Relevance often boils down to adaptability; how an artist can adjust their M.O. as the environment around them changes. Some artists are more forthcoming in embracing evolution than others. Some are just too stuck in their ways to see the bigger picture.
For Jim Jones, studying the legends that came before him and the up-and-comers has been a pivotal factor in dominating the music industry. In 2014, he and Juelz Santana linked up with Migos just as projects like No Label 2 began to gain steam. Seven years later, things came full-circle when they reunited for “We Set the Trends.”
“I’ve probably learned from them just as much as they’ve learned from me, let's just say that,” Jones told HNHH of his relationship with Migos. “The way they move in today’s music business, it’s not the way we were moving in our music business. They’re just as profitable, if not more profitable, in the same vein that we were. Our plan is not working today and theirs is, so you’ve got to keep learning and keep evolving.”
These days, Jones is putting out some spectacular music with projects like El Capo and more recently, The Fraud Department with Harry Fraud. These projects, in particular, speak directly to the artists that came before him and the era in which he emerged – that is to say, top-tier lyricism and soulful production. “We Set the Trends,” however, is a clear sign that we'll hear Jimmy carving out a space within the current sound that’s dominating airwaves and streaming platforms.
Jim Jones and DJ Drama are preparing for the release of a brand new Gangsta Grillz tape, which was initially slated for a December 17th release. It’s a project that arrives 15 years after Jones and Drama connected for The Seven Day Theory. This time, however, expect to hear Jones fully embracing the sounds of New York, both past and present.
“There’s a lot of kids that really don’t understand the history of hip-hop. It kind of baffles me that there is so much music and so many artists that are lost in today’s generation because they’re not hip to what we were going through or the artists that were – I don’t know how to explain it, man. As you said, there’s a lot of microwave instead of actually that cook-up,” Jones said. “Things are moving so fast, nobody has time to look in the past anymore because everybody is just looking directly towards the future. Which is good, also, but we’ve got to pay attention to our past. You’ve got to give proper respect to those that came before you because it wouldn’t be no you if there wasn’t a them.”
For the second year in a row (!), Jim Jones joins us for 12 Days Of Christmas to discuss his upcoming Gangsta Grillz project, his thoughts on a solo Verzuz, and whether or not he actually used to go to the store in his boxers to get fly.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
HNHH: Yo, how are you doing, bro?
Jim Jones: What’s up my brother?
I’m chilling. It’s blessed to have you again on this Zoom call.
Thank you, my brother. How are you feeling?
I’m good, man. How is everything with you? I hear the album just got pushed back.
Oh, yeah. It’s not actually a bad thing. It’s pretty much a good thing. I was supposed to drop this album on Halloween. It was supposed to be called Spooky Music that I was doing Drama. Then, it started feeling like something special, something that we should cater to a little bit more. I did the Migos record. The Migos record is doing pretty good right now. So, it gives me some time to push some things back a little bit so I can get some things in order. It gives the people something to look forward to.
That’s going to be a very dope way to kick off the year. Even just with you and Drama getting back together, it’s been like what 15 or 16 years since The Seven Day Theory?
Yeah, it’s been a long time.
So, between those times did you guys ever have a discussion about doing another Gangster Grillz tape? Or was that just something within recent times that you guys thought you should move forward with it?
My artist Dyce Peso – I forget where we was at – he was like, “Man you need to do another Gangster Grillz. That’s what you need to do.” I was like “Damn, that s**t sounds kind of fire.” I hit Drama up like “Yo, let’s run a Gangsta Grill.” He’s like, “Bet, run it.” Now we’re here.
“We Set The Trends” is the first single off of the project. It felt like you really brought out the best out of the Migos and everyone was putting their best foot forward on this record. Tell me a little bit more about the single itself.
The single started out with just me and Takeoff in the studio. You know, “Let’s get one in, Unc.” He picked the record, then he just started stepping on that s**t. He did the hook and the verse. Then, I did a verse after it. I had posted it and then Offset hit me like, “No, that’s fire. Let me jump on that.” I met Offset at the studio. He kept his word and jumped on that. After that, I posted that up. Then ‘Cho was like, “You got the two out of three. You can’t forget the ‘Cho. I need to get on that.” Then, ‘Cho actually pulled up. It’s crazy because Quavo did his verse and the video all within an hour. He came, knocked the verse out, and then we went right next to the door that led to the staircase and we just knocked the whole video out right there, right in the same vicinity as the studio’s staircase and s**t. So, it’s kind of crazy. That was one for the books – somebody come does their verse and the video all in one set. That was kind of dope.
