Mike Jones! Who?

The story of a Houston rapper who got bigger and bigger until he shrank back down to earth

"The biggest misconception is that Mike's changed," Magno says. "Mike ain't changed. He's the same person he's always been. It's just your expectations have changed since he got big. If you're stingy, and you're broke, will anyone ever find out?

"To be successful in the game, you gotta damn well be a whore-ass nigga. You might have to forget about a few people. You might have to beep a few people out."

Lil daddy you can tell I'm ballin' / From the way I'm flossin' 84s I'm crawlin' / Screens fallin' as I slide up and down your block / With a chain full of rocks and princess cuts in my watch

Jones kills it onstage whether there are thousands of fans or hundreds. In Ocean City, Maryland, the venue was packed.
Mike Giglio
Jones kills it onstage whether there are thousands of fans or hundreds. In Ocean City, Maryland, the venue was packed.

— "Flossin," from Who Is Mike Jones?

It was late 2005. Jones was in his driveway, washing his cars. There was the Phantom, the Hummer, the Lamborghini, the Range Rover — 11 in all.

"Just all of them out there, just washin' them," Jones remembers. "Just feelin' good."

His manager called in a panic. Jones had forgotten that evening's show, which may have been in Iowa. When he arrived at the airport, all the commercial flights had left. He paid $30,000, he says, to charter his own plane.

"Got off the plane, they zoomed me there, people was screamin', passin' out. The camera was rollin'. I'm like damn, dog, we made it. Paid us 60 stacks to come there and do the full," Jones says.

"Whoooosh. I felt like — goddamn — one of them rock and roll dudes. What's that dude's name, Bruce Spring — Springsteen? It was crazy, man. City for city we was goin' from DUB car shows to Jimmy Kimmel to 106 & Park. I was on 106 & Park every other day. We took away the screen."

Jones was bringing in all kinds of money even before the deal. He had a platinum grill in his mouth, a fancy watch on his wrist and a diamond-encrusted Ice Age chain.

He'd hit unexpected turbulence at the height of his underground success, in the form of Chamillionaire's The Mixtape Messiah in early 2005. The album's three discs were almost entirely devoted to intricate and specific take-downs of Jones — for, among other things, lying about his past, his dealings with Magno and his outlandish shit-talking and braggadocio, extreme even for a rapper, which quite possibly ignited the feud.

But "Still Tippin'" was picking up incredible steam. It got constant play on radio and BET, and so it was Jones's hype that drew the major labels to Houston and brought its post-screw style into the mainstream.

Craig Baylis was a product manager with Warner Bros. at the time. He viewed Jones as the "ideal artist," he says. "A person that truly embodies that 'you don't grind you don't shine' mantra [which Jones has tattooed on his arm]. He was actually somewhat of a motivational beacon for us, not just in the building but for artists throughout the industry."

Jones headlined the BET awards that year, and the powerful network was fully behind him. Picking up on his cell-phone legend, Verizon wanted him as a spokesman. He guest-starred on Prison Break. The offers seemed endless.

"Mike Jones was that dude. All the agencies wanted him," Baylis says.

Warner Bros. had just returned to urban music after a long hiatus. Its new, instantly profitable artist was the franchise player. If Jones had a question or problem, he could go directly to the people at the top. Now he answered only to himself.

"And that's when all hell broke loose," Baylis says.

Slice was Jones's road manager and personal DJ when things started falling apart. (Jones and Farris had split on bad terms.) For the first few months, he remembers, Jones grinded so hard he barely slept.

But as 2005 became 2006, Jones began to blow off the little things, like signings and mom-and-pop record shop stops, Slice and others say. Then he blew off Best Buy. He began to enrage top radio DJs by missing promotional stops or, worse, demanding money for them — something Slice compares to injecting oneself with HIV. He'd make promises, then drop out of touch when it was time to follow through.

("I lose phones like I lose socks," Jones says.)

By the time Jones was set to roll out his second studio release — he'd wrestled creative control away from Swishahouse — he had burned enough bridges to inspire the following in-house Warner Bros. e-mail addressed to its top urban executives:

"The Rap Department is also running into bad relationships between mixers and Mike Jones. Including Tony Neal, Head of The Core Dj' s, a crew of DJ's consisting of 200 Jocks. Tony is adamant about telling his Dj's not to play the Mike Jones record due to unfulfilled promises made by Mike Jones in the past.

"Myself and Kevin Black are flying Tony Neal to LA for a personal sit down with Mike Jones. But this is just one situation of several that we are running into from engagements not made and/or promises not filled in the mixshow community."

At concerts, Slice, Brown and Workman would arrive early to set up. They'd get onstage with their Ice Age chains, unsure of whether Jones would show. When he didn't, they'd be accosted. Guys threatened them. Girls cursed them out.

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