Reconfiguring hip-hop as stand-up, rapper, producer, and smart-ass J-Zone treats listeners to a running comic monologue on his self-deprecating misadventures in being young, gifted, and cheap. Trafficking equally in dope beats, irreverent punchlines, goofy song concepts, and raucous narratives, he's mastered the time-honored hip-hop art of transforming weaknesses into strengths. Like a rap Jack Benny, J-Zone centers his often-hilarious persona on his aversion to spending money, but his shtick on the new A Job Ain't Nuthin But Work goes far beyond pinching pennies: Never one to be defined by a single vice, he's got a laundry list of shortcomings and personal failings he's damn proud of. Of course, underground hip-hop is full of self-professed assholes peddling juvenile celebrations of bad behavior, but few can match J-Zone's combination of wit and singular production savvy.

For example, glib putdowns of materialistic women constitute a tiresome cliché in both underground and commercial rap, but it takes a comic genius to tell a hood-rat seeking money for a manicure that she'd have "better luck at the White House looking for a job with a Jheri Curl and shower cap on doing the Kid 'N Play kickstep with a crackhead on the front lawn in a 'All Hail Saddam' T-shirt holding two Glocks and C-Bo's Greatest Hits pumping from your boom box," as J-Zone does on "Spoiled Rotten." In the same song, he targets the animal-rights movement, boasting "ASPCA is outside my house picketing 'cause everything in my coat been previously living."


On 2003's $ick Of Bein' Rich, J-Zone's crotchety shtick edged uncomfortably into misanthropy, but on A Job Ain't Nuthin But Work, he rediscovers the joy of being obnoxious. Easing away from $ick's sometimes repellent misogyny, he makes himself the butt of many of his jokes, whether by heralding his ugliness on "Kill Pretty" or by detailing a regrettable night of drunkenly violating his no-dancing rule on "Disco Ho." A sought-after producer who's worked with everyone from Cage to Biz Markie, J-Zone litters his warped soundscapes with profane, obscure sound bites plucked from the lower reaches of popular culture. They function as a demented Greek chorus, commenting on and responding to the rapper's rhymes and themes, establishing a warped dialogue between the past and present. As "The Zone Report" proclaims, "Zone got to do what Zone know best / Tell a story, talk trash, make you laugh, be crass, and give a bum bitch bald-headed ho no rest." Bum bitch bald-headed hos may not approve, but on his stellar fifth album, J-Zone accomplishes that mission.