By Maggie Serota
When phone numbers are used in TV shows and movies, usually the writers have the decency to make the exchange 555, thus preventing a generation of children who grew up in the '80s from calling 555-2368 and bothering actual people trying to live their lives in an attempt to get the very fictional Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler or Slimer on the phone.
Pop songs don’t play by the same rules as movies and television, though. Sure, dirty words have to be filtered out for radio and television airplay, but everything else is more or less fair game. There’s no network suit telling you that you change a few numbers in order to save hapless bystanders from decades of crank calls. No one is going to deprive your art of the necessary realism in order to ensure that some people you’ve never met enjoy some peace and tranquility in their own homes.
I decided that I wanted to be part of the problem, rather than the solution, and called the numbers famously dropped into popular songs -- knowing full well that I was probably going to irritate some people in the process. This was my journey:
When rapper Big Sean’s album Dark Sky Paradise dropped in February, fans were treated to an Easter egg hidden in the last track on the record. In a very Mike Jones move, Big Sean gave out his Detroit-area cellphone number, couched in the lyrics:
“N---as say I changed, how they damn, how they do / Say I’m hard to get in contact with, oh, is that true? / Well what about now ? 3-1-3-5-1-5-8-7-7-2, bitch, call me.”
At the time, Big Sean confirmed that the number was indeed his and that he fielded calls as a way to forge a real connection with fans. Now that a few months have gone by, though, clearly the novelty of round-the-clock access has worn off. The number is still active, but the outgoing message unceremoniously announces “Sean Don” before you’re informed that the voice mailbox is full. It’s a real bummer for anyone hoping to have a heart-to-heart with the “IDFWU” rapper about what went wrong between him and former girlfriend Ariana Grande.
After the missing out on Sean Don, I got a little ambitious and decided to move on to the 1-900-MIXALOT number offered in Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” There was already a hit rap song -- nay, an enduring cultural phenomenon directing big bootied women to “kick them nasty thoughts” over to a convenient phone number. One enterprising genius had to have coopted the number for a phone sex service and then retired on an island where he or she spends their days sipping umbrella drinks and tripping over garbage bags full of cash.
No, actually the number is not in service. If you call it, you’re just treated to an impotent dialtone. So anticlimactic.
The same is true for Mike Jones’ Houston-area personal cellphone number, which he gave out in the 2005 hit “Back Then” in addition to other songs off the album Who Is Mike Jones? Although dropping the phone number was a great marketing tactic for the rapper 10 years ago, now it’s just another busy signal in the mass grave of numbers that cannot be completed as dialed.
I had better luck when I dialed (678) 999-8212 from the 2008 track “Kiss Me Thru the Phone” by rapper Soulja Boy, which serves as a kind of spiritual successor to Mike Jones dropping the musical digits. At one point, the number used to provide a message for fans when dialed. When I tried it, I was directed to a menu, which offered me a $100 rebate voucher if I happened to be below the age of 55 and a free medic alert system if I was older than 55. This would have been serendipitous if I happened to be an elderly person living alone and lacking the ability to get myself up after a fall.
It should be noted that R&B singer Alicia Keys beat Mike Jones and Soulja Boy to the gimmick of using the artist’s real phone numder in a song. In 2004’s “Diary,” she rattled off her number 489-4608, which when paired with a 347 area code was her old phone number. When the song was out, you could call the number and listen to a recorded message from Keys.
Eleven years later, the number is no longer in service. However, if you pair the number with a Georgia area code (which many enterprising fans have ended up doing at random when trying to reach Keys), a retired Baptist preacher named J.D. Turner picks up. I know this because I called him.
Turner was exceedingly patient even though he couldn’t quite follow the thread of my explanation as to why I called.
“Are you going to sing to me?” he asked after I asked him if people used to sing him the Alicia Keys song at the height of its popularity. I assured him that he definitely doesn’t want that.
When I asked if the Snopes entry about him fielding 20 to 25 calls per day was accurate, he was pretty taken aback by the low number.
“It was more like 60 to 70 times a day,” lamented Turner. “My phone is on 24 hours a day. And the number is out there. You found me.”
I have to admire the tenacity of a man who held on to the phone number after 11 years of steady harassment propagated by Alicia Keys and her Georgia-area fans hellbent on terrorizing an elderly man. That being said, don’t call J.D. Turner. Leave the man alone. Shame on you, Alicia Keys.
In the banger off the 2000 Jay Z album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, Hova juggles phone calls with a cadre of Roc-A-Fella artists, instructing them on the finer points of drug dealing and the importance of keeping your damn mouth shut about your illegal enterprises when you’re on the damn phone.
Dialing the actual phone number is less thrilling than listening to the song. For starters, you’d think the number would at least belong to a phone sex line or a psychic network since the song wasn’t released as a single. Instead, it just yields a recording stating that the number has been disconnected or is part of a “restricted service.” Zzzzz.
I plugged the actual digits, 1-900-487-8537 into Google to see if there was any history with the number itself. I was then directed to a message board where a man found himself in a pickle where he had cooked a bunch of crack and had no idea how to unload. Man, we’ve all been there.
Fortunately, the other members of the message board were able to provide such valuable advice as “get a burner” and “find some addicts and give them your number. They’ll call you and bring all their friends.” It was definitely not a risky conversation to be having on an open forum easily accessible by a cursory search engine query.
There were some less helpful Breaking Bad animated GIFs and one smartass posted the digits from the Jay Z song and suggested that the would-be Jesse Pinkman dial that number. Nice.
That being said, making a phone call to an inactive phone number sounds like it will work out a lot better than soliciting advice on starting a drug empire on the Internet.