strings or guitars, bass or keyboards. It's all self-taught. I don’t think I have the patience for lessons. I should, but I'm afraid it's going to be limiting. I’d have to learn a lot of things that I'm not supposed to do, and, I don’t know, I'm fine the way I am right now. I’m a little scared of taking lessons and then not being able to play my music, but get a job on Broadway.
ALBUMISM: How does the dynamic work with you guys? J-Zone, I know you’ve mostly been a one-man show in the past, and Pablo, you play with Tom Tom Club. How are things when you come together as a group?
MARTIN: The main thing is that the stuff that J does, I cannot do and vice versa. We are not stepping in each other's fields at all. We are pretty confident and everybody has their job in this band. Maybe we swap around bass sometimes, but we are confident that I am working with a really good drummer and he's confident that he's working with a really good guitar player. It shows in the product. In the end what counts is the song, and once the song's done they're exciting. They're untouchable for us.
J-ZONE: For me, I'm used to doing everything by myself but I kind of like the element of surprise, which is something. The only time I got the element of surprise was like, you're getting Devin the Dude or Celph Titled or Al-Shid or J-Ro or Has-Lo, whoever, and they send you back a verse. That was the furthest extent of the element of surprise. I saw everything unfolding. But when I send Pablo something, "I'm sending you drums and an organ riff" and in my mind I have an idea of what the song's going to sound like and then when I get it back with the guitars on it, it's nothing like I thought it was going to be. It's a totally different song, but I love it. It's crazy, the song I had in mind when I started is totally different now but that's because I have a funk and hip-hop background and he's worked in punk and pop…He's bringing stuff…like I said, I can't do that. I don't have the education to, even if I could play guitar to come up with some of that stuff. With the chord progressions or just the way…we both play bass but we approach it different.
ALBUMISM: Where do you see you guys going from here? Is this going to be a one-off album, or do you see this as a long-term project?
J-ZONE: We already started working on another 45 RPM.
J-ZONE: We are actually finishing up a song now. We just kept working.
MARTIN: We have a title for the next album too. We have to do it. We don't know what we're going to do yet. I think that one is a challenge. You cannot repeat yourself but you cannot go too far away from what you already did. We are still talking about what's going to be the next step in terms of how we'll do the same album in a different way, so it's consistent with what we have but it's not the same as before. We're working on that.
ALBUMISM: So are you guys thinking about touring as a funk group?
MARTIN: We are just starting [as a group]. The main idea is to work with people. We are a rhythm section. Let's see how much work we can come up with for other people to offer our sound.
J-ZONE: It's almost like a college Sly and Robbie or the MGs or the Funk Brothers. Come to us for a sound, but then like you said, we have another band so Pablo and I are doing shows in New York City now but not as the Du-Rites. The Du-Rites are part of another band called Lu Lu Louis that plays…Punk Rock. We are playing but not as the Du-Rites yet. Du-Rites is actually more like a production team, but we're musicians and we play out and it would be interesting. We did something for a film, we can't say which one but we got music in a major film that's coming out next year and we have somebody working out stuff from the publishing side, because there's no samples, so there could be a lot of licensing opportunities. So we're going that route. And to play live we'd have to get a bassist and a keyboard player to learn the parts. It's like finding people who are reliable to learn the stuff.
I play in a bunch of bands and I played in a band in September just for a one-month residency. I auditioned, got in, did three rehearsals, and I was a drummer. But the first show we had eight musicians. The second show we added a horn section, so we had twelve guys on stage. The following week we lost the rhythm guitarist and the keyboard player and the horn and the conga player moved over to the keyboards, so we had six and then the conga/keyboard player quit the group after that show. The lead guitarist had to move to keyboards so we had no guitar. It was me, the keyboard player, the bassist and two background singers playing tambourines. The entire sound and dynamic changed.
That's one thing I'm learning about playing live. The first question people always have is, “When are you going to tour? When are you going to play live?” With hip-hop it's kind of like all you need is someone to book you and someone to play your music. If you really give a fuck you get a good DJ, but most people don't even care. “Sound man, play my DAT!” or “I'll hook my Mac Book up to the mixer.” A hip-hop show is like mercenary shit: get on stage and go. When you have a band, it's easy to say, "Yeah we're going to do gigs," but yo, when you get $30 and got to split it six ways [laughs], somebody’s going to quit the band the next day.
It's not like DJing or even rapping where if you really want to go do a show you can just jump on the bill and open up and do 15 minutes and spit. Even touring as a rapper, I didn't make money touring the US but at least when I got paid I didn't have to split it. If you go around with a band, you're also carrying instruments. You've got amps...
MARTIN: You have to really love it.
J-ZONE: You've got to love it. The potential is great, because you're offering more to the crowd than a rap show, but then you have so much overhead as a band. And then on top of that, you've got to rehearse. Rap shows, we never rehearsed! I learned the lyrics to my songs because I mixed them. When I was mixing the record download I would learn. By the time I was done mixing the song, I knew it because you listen to it a thousand times. When you're in a band, okay, me and Pablo notice stuff but if we go and outsource other musicians, they have to learn the material. I rehearse with bands and don't get paid because I love to do it and I want to become a better drummer. The only way to be better is to play. Not in my basement making break beats, but playing with people. I look at it as my schooling. I go do rehearsal for free for three hours, two times a week. I could be going to Berklee [College of Music] and spending more than that on classes but I'm getting an education.
