By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
In 2002, Jones took his mixes to the Houston strip clubs, where he created a custom tape for every dancer, using the stripper's favorite tracks and adding in his "Mike Jones!" call-outs. His phone number (the often seen and heard 281-330-8004), his email address, even his instant message account all showed up on his mixes. One night it drew the attention of Mike Watts, who decided to bring Jones into the Swisha House fold.
By then, many from Swisha House's original roster had left, including Slim Thug, Lil' Mario, and Chamillionaire. So Mike Jones quickly became the label's central artist, and when Swisha House put together 2004's The Day Hell Broke Loose, Vol. 2: Major Without a Major Deal, Mike Jones was featured front and center alongside familiar Swisha House names like Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and Magno.
Among the standout tracks on Major... was "Still Tippin'," a song that sampled the screwed version of Slim Thug's 1999 freestyle: "still tippin' on fo' fo's, wrapped in fo' Vogues." The Swisha House version -- which featured a track by the in-house producer T. Farris and verses from Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug himself -- was one of two versions in circulation. The other was included on the Rap-A-Lot compilation, The Day After Hell Broke Loose, and featured a Southern funk track by producer Bigg Tyme and verses from Jones, Chamillionaire, and Slim. Farris remade the track as a spare, dreamy beat laced with a slinky violin line, and with Chamillionaire -- who'd fallen out with Swisha House -- replaced by his former rhyme partner, Paul Wall. Rap-A-Lot's version earned some notice in the summer of 2004, but the following spring Swisha House's version exploded as a theme to Houston hip-hop's renaissance.
"Still Tippin'" was emblematic of this latest wave from Houston. First, it featured the movement's three biggest stars: Slim Thug (the real star of the song), Mike Jones, and Paul Wall. Second, it incorporated screw elements -- in this case, the slowed chorus. And third, it served as a prelude to the stream of Houston hits and terminology that would roll into the national pop culture over the next year: tippin' down the block with wood grain steering wheels, forty-four rims or spinners, Vogue tires, candy paint and drop tops; sippin' lean with diamonds in the mouth; shouting out "Who is Mike Jones?" and "The People's Champ" and the hook to future hits "Back Then" and "Internet Going Nutz."
Who Is Mike Jones? built up a huge amount of hype before its release, but it largely measured up. It was full of memorable songs, including post-screw cuts like "Screw Dat" and "Back Then," where Swisha House producer Salih Williams created dynamic, progressive tracks that retain their distinctly Houston feel (note to the Neptunes). Who Is Mike Jones? was aggressively accessible, with singing hooks and a something-for-everyone approach that included pimped-out riding songs ("Turning Lane") and eccentric songs ("Cuttin'"), woman-hating songs ("Scandalous Hoes") and conscious raps ("5 Years From Now," which questioned the Iraq War). And for good measure, there was a closing song about Jones's grandma -- she first suggested, "Who Is Mike Jones?"
As for the incessant "Mike Jones!" call-outs and other promotional bits, the gimmick wore on the listener long before the record was over. What initially sold Mike Jones -- his regular-guy, out-of-nowhere image -- became irritating once he established himself as one of Houston's new hit makers, once his phone started attracting a reported 15,000 calls per day. A new album, The American Dream, and a planned autobiographical feature film of the same name will determine whether Mike Jones can move beyond the gimmicks.
Before they were down with Swisha House, Paul Slayton and Hakeem Seriki were just a couple of neighborhood friends going to elementary school together in a lower-middle-class section of northwest Houston. As best friends often do, they had similar interests: By middle school, they loved hip-hop and wanted to rap. Almost from the time DJ Screw first appeared, Paul and Hakeem were fans, though in the years when the Screwed Up Click were dissing the northside, they kept their obsession quiet. It was never an issue, as far as anyone can remember, that Paul happened to be white.
Paid in Full was the label started by Watts's coworker at The Box, afternoon drive-time host Madd Hatta. He started the label to put out his own records, which he released as Mista Madd, but he found his biggest success with Paul Wall & Chamillionaire's 2002 debut, Get Ya Mind Correct. The record managed to sell 150,000 copies based on its dynamic flow. Chamillion particularly shines, switching between sharp, often humorous, rapping and no-nonsense R&B crooning. But what really makes the record click is the interplay between Paul and Chamillion, who vibe together as only longtime friends can. On "Thinking Thoed," Paul actually says, "To tell you the truth, Chamillionaire's better than me, his flip-flop shines a little bit wetter than me/But it don't matter, we're both on the same team." And Cham returns the compliment: "Paul I'm impressed, I thought you was the best/But you just said I was the best so it's a tie, I guess."