By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
If you have even a passing interest in Houston hip-hop, you already know the answer to the following question: "Who is Mike Jones?" And you also know that his cell number is 281-330-8004 and his Web site is www.whomikejones.com.
And now, thanks in no small part to his canny marketing plan--shouting out his name, Web site and phone number repeatedly in virtually every underground track he recorded the last couple of years--the rest of the country is finding out that information as well, for, as he says, "He's major now/Finna to fuck it up." But it's not just self-promotion that got him where he is--the dude also has some skills on the mike, a likable, hard-grindin' personality and a voice that always sounds like it's as happy as a pig in slop to be where it is.
Only right now, in the whirlwind that has followed the release of his major-label debut, Who Is Mike Jones?, he doesn't know where he is. "Where we at right now?" he asks one of his potnas after I ask him, my phone call having caught up with him on his radio tour. "We're in Nashville, Tennessee," he says finally. "These last couple of weeks have been busy. I get up every day, get back on the grind, talk on the phone--it's just everything, you know? Ain't no sleepin' for Jones."
Jones' distinctly non-rap name and his unorthodox marketing have made him alternately the subject of ridicule, curiosity and, now, adulation. Jones says the whole "Who is Mike Jones?" battle plan came from his late grandmother Elsia Mae Jones, the woman to whom the album is dedicated and also the subject of its final song. "She the one that kept me goin' with this vision when a lot of people said it wasn't gonna work," he says. "A lot of people were sayin', 'Man, you should quit sayin' the Mike Jones stuff,' but I listened to my grandma and I kept it goin'. I didn't let them knock me down--my grandma kept telling me to do this, do this, and I done it."
Also in Jones' corner are some pretty damn good producers, in Salih Williams and Michael "5000" Watts. The smash hit single "Still Tippin'," the first screwed single to hit big across the country, has an eerie violin sample and guest verses from Paul Wall and Slim Thug and typifies the best tracks here, which is to say it is a mesmerizing exercise in rhythmic hypnosis. Choruses like the hit's "Still tippin' on 4-4s/Rapped in 4-4s" and "Back then hos didn't want me/Now I'm hot, hos all on me" (from the church-organ-driven "Back Then") and "You got drank, well po' it up/You claim a set then throw it up" from "Cuttin'" are delivered jackhammer-style until the beat becomes a drug and the words seem to lose all meaning. (To put it mildly, this approach melts down on "Turning Lane." Warning: Not fast-forwarding past this tune could damage your mental health.)
"That repetition is something I came up with because that means that line is somethin' I want people to know," he says. "When I repeat somethin', that's the most important thing that people should be listenin' to, you know? When I say, 'Back then hos didn't want me/Now I'm hot, hos all on me,' that's what I want people to focus on."
Elsewhere, the production team scores big with the snippet lifted from The Nutcracker Suite on "Got It Sewed Up" and the yodeling that helps drive "Cuttin'."
Jones doesn't stray far from the classic H-town mackin' lyrical palate--there's plenty of candy-painted rides swangin' and bangin' with Jones ridin' low in the driver's seat grippin' grain, switchin' lanes, blowin' dank and sippin' drank. But he does color outside those lines a couple of times. There's his tribute to his grandmother, for starters, and there's "Scandalous Hoes," which addresses the kind of women that same grandma--and all grandmas worth their wise words and disapproving glares everywhere--used to warn him about.
And then there's "5 Years From Now," which finds him worrying about the future. Will he be in jail, he wonders in the song, or will he be winning Grammys? I ask him what the ideal next five years would bring. "That's why I wrote it--'cause I don't know," he says simply.
Meanwhile, he's focused on the present: his budding label Ice Age Entertainment, a possible clothing line and, right now, a tour. "Right now I been doin' radio like crazy--just riffin' and runnin' and tryin' to do it like crazy. Tryin' not to slip up."
Which means staying on that tried-and-true, self-promoting Mike Jones grind. "Tell everybody that the album is in stores right now, I got my new label Ice Age Entertainment--it's about to take over. We comin' hard."
See? Sure, he's a self-promoter--perhaps one of the most effective so far this century. But at least the product he's selling is worthwhile.