That’s super fire. Obviously, you’ve had a relationship with Migos for a couple of years now. You guys worked together with Juelz Santana in 2014. In the song’s press release, you said, “I appreciate the Migos for always paying it forward. A lot of artists always talk about artists that set the way, but then they never pay it forward, Migos does.” Tell me why that statement – “We set the trends,” specifically – speaks volumes to where you and the Migos are in your respective careers.
We both started in two different eras, but we’ve done a lot in both of those eras. In the bigger picture of things, Dipset has set a lot of trends. We have been at the forefront for a lot of things that go on still to this day in the industry – for a lot of styles, for a lot of slang, just lifestyle, period. That was a part of our business motto. We don’t just sell music, we sell lifestyle. With that lifestyle came a lot of people following after that lifestyle and a lot of that spilled off into a lot of other rappers that are coming up. It’s no different than Iverson looking up to Michael Jordan coming into the game and Mike is his competition but you knew that the love was there. Mike was one of his favorites before he even got into the actual league. I look at it as the same difference.
"Dipset has set a lot of trends. We have been at the forefront for a lot of things that go on still to this day in the industry – for a lot of styles, for a lot of slang, just lifestyle, period. That was a part of our business motto. We don’t just sell music, we sell lifestyle."
I should be able to do music with them and be able to have a good time. When I was coming up and in the midst of me getting busy and things like that, I always used to pay it forward to all the artists that I looked up to and things like that, if I could. If that’s what they’d allowed me to do. I loved to get music [done with] and things like that. Still to this day, there are a few artists that I still look up to and I would love to make music with. It’s no difference. In any situation, if you’ve got a chance to pay it forward then you should. It doesn’t matter what walk of life it is, music, basketball, the streets, anything.
Do you think, especially in this microwave and TikTok era of music, that in order to keep the culture alive that it’s necessary to pay homage and respect to those who did it before us?
You’ve got to pay attention to your past and the people who came before you, people that set the wave and that paved the roads for you. You can’t get around history. History is what makes the future. There ain’t no future without history. The past is what comes tomorrow. That’s all I’ve done, from the days I was coming in this game. Even until now, there’s a lot of kids that really don’t understand the history of hip-hop. It kind of baffles me that there is so much music and so many artists that are lost in today’s generation because they’re not hip to what we were going through or the artists that were – I don’t know how to explain it, man. As you said, there’s a lot of microwave instead of actually that cook-up. That’s a big difference. Things are moving so fast, nobody has time to look in the past anymore because everybody is just looking directly towards the future. Which is good, also, but we’ve got to pay attention to our past. You’ve got to give proper respect to those that came before you because it wouldn’t be no you if there wasn’t a them.
Just to go back to the Migos single right now. They came to Harlem to shoot the video?
Yes, sir. Had them on the block.
Talk to me about that, because you have an interesting history of bringing superstars back to your neighborhood. Even in the way you discuss Wayne spending a summer in Harlem and picking up swag over there. Can you just tell me a little bit about that? How do you feel that affects the creative process of having them in your zone?
You know, Harlem is a bucket-list destination for a lot of people. So many things, it’s New York City. It’s just something about it. I like to bring people into our world. The world that we give the fans and the people a chance to see through our lenses. It’s carried on. There are a lot of artists that are always been intrigued about Harlem and always compelled about the whole mystic of Harlem and everything that we have always talked about since Cab Calloway and the Harlem Renaissance. I just try to bring people into my world and give them a little bit of how it feels to be in Harlem for a bit.
Did you ever give Migos any sort of game during their early years?
I’ve known them for a minute. I think I’ve probably learned more from watching Migos and having that relationship with them and in the way the music industry runs right now than they’ve probably learned from me. Of course, we’ve all got the style and the drip and that type of stuff, but I’m talking about actual lessons. I’ve probably learned from them just as much as they’ve learned from me, let's just say that. The way they move in today’s music business, it’s not the way we were moving in our music business. They’re just as profitable, if not more profitable, in the same vein that we were. Our plan is not working today and theirs is, so you’ve got to keep learning and keep evolving.
