Harlem hustlers Jim Jones and Dame Dash are in Manhattan's Empire Studio, talking big money plans that could put Jones right in the middle of an artistic evolution: a Christmas album of hard-core street stories due this holiday season, a role in the cable drama "Crash," an autobiographical documentary submitted to Sundance, an off-Broadway play and, most important, his major-label debut, Pray for Reign. It will be Jim's third solo LP overall, and a chance to show his critics there's life after his anthem "We Fly High" (or as it is commonly known, "Ballllllllllllllllllin'!").
"My ego is telling me to put it out on December 9, but we'll see," he said with a smile, sitting in the control room of the studio, surrounded by empty bottles of Moët Rosé and a very small green plant sitting on a $20 bill on the floor.
Since December 9 is the release date for albums from Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss and none other than 50 Cent, Jones — who was voted the #10 Hottest MC in the Game in MTV News' 2007 competition — said the dance floor might be a little too crowded, so he's thinking about pushing it back. But the album got a surprise kick-start when Jones decided to lay vocals on producer-turned-artist Ron Browz's "Pop Champagne."
"Shouts to Ron," Jones said. "He's done a few records on Pray for Reign. He actually has the single 'Reign,' which is gonna be crazy when people hear it.
"I was going home one day, and DJ Jazzy Joyce — at 4:30 in the morning — was playing the [track]," Jones recalled of the first time he heard "Pop Champagne." "And I know how much Ron wanted to become an artist and break into the game. ... So when I heard it, I was like, 'Damn, it got a good sound.' ... I was just being courteous, as he did so many hot beats for me. ... So, I jumped on the track, like, 'Let's see what it do.' It started to sound a little bit crazy, and I said, 'Well, let's see if we put Juelz [Santana] on it how crazy could it get. And I called Young Hub, and Hub was like, 'Aiight, on the strength of you, I'll jump on it for you.' "
A few weeks later, and "Pop Champagne" has become the biggest song in New York. The Dipset and Browz shot the video two weeks ago.
Another song that Jim jumped on and gave immediate impact to was "Day N' Nite," by Kid Cudi, a native of Ohio who recently inked a deal with Kanye West's GOOD Music. Cudi made a name for himself on blogs and underground scenes with the song, but now unofficial remixes with the new Jim verse on it have started to get prime daytime spins on New York's Hot 97.
"Aw, man, it was, like, a big deal," Cudi said about Jones' unsolicited verse. "I would always see Jimmy Jones when I first moved to New York City. I used to work at this little clothing store next to Koch Records, and I would always see him coming in and out of Koch. I'd be smoking my cigarettes, chillin', and I'd be like, 'Jimmy!' He was always so nice. He'd come up and shake my hand, and I was just a kid from Ohio. I was just, like, 'Man, that was my first time really seeing a celebrity.' ... And now, he's rappin' on my joint. I don't even know if he made that connection that it's me he always used to run into, or whatever. But [his verse] is definitely ill, and it reminds me of all those days, of me and my homies back in Cleveland. We used to bump the old Diplomatic Immunity, ridin' around the city of Cleveland, wildin' out in the rental."
Jimmy and Dame are still waiting official word on whether their documentary, "This Is Jim Jones," will go to Sundance. Capo also starts rehearsal on his play, "The Hip-Hop Monologues," this month.
"We doing something called 'The Hip-Hop Monologues," Jones explained. "For the most part, when you're an artist, you do the conventional thing, like hold a listening session for the media. ... So, I was trying to think of something new, now that I had a deal from Columbia. The look of it is supposed to be that much bigger, because I'm jumping from Koch to a powerhouse. I was just thinking of new ways and new advances and the play was one of them. I'm like, 'Yo, Dame, I got an idea. You think we can pull this off?' You know, Dame thinks he can pull anything off."
Jim is going to be on New York City stages quite frequently in the coming months, supporting Pray for Reign by performing in his home city with a live band. One of the album's highlights is a record called "Frienemies," in which he talks about friends who have significantly disappointed him and betrayed his trust and generosity. The first verse talks about his relationship with the man he once considered a brother, whom he broke into the music industry. The second verse is more vicious, going at an MC he took under his wing and helped with legal trouble. The record obviously sounds like he's addressing Cam'ron and Max B, but Jones wouldn't confirm it.
"I didn't say no names," he said with a grin so sinister, the Joker would catch a cold chill after seeing it.