By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
They say that Mike Jones fell off, but I'm so on in my city
— Mike Jones in "Swagger Right," from The Voice
The parking lady at the Arena Theatre is hating on Mike Jones.
"I don't like that hip-hop, now," she says. "Especially when it don't make no sense."
It costs $5 to park. The concert, on a Monday night in early May, is free. It's Jones's first in Houston since his new album, The Voice, dropped, and the homecoming is long overdue. After his debut studio release went double-platinum in 2005, a year that saw him headline the BET music awards and rule everything from video to radio to the budding rap ring-tone industry, making his incessantly repeated "Who? Mike Jones!" into an anthem, Jones failed to put out his second until just a week ago.
In the interim, he was punched in the face by menacing local rapper Trae backstage at the George R. Brown Convention Center when Houston hosted the Ozone Awards last August. His second planned album, 2007's The American Dream, was released instead as an EP (and self-starred straight-to-DVD biopic) amid label politics, but Jones had also angered so many on his furious ascent that it was nearly impossible to promote. The head of the industry's most powerful deejay association, for instance, tried to keep Jones off the radio.
Jones went from multiple houses and 11 cars to one of each. A friend even stole his trademark $15,000 chain. It said, in huge, diamond-encrusted letters, "Ice Age," the name of Jones's short-lived nightclub, aborted clothing line and once-hyped record label that never got off the ground and currently includes only him.
The 5'9'' Jones has gone from borderline obese to noticeably slim, losing 100 pounds in just six months, he claims, by eating Subway and running on a treadmill. Former friends, who regard him as a possibly diabolical liar and phony (he refers to them as thieves and "roach-ass niggas"), attribute the weight loss instead to stress or even illegal diet pills — as in most matters, anything, really, but what he says.
But the new album has opened at No. 12 on the Billboard charts. And just before show time, the backstage area at Arena Theatre is packed with excited fans.
Jones puts on a white T-shirt and bounces out of his dressing room and into the crowded hallway. He snaps into an identical pose and expression for photo after photo. His right arm wraps around the fan. His left hand makes an "H" for H-town, just below his chin. His smile is broad and hungry. His eyes widen, shiny black marbles surrounded by a cartoon white.
Jones speaks — whether to friends, fans, radio jocks or hotel clerks — much like he raps. Syllables and words muddle together and burst out, mostly in scattershot boasts and rants, with a nasal drone that makes his among the most unique voices in rap. Catch phrases and hooks, and his name and phone number, are peppered throughout, as in his new song "Swagg Thru Da Roof":
"2-8-1, holla, 2O6-4336 and I'ma come quick / And I'm who? Mike Jones! Who? Mike Jones! Who? Mike Jones! / (I said) And I'm who? Mike Jones! Who? Mike Jones! And I like yo styyyyle / Shorty got swagg through the roof / She likes to pop tags me too, you know how we do / Let the top down on the goop / Bobby swagga when I grind with you."
Jones explains the song like this:
"I wanted to make a song called swagg through the roof, because I felt that her swagg was through the roof. And this ain't a record about my swagg, this a record about her, about her swagg, and I'm feelin' like her swagg is through the roof, like the roof can't even hold her swagg. Like if you close the roof, it's tryin' to get up out that mothafucka it's so hot, you feel me?"
Any coherence emerges from the endless, looping repetition of a theme central to Jones's music, and, seemingly, also his life — that people hate him and try to hold him back, but he succeeds regardless, strictly on his own. Jones seems to make little distinction, in fact, between his everyday existence and his rap.
"I wanna be next to you-hoooooo," he will sing to himself, head down and swinging from side to side, as he wanders around the parking lot outside a club. "Even the Bible says people will always be hatin'," he'll claim, tapping a Bible in a departure lounge at an airport, a bulky set of rosary beads around his neck. "Man, I didn't go multiplatinum for these airlines to be messin' up my connections," he'll complain after missing a connecting flight.
"We about to bring the cluuuub back," Jones says as he makes his way through the backstage crowd. "Club Ice Age."
Then he is surrounded by his crew at the double doors, focused and ready, his left hand clutching a microphone. The doors open, and Jones rolls out into the total darkness. A few girls scream near the stage. There is a flash like lightning. The 2,800-seat arena is almost empty.