Kanye gave you a shout-out during the Drink Champs interview. You posted a clip of it when he dropped your name and expressed your gratitude for still being in the conversation. Do you recall your first initial reaction when you saw that interview?
Somebody sent it to me. I just was laughing because I remember those days when Kanye was talking about because we all grew up in a close-knit community. Kanye’s dope. He’s a smart individual and definitely a mad scientist. He understands what he wants to project. It’s just ill. Ye is dope and to be able to hear my name inside of a conversation that he’s having and s**t like that means something to me. I know where I started from and I know where we all started from and things like that. It’s dope. Shoutout to Ye. He’s definitely done a lot for the culture and showed us that we can basically do anything we want once we channel our energy into it.
"Kanye is dope and to be able to hear my name inside of a conversation that he’s having and s**t like that means something to me."
For sure. How’d you feel about Donda and the rollout?
The rollout was super genius. I didn’t hear the whole album, I heard a few songs. Kanye always makes dope records. I’ve told people before, he’s always been one of my favorite artists. The actual rollout was more exciting than the album to me. He did that. Being able to fill up the stadiums and the fields the way he did with no promo time. Just dropping s**t and f***ing doing listening sessions while he’s still making the album, I think it’s dope. He’s dope.
How do you feel being part of the Roc-A-Fella legacy?
It feels good. It was a good time, it was a bad time. Overall, it was a time that I enjoyed. To be part of that history, you can’t take it back. That is real history when it comes to our culture – our hip-hop culture. It feels good to know that I’ve been here for a long time and started some things that are going to go on forever.
You’ve been big on the NFTs and Cryptos. Maybe bigger than most rappers in terms of how involved you’ve been in crypto panels and things like that. With all the highs and lows within crypto this year, what’s your biggest takeaway as we head into 2022? In your opinion, what should people look out for?
There’s a risk in anything you do in life, just know that. The ups and downs that people talk about that crypto are going through, you’re going to go through that in life, no matter what. It’s inevitable. There are more pros to this than there are cons. When that thing does take a dip, that’s your chance to buy more because when that thing goes up, you’re going to get even richer. Anybody that doesn’t know about crypto, I advise them to start with getting a crypto wallet. Nexo, MetaMask, Coinbase – one of those. Once you have that, then you can allow yourself the chance to actually surf the waves and do your own due diligence. I’m not a financial advisor, I’m just trying to put you in the right direction. I can tell you this: if you invested like $100 in Bitcoin in like 2010 or 2011, right now, you’d be up like seven or eight million dollars or some s**t like that. If that doesn’t tell you that this is where you need to be then I don’t know what to say.
Not to mention that the power of the dollar is slowly but surely evaporating pretty soon. Physical money won’t be worth anything and it won’t be used in any stores. So, crypto and digital is where everything is going. Our people always seem to be the last to get everything right, so this is a chance for us to really step forward with everybody else and at the same time that everybody else is doing it. We usually get lost in the sauce. If we pay for it now, we can get paid for it.
When we spoke last year, you were telling me about how you pretty much had an album planned out for every month of the year. We got the joint with Harry Fraud, obviously. Unfortunately, the new project is getting pushed back. But again, you’ve been heavy on the NFTs and on the crypto. Has that been your focus this year? Especially on educating the black and brown communities about the power of what digital currency could bring.
That’s definitely a big part of my focus this year. It’s to hip our people on what an NFT is, how to dive into the NFT world, what cryptocurrency is, how to dive into that crypto world. Let’s try to make a better play for yourself and show them the real meaning of generational wealth and how a community can help you build that generational wealth. We’re in a new gold rush right now. I suggest everybody dives in. It’s enough money for everybody to make money. Definitely inside of this crypto and NFT space.
There’s one thing about this NFT space that I think a lot of people are confused about. For me, I look at it as something that benefits the artist and the creators. If an NFT sells, to my understanding, whoever owns it or created it can still monetize off of it?
Yeah, whoever owns it or created it will get paid for the duration of that NFT for life. If it’s my NFT and you bought that NFT, I’m going to get paid for it, right? Then, if you sell that NFT to somebody else, I will get paid for that, again. If he sells that NFT to somebody else, I will get paid for that again and so forth and so forth. Every time that NFT exchanges hands for currency, I get paid.
