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He bangs both hands on the table, over and over again, and explains the hate. It hasn't changed much since he was selling CDs from his backpack years ago.
"People hate on Mike Jones and what he done, but I sold 2 million. People hated on Mike Jones back then, but I still sold all my CDs. So I don't trip. Because you could hate, but at the end of the day the numbers prove that Mike Jones is still relevant and supposed to be here...You know what I'm saying?"
Jones says he's become a target, referring to the incident with Trae. With him backstage, where his nose bled as camera phones flashed, were his brother and mom.
But this, Jones claims, is right where he wants to be. He predicts a new record deal that will let him do what he wants, a Super Bowl Subway commercial with Jared. He has a partnership with Cricket Wireless, which sponsored the Arena Theatre concert. He has a relationship with legendary local label Rap-A-Lot, which has provided his two managers. One, the widely respected "International" Red, says Jones is basically "starting from scratch" — but this time with an understanding of how the game works.
"He has a clear path," Red says. "Once he's on the plane, it's clockwork. Mike will shake every hand and kiss every baby."
Jones has a new album coming out in December called Expect the Unexpected — a phrase he now repeats over and over again.
He goes into a hysterical giggle, snorting and choking.
"People just don't know what to expect right now from Mike," he says. "Expect greatness. Expect the unexpected, my nigga. Goddamn expect the unexpected."
Pena walks in with a freshly lit blunt, which he hands to Jones, and a girl in tiny booty shorts and a laced tank top whom he takes upstairs.
Jones coughs and chokes on the smoke. Whatever he says next is slurred and unintelligible. He started smoking about a year ago to fight the stress.
"It's just my fan appeal lost a little bit," he says. "The buzz, the momentum, lost a little bit. I was on Unsolved Mysteries. They don't know what happened to Mike Jones. He ain't dead."
Jones says he's been locked in a glass coffin. He leans forward and knocks rapidly on the table.
"I'm in that glass six feet under tryin' to get y'all attention. Y'all walkin' right over me. I'm these dominoes right here."
Knock — knock — knock.
"Feel me? Clear. You and them are walking over me. So I'm in there, ain't got nothing but time, to work."
Jones stomps his foot on the floor.
"And I seen all y'all faces as y'all spit on me, and walked past me, and laughed, and said fuck me. Somehow I got outta that mothafuckin' coffin, though."
Jones is scheduled for a brief set at a car show in Ocean City, Maryland. It's his only stop in more than a week. Pre-boarding, Zone 4, then all rows are called, and finally stand-by. The door shuts in less than a minute.
Jones jogs down the hall, rolling his carry-on. Pena and his road manager, his only traveling companions these days, trail behind him.
"Life on the run," Jones says, and gets on the plane.
About 20 minutes into the ride to the venue, as the driver describes the beachside hotel, Jones suddenly realizes where he is. He did this show last year. People went crazy.
"It's just so good to be out there with the fans," he says.
The vast warehouse is packed with tricked-out cars and screaming fans. Jones plays five songs instead of his allotted three, not once mentioning haters or doubters.Then he jumps down to the table before the stage and poses and signs for well over an hour.
As the background music changes from Houston rap to regular rap to Nickelback, a couple of stagehands become confused, and start to whisper.
"He says he's here until whenever," one of them says.
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