My music school is playing with people, but a lot of people have got families. A lot of people are like, "I'm established, so don't do anything for free." I interviewed the drummer from the Ohio Players, Greg Webster, and he said the reason why you don't have really great bands how they were anymore is because people want to get paid for practice. You try to get guys together, "How much is it?" He said, "The Ohio Players used to play 16 hours a day and not make a dime." And they would get out there and be tight, and then they would demand their money at shows.
It's the same thing putting a band together and touring. I mean, there's no middle ground, man. There's guys just trying to keep it together like us and there's guys getting endorsements and equipment trucks and fucking specific soundmen for each instrument. There's like “big” and then there's everybody else. There's nobody like, "We're going to do a tour, we'll make a modest amount" yada-yada, come home. It's too much overhead.
MARTIN: We've been lucky at least we've been able to sell the album without moving from our place. We've got to be thankful for that.
J-ZONE: We're very thankful.
MARTIN: We should have been packing up our stuff and trying to get on the road just to get rid of it. Most people do. Most bands, when you get that strike of luck, it's a really small project, but it's still going to reach a lot of people. At least we have the choice we decided we were going to put this thing together. I need to find another guitarist and another bass player so we reproduce the parts that have been recorded. It’s comfortable just to be setting down and writing music and be able to put it out and having people at least paying attention to it. That really makes us lazy. At the time, we haven't even set down and said, "Are we going to play this live or what we're going to do?” We don't even have the time to do that yet.
ALBUMISM: And life on the road is fricking excruciating and...
MARTIN: I hate it.
J-ZONE: I hate it. You were with the Tom Tom Club. I did the Chitlin’ Circuit.
MARTIN: I liked it I guess. But I know that if I'm going [out on tour again], it's not going to be like that. I'm thankful too that I had that experience, but another level can be...imagine being locked in a van with like four 20-year-old kids.
ALBUMISM: Exactly. I'm 40 years old and washed and I can barely make it through even going to a show. I can't even imagine touring nationwide.
MARTIN: That's the problem with people our age too, you know. The 20-year-olds still go to shows.
ALBUMISM: Exactly. I was at a show a couple of weekends ago and I was feeling it for days. I went to the show Friday, I was feeling it on Sunday. I wasn't even performing.
J-ZONE: It’s a hard life, man.
ALBUMISM: OK, last question. What, if push comes to shove, are your five favorite albums of all time?
MARTIN: My fav 5 in no particular order…
James Brown | Everybody's Doin' the Hustle & Dead on the Double Bump (1975)
This was at some point the only JB record released in Argentina and therefore my introduction to the heavy funk. It's a strong album. In my opinion, his best. I'm a self-taught musician so records are school to me. I've learned the funk guitar from this one, especially how to split and mesh two guitars. This album is a big lesson on that and I still use it in every song I do, on every style. Talking about this album is how J and I started talking funk.
The Specials | The Specials (1979)
I was a kid listening to whatever pop music came from the radio ‘til someone gave me a TDK cassette with this album on it and blew my mind. On side B was Talking Heads: 77.
Tom Tom Club | Tom Tom Club (1981)
Because this album saved my life.
Black Uhuru | The Dub Factor (1983)
This album was made out of the dub versions of two BU albums, Red (1981) and Chill Out (1982). It came out over 30 years ago and still sounds like it came from the future. It's like the re-invention of psychedelia. Everything from the execution to the engineering is literally out of this planet.
The Velvet Underground | White Light/White Heat (1968)
Because it’s the nastiest, dirtiest, meanest record ever made, and I was, I am and I'll always be a punk rocker. This album just sings to me.
J-ZONE: My top 5 in no particular order…
Kool and the Gang | Music Is The Message (1972)
I'm a huge Kool and the Gang fan, particularly their earlier funk and jazz stuff. The band had so many phases and I felt this album was the transition album between the two phases I dug the most. Early on, they were more raw and drum-driven, which is why that stuff has been sampled so much. As they got into the mid '70s, they got slicker. The chord progressions, songwriting and horn charts became so advanced. This album and Good Times (also from 1972) had the best of both worlds. Great jazz cuts, great dance-funk cuts, raw jam sessions and amazing horn arrangements. I played bass as a kid and in 1989 this is the first album I learned to play front to back. When I started making beats in '92, this was the first record I sampled. When I starting playing drums in 2011, this is the first album I learned to play front to back. It's my main resource for everything musical.
Gang Starr | Step in the Arena (1991)
It feels like you're in a jazz club in the hood and Guru is an elder statesman just telling stories to the crowd. Premier was so ahead of the curve with the samples he used also. Even the length of the songs and the sequence inspired me. It showed me the power of the two-minute song. Half as long and twice as strong.
The Counts | What's Up Front That Counts (1971)
I love all styles of funk, but to me this is the quintessential funk sound. Something about a Hammond B-3 organ, a solid rhythm guitarist and a great drummer...you can put sousaphones behind 'em and still can't lose. The grooves on this are just plain nasty and the musicianship is jaw-dropping. The band didn't even have a bass player—that's organist Mose Davis using a pedal. The Counts signed with Westbound Records right when Funkadelic and Ohio Players signed and they got the shaft in the promotion department. Those are two great bands to lose out to, but The Counts were just as good. I hate the music business.
Public Enemy | Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
I feel this is the group's masterpiece even though popular opinion is It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). You can hear all the rage from 1989 coming out in Chuck's performance. The group had been battle-scarred and tested after It Takes a Nation and this is a more mature effort in every way. Bomb Squad took the production and sequencing to another level. "Contract on the World Love Jam" and "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" could be the greatest consecutive 7 minutes on a record in rap history. Even the liner notes were brilliant.
Tim Dog | Penicillin on Wax (1991)
The GOAT! Do I even need to explain?!