Obviously when we speak about it, and you as a creator and as an artist, it’s something that benefits you. How would you explain the benefits of owning NFTs to the detractors?
It’s no different than having a painting from Picasso or a painting from Banksy. It’s the same thing, it's just digital. It’s digital memorabilia, in the simplest form if you can understand what an NFT is. Think of it as digital memorabilia. You can scale up from there in how you can sell that type of art. It’s all about art and it’s all about artistic values. Whoever has influence can mark the price up on that artistic value. It’s no different than when you are in Sotheby’s and they’re auctioning off the paintings. The only thing is all of this is on your phone.
Now, you have these NFT communities. You have these CryptoPunks and these Space Apes and all these types of things. That’s a whole other type of wave that they started within NFT. Now, they’ve got so many things that’s added to what they have going on. They’re called utilities and all these types of things and all the additives that come with you having the NFT. There might be a building that you have access to just because you’re a part of that NFT club. It might be this you have access to. It’s moving in a way that it’s unstoppable at this point.
In the same way you mentioned that physical cash is going to be irrelevant at a point, do you feel the same way with physical art? We’ve witnessed the whole CD era transition directly to streaming.
I don’t want to get too deep. Physical art would probably go ten times up when cash is evaporated. Even though cash won’t be worth anything to the average consumer, cash will be worth ten times what its actual value is once you can’t use the dollar in stores anymore. But, we’re not going to get into that.
There are a couple of moments from the year that I want to recap with you. One is Rosenberg saying that you scared him straight after he bashed you. Do you recall that incident and the conversation you had with him?
Yeah, it was a long time ago. Rosenberg was new at the radio station and was doing what radio DJs do. He said a slick remark. I just so happened to be listening to the radio that day. I was younger then and way more aggressive than I am now – a little bit of a hothead. I called and I told him a few choice words, especially if he wanted to navigate in the streets of New York. It ended up working out. Rosenberg ended up being one of my closer friends inside this industry. Shoutouts to Rosenberg.
You were on his new album too, right?
Yeah, I was on his new album. Me and, I believe it was, Ghostface and another artist on the record.
Crimeapple, if I’m not mistaken right?
That joint was hard. It’s dope hearing you get back into that sound. Even the Griselda guys and working closely with them, and getting into really gritty, late 90s East Coast rap sound. It’s been hitting the spot.
It’s something about that type of music that we need more of. You need a little bit of everything in New York and that definitely hits the soul. It’s a lot of music that will have you partying and doing what you can do to be lit. A lot of that thought process of the thinking music and music that makes you think and s**t, we don’t have too much of that anymore.
There’s a video that’s been popping up on my timeline recently. It’s an old video where you’re talking about how you wake up, go to the store, and get fly. I think your exact words were that you go to the store in your boxers and get fly. I’m sure you didn’t actually do that –
No, I did. That’s what I used to do in Harlem. I used to jump out of my car in my boxers and go to the store and get fresh. Then I’d jump back in the ride and get out of there. I’d take a shower, then jump out the car in my boxers and my slippers. I’d go in the store, put on a whole outfit and get out of there.
They let you in the store with your boxers on?
Fair enough. I’m guessing that’s something you wouldn’t try to do these days?
Yeah, not so much. I’ve got it together now. I was a little young and just living recklessly. Listening to my uncle’s stories of when he was hustling. It was a lot. It’s way different now. I still get fly though, to the socks. I does this.
Earlier this year, you said, “I put this whole coast on.” When I listened to Seven Day Theory tape, it was just straight your homeboys. I think Mel was on it and some others. Musically, do you think you were able to highlight artists from the east coast and from your block? Specifically, on projects like these?
Musically, from my side, it’s different. The east coast is compiled of a bunch of different states going down the east border. West coast is just one big California state, so it’s easy for them to get their point across. I really had to put that work in from state to state to get my point across. That started something. It started something. Now, when I look back and just watch and everything, I definitely, definitely, definitely put a whole coast on.
You mentioned that you were okay with returning to Verzuz as a solo artist. You said you didn’t know who you wanted to go to, but you said you’d be okay with going up against another New York artist. A quick Twitter search led me to two names: N.O.R.E. and Ghostface Killah. Do you think either of those would be a good matchup for you?
