NEW YORK — and the Diplomats recorded their take on Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “My Posse’s on Broadway” more than four years ago. Now, the Dips’ capo is thinking about moving the show a little further downtown from Harlem to somewhere around, say, the Times Square area. Jim Jones and have a goal to put a musical on the Great White Way.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Jimmy headlined an off-Broadway musical called “Hip-Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones.” It was based on music from his upcoming LP Pray for Reign .
“The thought process was me coming out with a big bang,” Jim told MTV News Thursday night about conceiving the idea for the project about eight months ago. “I just did a big deal with Columbia, so [I was thinking about] making the transition from independent success to getting on a major conglomerate and having a major machine behind me. I want everything on there behind me to be as big as the announcement I made going into the venture.”
Instead of the conventional method of inviting the media to a studio to preview the music, Jim decided to act out the songs from Pray for Reign onstage as a cohesive story.
“I thought this was a witty way to do the listening session so I could get my music across to the press,” he said. “I used to watch John Leguizamo do these one-man plays, and it was so crazy how he explained about his family, and he made you think you could see it. I said, ’Damn, if I do that with my music, maybe I could do a new [type of] listening session.’ ”
“Hip-Hop Monologues” pierces barriers between the Harlem vet’s personal life and the audience. We see him as he battles an über-affinity for intercourse, troubles with the law, betrayal from friends, and backlash from female fans (and a lover). He eventually evolves into a more mature man, boyfriend and father. It honestly is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in hip-hop, and the crowd left Manhattan’s 37 Arts theater that night saying they were pleasantly surprised.
The stage production starts out with Jim coming back to his neighborhood in Harlem for a taping of “E! True Hollywood Story.” He’s introduced by the reporter as a “ghetto genius,” “thug theologian” and the “head of Diplomats.”
After a shootout with haters, Jim is sent to jail and given a chance at redemption by the judge, played by Dr. Benjamin Chavis. The judge orders Jim to give back to society without having to pay the debt in prison. Throughout his journey — during which we see that it was his mother who first taught him how to cook crack and that he underwent therapy for sexual addiction (the blatantly titled “Pu— Is My Medicine” fuels that scene) — Pray for Reign provides the soundtrack.
“If you listen to all my albums, I try to have a bridge between [songs] to have a synergy, so it’s flowing smooth,” he explained about the cinematic tone of his records. “My life has gotten more in-depth. I have a lot more to talk about. As you get richer, you have a lot more problems, a lot more to talk about. The hustle becomes just like when you was coming up starving. To maintain this lifestyle is a tough thing, so we talk about it all.
“The two hardest tracks for me to even [perform] or listen to is ’My My My’ for Stacks and ’Pray for Reign,’ ” he said. “My My My” is dedicated to deceased Byrd gang member , who was brutally killed two years ago. The album’s title track is about the birth of Jones’ son. “Today I was able to hold my emotions down a little bit better. Yesterday I bust out crying like I’d really just seen my baby being born,” he explained. “Shout-out to Stack Bundles, I truly do miss you dearly. Shout-out to my son. These are two of the main inspirations for this album because, for a time, I didn’t want to do music after Stack Bundles was killed.”
During rehearsals, celebs like Brooke Shields came through for support, and during the actual performances, stars such as actor Malik Yoba, and Ryan Leslie sat in the crowd. Leslie actually performs on the album’s “Precious,” which is used during a part of the story when Jones’ girlfriend kicks him — and his clothes — out of the house for cheating.
“Brooke Shields came to rehearsal, gave me some tips,” Jones said. “Maybe we might get a Tony.” If that’s what Jim wants, that’s what Jim gets, said former Roc-a-Fella CEO Dame Dash, one of the project’s producers.
“It’s hard to doubt Jim,” Dash said, standing with Diplomats member Freekey Zekey, Jones and the show’s director/writer, J. Kyle Manzay. “Anything he says, he’s gonna do lately. … He surpassed expectations with his timing, his rhythm, his discipline. The fact he came for rehearsals every day for five hours, he got onstage, and you saw redeeming qualities about him. The fact I didn’t hear him argue on set one time or yell or get frustrated during the whole process. Perception-wise, him and I are probably the two worst guys anyone would step in business with.”
“We would mesh ideas,” said Manzay, who sat in the studio with Jim from midnight to 3 a.m. sometimes, studying the songs in preparation for the show’s two-night stint. “Then I deliberately kept it loose because I knew in rehearsals we would come up with more ideas. It was a collaborative effort: Jim would come up with something, and I would come up with something. Every little idea makes it better.”
Pray for Reign comes out in early February. “Pop Champagne,” with Ron Browz and Juelz Santana, is the lead cut. “Pop Off,” “Precious” and “Pu— Is My Medicine” will be coming in the next few weeks.
“This was a stab at getting it extended,” Jones said of how he plans to turn his two-night run into a longer venture. “I’m trying to put it together so around the time my album comes out, we go on the road for two or three weeks and get it really popping. It’s looking like it might turn into a lucrative thing.”
Jones and Dash have a packed schedule in the coming months. They’re currently deciding the proper venue to release the documentary “This Is Jim Jones” and then there’s a movie based on the Byrd gang, but Dash says their aspiration is to eventually get “Hip-Hop Monologues” on Broadway.