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With an album debuting on the Billboard charts at #3 this week, Mike Jones has been making his average name — and his phone number — famous since 2001. But it was his latest single, "Still Tippin,' " featuring fellow hometown heroes Paul Wall and Slim Thug, that brought the eyes of the hip-hop world to his hometown of Houston, Texas. This sprawling city spawned "chopped-and-screwed" hip-hop, a genre pioneered by the late, legendary DJ Screw, which slows tracks down to molasses-like tempos. The "Still Tippin,' " single features a screwed-up beat and video — the clip is edited in sync with the song's choppy tempo — and showcases Houston-centric tricked-out cars and synchronized driving. The video has brought a little-tapped Southern culture onto the national radar, so we sent Sway to pose such deep questions as, who is this kid with his name and phone number on his shirt? And isn't he worried about his daytime minutes?

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Sway: What it is about Houston right now that's making everybody pay attention?

Mike Jones: I think people ignored the whole screw game, the whole Houston game, but they couldn't deny it. You keep hittin' them and keep hittin' them, and it keeps getting better.

Sway: For those who don't know, what does "Tippin' " mean?

Jones: "Tippin' " means cruising. You can catch me cruising up the block or catch me tippin' up the block. "Fo' vogues" means you got four rims — the spokes that you see sticking out — and tires. So when he says, "I'm Tippin,' " I'm cruising on four vogues, and they wrapped in a Volt tire. The Volt tires were made in 1994 by Cadillac and those were the most popular ones at the time.

Sway: OK, we're getting our Houston education right now. At what point did you make the conscious decision: "I want to get into the rap game. I like the way I sound. I think this could work."

Jones: A lot of the people I was with, we was all doing the same wrong things and most of them was getting caught up. My grandmother used to always tell me, 'Boy, you better stop. I'm telling you, you gonna end up like your friends'. And there was a lot of times I didn't listen — but I woke up. I was like, "Man, I gotta make this happen!" My grandma was sick: "I gotta make something for her, I gotta provide for my mama, I gotta provide for family." It was time to get up off my behind and do something right instead of having my people worrying every night. I thank the Lord that he got me out to use the money that I did make from it to put into [Jones' label] Ice Age Entertainment. So I started going to the studio when I started making songs. But when I went to the DJs, the DJs were doing the "Who?" and being sarcastic with us. So then, when I started hitting the strip clubs and the strippers got on my team, I knew I had the chance to make a lot of money and really put my city on the map.

Sway: So the DJs, when you would take them one of your songs, they'd be like, "Mike Jones? Who?"

Jones: "Hey man, it's your boy, Mike Jones. I got this new CD I want you to check out. If you like it, let me know." "Who are you?" "Mike Jones." "Who? Who is Mike Jones?"

Sway: So they was playing you out.

Jones: So now, I've used everything they done and threw it back in their face. Who Is Mike Jones? — in stores now!

Sway: What was the first song they started playing?

Jones: Really, what I did — I went to a stripper, let's say her name was Strawberry. I be like, "What's your favorite song to dance to onstage?" And, she might say Ying Yang or whatever song she feeling. And I be like, "A'ight, I got that instrumental. I can write a song about you, your body, the tattoos you got on you, and why dudes should come up to ya and tip you." Girls have a three-song set, so instead of her getting up there playing the regular music, she's playing an exclusive from Mike Jones. So when the Ying Yang Twins' song come on, it's Mike Jones talking about Strawberry — "A 5'8", body great/ Cute face, nice shape/ Tattoo on her back," you know what I'm saying? I'm rapping it so while people are tipping her, throwing money at her, they looking at all the stuff I'm rapping about and then they hear that "Who? Mike Jones! Who? Mike Jones!" And it started getting real catchy. Then Swisha House came to me after they seen how big I was.

Sway: You've been putting it down for years now.

Jones: I been putting it down for years, but what's crazy is that in 2001, when I did start rapping, my name took off quick because I came up with nice strategies for the strippers. Like when I did a song for Strawberry, all of a sudden Coco came to me, "Oh, you got to do one for me!" Then Alize came in, and next thing you know I had a whole fleet that I would do it for. Then the strip club owners had me on their commercials: "Yeah, Mike Jones is gonna be here live." And then when I get there, nine or 10 girls would get up and dance to a Mike Jones song.

Sway: OK, let's talk about Swisha House, because there's a lot of people who aren't in the South and don't know who they are.

Jones: Swisha House is a well-based underground label. They was like a underground Roc-A-Fella; they was already holding it down on the mixtapes. They came to me in 2002 and I'm still with them. My grandmother passed away right before my name started really taking off, so on the album Who Is Mike Jones? I wrote a song called "Grandma" and it tells everybody the whole story, why I said my name, why I give my phone number out.

Sway: Why do you give your phone number out?

Jones: 'Cause a lot of people was booking fake Mike Jones shows. Whoever was booking the fake shows was getting like half of what I get every show, so fans would pay like $25, $30 to go in there and it be packed and Mike Jones don't show, and then they like, "I ain't messin' with Jones no more, he a no-show." It really started putting a bad strain on my name, so I got on the mixtape and started giving out my phone number. All of a sudden, the hating stopped.

Sway: But let me ask you this. You give out your own personal cell-phone number? And that number is 281-330-8004?

Jones: Yeah. I got the phone on me right now. I get calls from Iraq, Cancun. I get calls from everywhere on that phone. Everything on me is original. A lot of people think that I wear the same shirt — I got almost a thousand of these shirts. Every day, I put on the same shirt 'cause I'm a hustler and I want you to know it.




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Photo: Mike Frost

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