Interview: Jim Jones
Tue, 16 Jun 2009 23:10:56
Jim Jones is always working.
However, his hard work continues to pay off. Jones' first album for Columbia, Pray IV Reign, is the perfect example of his diligence yielding dividends. On the record, Jones takes listeners on a journey through the hood, complete with all the gunshots, sirens, funeral bells, backstabbers and endless nights that any young Harlem capo knows all too well. Enter Jim's world and you'll never be the same.
Pray IV Reign begs multiple listens because it's as hopeful as it is heartbreaking. That's not to say that Dip Set's main man can't get a club bumping—"How To Be a Boss" and "Pop Champagne" are some of the grittiest and hottest bangers to drop this year. That said, the hardest working man in rap has made an album for everyone. Reign is epic hip hop—easily one of the year's best.
Sitting in his New York studio, he's got beats on the brain. Right now, he's working on more music in addition to holding down his gig as VP of A&R at E1 Music. In between everything, he talked to ARTISTdirect.com for this exclusive interview about Reign, the documentary This Is Jim Jones, his stage play and much more.
Pay attention, you may get a few pointers on how to really be a boss.
Pray IV Reign feels like a movie more than anything else. Was your goal to make a cinematic record?
Yeah, I wanted to make a big record that impacted a lot of people's lives. It feels big; you know what I mean? That's why the play I'm doing—Hip-Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones—came over so good. The play works because the music actually comes across like a movie.
The album covers every emotion. There's anger, hope, sadness and, of course, sex.
I thought that's what an album was supposed to be [Laughs].
It is. Many modern artists have missed that concept though.
Some people get jaded when they're living the fast life. I can't be mad.
Were you particularly passionate about the songs on this record?
I definitely had an opportunity to sit down and pour my heart out onto these records. I could think about what I was doing and the records that I really wanted to make.
There's a lot of soul on this album.
I've come up from the hood—you know what I mean? I can't forget about the struggles that I went through to get to the place that I'm at now. The struggle is always there in my mind because there are too many people out there that have to go through the hardships I went through. I know that. My music is the soundtrack to the pavement that they walk on every day, and I've got to keep it that way.
It's fitting that you begin the album with "Pulling Me Back." Is that like your mission statement?
Yeah, you know how it is when you get a little bit of money and you come up in the hood. When you're successful you've got to do a lot of different things, and it's good to experience life. For some reason, there's always a crowd full of clowns that love to pull you back. Misery loves company, and ignorance is bliss so you try to stay away from that. They put you between a rock and a hard place, and you've just got to watch the decisions you make.
On that track you sound like a prize fighter in the 11th round. The vocals are raw. Was there anything different about its recording?
No, it's probably just the emotion of the song that was evoked in my soul. There's a different emotion to every song when the beat comes on.
So you always draw directly from the beat, and that drives where the lyrics go?
What was it like working with Ludacris on "How to Be a Boss?"
Ludacris is an extraordinary artist. He came into the studio by accident. He heard the beat, and he was like, "I've got to get on this!" That was a great night. Anytime Ludacris jumps on a record, it's amazing. He's sold millions and millions of records. For me to be on the same record with him was a checkmark in my book. He's one of my favorite artists when it comes to his rhyme skills and his lyrical ability.
He fires off the flow so fast that it perfectly bounces off yours.
He's talented, man. He knows his music. Shout out to Luda!
You guys are both bosses too…
Definitely! [Laughs] It's "How to Be a Boss." Droppin' some jewels on you if that's what you were tryin' to be.
What's the story behind "My My My?"
"My My My" is a dedication to Stacks Bundles. He was murdered a few years ago. Stacks was an up-and-comer—probably the nicest artist you might've ever heard. It was just unfortunate that his career got stopped so early. He was a dear friend of mine. He had the heart of a lion and a big soul. This is one of the songs that's dedicated to the hard streets that we're living in and the struggles we go through in the beginning. That chorus is touching. I hope you can hear me praying.
It's connected to "Rain" too.
"Rain" is one of my favorites. That song is dedicated to the birth of my son. It's actually a true story about me getting locked up before my son was born. I'm just counting my blessings, man. I've escaped a lot of things in my life unscathed. I thank God I've got the angels with me.
Do you feel better after you get all of this stuff on tape?
It definitely feels good to be able to vent, but then again I'm putting out records so it plays back in my memory every time I hear it.
By the same token, you've always held on to the hood and your past, and that makes you who you are.
A lot of artists lose sight of that, but you show your past the respect it deserves.
You've got to show your past the respect it deserves. You can't forget the past if you're trying to make a way in the future.
Did the beat on "Let It Out" instantly get you?
It definitely caught me from the moment I first heard it. It's a unique beat. That's one of my favorite songs on the album right there.
Does your documentary, This Is Jim Jones, bring fans closer to you than ever before?
You get to see another side of me, and you get to see the method to my madness a little more—why I go so hard in the game.
It gives a lot of back story and insight too.
It's certainly a chance for people to learn about different things. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to put a documentary out. It's a difficult thing for someone to document your life and make you talk about your past and the things you aspire to be in the future. Watching the movie actually made me cry. I think people are respected through this form. It's the fast life, but sometimes you've got to sit back. Life is like chess not checkers.
Given your music video experience, did you have a hand in directing it at all?
I chose to stay away from that on this project. It was brought to my attention that someone wanted to document my life and things like that, so I said, "Alright, I'll do it."
Were you always aware of the cameras or did it become natural?
They documented a lot of history, and I did a couple interviews with the camera for a few days. For the most part, they just set up interviews for me to do.
There's one segment where you and Rick Rubin are sitting in a car listening to music. Was that part of making the album?
That was in the back of Rick Rubin's Range when I was in L.A. on Wilshire Blvd during some of the first beats. When I was finishing up a couple songs in L.A., I was looking for some sounds. I had a few meetings with him. He wrote me a few beats and things like that, and that was the extent of our work together.
How has you’re A&R gig at E1 Music been?
The A&R gig is really good. We've got a lot going on over there. I've got a new artist called Dorrough. His songs are doing pretty good across the country. Webstar did a duet album with me that's got "Dancing On Me." D-Block just dropped an album. Shout out to Khaled too. They've got a strong roster.
You've always had a good relationship with Koch/E1.
They recognize all the money I've made them and all of the moves I've made throughout the years over the course of our relationship [Laughs].
Have they always given you a degree of freedom to do things your way?
They understand the way I have to work. Freedom is definitely a must for me to get the best quality of product that's usually a hit.
You've been in the game so long that people should respect that and trust your judgment.
I would hope by now they do [Laughs].
When you tour are you going to have a live band?
If I get enough money at these shows I'd love to take a live band with me. I did a few shows with a live band, and they went over real dope. I definitely feed off the band's energy. It's a great energy, and it's good to play back and forth with the musicians.
These days hip hop artists have become the real rock stars because they care about the show!
That's where we make our money at. If you haven't got a show, you aren't going to get any dough. That's how you get your brand out there and how you get people to want to go out and buy your records. You've got to be versatile and you have to take people on a journey. You have to let them feel your music and feel your pain.
Is there new album already on the way?
I'm starting to prepare to record the next album. I'm finishing up the Webstar album, Roof Top right now. I will be putting out my next LP hopefully around Christmas time.
You've got the play, the documentary and your records, what are you going to conquer next?
Oh man, I don't know. There are a lot of things I've got going on right now. You'll have to stay tuned. I don't want to ruin anything. But trust me, the next time you see me you'll be like, "Man, he's definitely infiltrating the system."