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Taxation Without Representation: When DreamWorks' music division was cannibalized, Prozack Turner had a record but no label. So he bootlegged himself.

Flow Pro

San Jose rapper Prozack Turner contemplates the music business, his next move and why eating cats isn't racist

By Todd Inoue

THE DOMINANT image on the cover of Prozack Turner's solo debut, Death, Taxes & Prozack, is a baseball cap emblazoned with a San Jose logo. Flip the CD over and scan the production credits: Pete Rock, Alchemist, Supa Dave West, Organized Noize, Jake One, Madlib, DJ Design, Jay Dilla. In the corner, a tiny, out-of-focus insignia that resembles the DreamWorks logo teases the eye.

From the packaging, one can infer that Prozack Turner is a San Jose emcee who recorded an album with DreamWorks and hooked up with hotshot producers. That's half the story. The reality? Zack "Prozack" Turner is from San Jose. He was in the local hip-hop group Foreign Legion (with DJ Design and Marc Stretch) that released the excellent Kidnapper Van and Play Tight full-lengths. Prozack was courted by Virgin and Grand Royal but signed to DreamWorks for a four-record deal.

In 2003, he assembled his dream production unit and recorded Death, Taxes & Prozack, with a $450,000 budget. In October of 2003, UMG bought out DreamWorks' music division. Turner's record, due to drop five months ago, was shelved. He got out of his contract, bootlegged Death, Taxes & Prozack and is selling it independently. If you look closer at the DreamWorks logo on the CD, it's jacked up to say, "Out of Work."

"It's totally illegal the way I'm putting it out," Turner admits. "They're like, 'We own this album.' But I created this! It came out of my brain. Technically, on paper, they own the rights, but I held up my end of the bargain. I recorded the record thinking they were going to put it out."

The major-label experience, piled onto many others, soured him on the music industry. To say that Prozack is going through a transition is an understatement.

"Every independent label [Foreign Legion] ever messed with has stole from us," he says. "Every person who had been my manager has fucked me over. I got sued for 10 grand by some manager. It's such a dirty business. I'm a real honest guy. It's a hard, hard business to be in, especially when you get so close to succeeding. I'm having meetings talking about Spike Jonze directing my music video. Six months later, I'm looking for a bartending job.

"I feel a little jaded. Even on my album, I put all my homies on, breaded everybody up. People got paid more than they ever did in their career. Man, I don't know if I want to be around this any more. It's destroying relationships, too. It's like the music business is a girlfriend I'm in love with, but I know we're not right for each other, and it doesn't work out, and we're fighting and treating each other awful."

It's a shame because Death, Taxes & Prozack is one of the tightest-sounding rap albums ever to emerge from the 408. His flair for bragging and his metaphors ("Wonderful Life," "Feelin My Steelo") have all the subtlety of a steel-toed boot. It's a supremely entertaining record with Prozack using skills, not anger, as his prime motivational tool. And with producer royalty like Pete Rock, Organized Noize and the Alchemist, Turner is sitting on a potential gold mine.

"I'm in New York, standing in the glass booth, and Pete Rock is on the other side about to record me," he remembers. "Even if the album never comes out, I made it. All the people who told me not to do it--'You're not going to make it; you're white; you're from San Jose, the suburbs'--here I am with one of the illest cats. That was an emotional moment in my career."

Along with the label and legal drama, he and Foreign Legion recently parted ways. Just last week, Turner contemplated quitting music altogether and getting a straight job to pay his bills. Then he got a check from one of his Death, Taxes & Prozack distributors for a thousand bucks. And then he got an order from Japan for 400 CDs--an extra 3 grand. The record is also selling in Germany and Australia. This boost, plus working with San Jose production team the Buckle Brothers on new tracks, improved morale and given him incentive to make music.

"I don't know if I'd do another major-label deal again, because I'm pretty bitter," he says. "Things get shelved all the time: Rass Kass, Planet Asia. The music business is in disarray. I'm not mad because they were trying to market me to alternative radio. I know they wouldn't have done that if I were black. I didn't do a rock rap album. It wasn't an angry album. I don't know what they were looking for. But a lot had to do with race."

Race is something Prozack's been examining within the past two weeks, he says. Prozack, who is white, feels labels have a set feeling about him before hearing him rap. "I've been oblivious to [race issues] my whole life. I'm good enough; I'm cool; I do my thing. Every now and then, you get people who hate. I never got that much of it. I listen to my album--it's good. I think if I weren't white, people would take it more seriously. I honestly do. People automatically compare it to Eminem because I'm white, and I don't think it sounds anything like it."

While on the topic of race, I bring up a line in "My Favorite Song": "I'm not Vietnamese, but dog, I be eating cats." When I mention that it might offend people, he says he understands that people might get mad, but he defends his right to mix metaphors.

"It's a play on words," he says. "'I battled this cat.' What culture eats cats? Vietnam eats cats. There's nothing negative about what I said. It's a complete play on words. I have another line where I say, 'I get more pussy than a cat box,' too. But it's a play on words; I don't get any pussy--I got a girlfriend."

He laughs hard at the line. Don't dismiss the fight in this dog, even if he's eating cats.

"I believe in good, and I believe I deserve to win," he says. "If they shut the door, I'm going in the window. If they shut the window, I'll go in the basement. I'm getting in. I'm not going to stop. I'm just as good as a lot of cats."

Prozack Turner's 'Death, Taxes & Prozack' is available at local independent record stores now. For more info: www.prozackturner.com.

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From the April 14-20, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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