I think there’s a generation gap. By the time I was on fire, N.O.R.E wasn’t on fire. It depends on how it’s brought up and s**t like that. Music is heard from different generations, so who knows? N.O.R.E has a s**t load of hits. Ghostface Killah has a s**t load of hits. Those are the hits I know. I know all those hits. Those are from my era from when I was outside. Their kids know all my music. I came out 10 years, 12 years after they came out.
It doesn’t matter who I go up there with. I’m going to go up there to have fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ghostface, if it’s N.O.R.E, if I did have a chance to go up – if it’s Fat Joe, if it’s Fab, if it was anybody, I know Jim Jones himself has 20 records that’s undeniable in New York City. I don’t know about anything else, but in New York City, Jim Jones can hold his own. Hands down. Jim Jones. He got him. I bet that.
You and Conway had a little back and forth early this year, or maybe late last year when B-Dot dropped his list. Would that be someone you think you can go up against? Obviously, there’s a generational gap.
I love Conway to death, but he just got in the game not too long ago, so how many records can he go inside and perform? He has to put that much time under his belt for him to be able to go in there and do a successful Verzuz. You need 20 records that the masses all knows. I don’t know how many records Conway can actually go inside the Madison Square Garden and actually perform that everybody would know. They have their own built-in crowd, but I don’t know if the built-in crowd is big enough to fill up Madison Square Garden and give him that type of crowd participation. We’re talking about Verzuz. Verzuz with people that have national hits and has 20 of them that everybody is going to know. It’s not a lot of people that have 20 hits that everybody’s going to know. It’s not a lot of New Yorkers with 20 records that everybody from New York is going to know.
Maybe not a Verzuz, but bar-for-bar with Conway?
That’s different. That’s what we were aiming at. Not a Verzuz, but a bar for bar. Giving people a chance to come into our environment and see how we create music. It’s not like we’re rapping at each other. We’re rapping to create the best record we can create. Whether it be a subject or a producer be added to it, we get a chance to make some of the best music that anybody has heard. In that, we give people a chance to critique and say whose verse they like better. That’s the competition. Like, “Nah, that s**t was fire, but I like Conway’s.” Just like when Jay-Z and Biggie did the “Varsity” record. N****s was like, “Nah, Jay killed that.” N***s was like, “Nah, Biggie went crazy on that s**t.” It’s the same type of format. Just put it all on the table and invite people to an artists’ world and things like that. You have to have a rare skill set of how to make music within a certain type of time-space. Some artists can’t put a time on the records they create. Some artists can create a record in a quick amount of time. If I go in the studio, I’m one of those that can get records done fairly quickly. I know Conway does that. I’ve seen Jada. It’s a few people that can do that and can actually put on in that type of room with that type of skillset. I would love to do that with Conway. We’ve talked about it before and there are still mentions of it in the air right now. It actually might still go down.
We can’t finish this interview without talking about the big Verzuz between Dipset and The Lox. One question I wanted to ask you was did you know that Cam was about to leave?
In the Verzuz, you mean?
Yeah, because I heard that he was about to jet right before things started.
I mean, I can imagine. The conditions at the Verzuz were terrible. The way that they treated the artists on the walk-in. I don’t know if it was because it was the first time they were doing it at Madison Square Garden but the conditions were terrible. I can imagine. Maybe, yeah, he did want to leave. I don’t know.
[Ed note: A rep for Cam’ron said that it was only a rumor that he nearly left before Verzuz began. “They didn’t have parking for him. They didn’t have enough handle on the door with COVID restrictions and such,” Cam’s rep said.]
You were talking pretty spicy in the lead-up to Verzuz. Did you expect The LOX to come as hard as they did?
I expected them to come and have some fun and they did what they were supposed to do. Let’s keep in mind, it’s all nostalgic. It’s an old a** concert. None of them n****s got any records that you can tell me you heard in the last three years. It was cool to participate in some old-school s**t. I get my money still today. I drop records still today. Presently. You can go and get some new s**t that you heard this year, that you heard last year, that you heard the year before last. It was a Diplomat/LOX event. Very nostalgic event. So, for me it was cool. Everybody went crazy. They took it as a real basketball game. For me, I took it like it was an old school concert that I got to participate in.
They were rehearsing like crazy. Did you guys rehearse?
I don’t think we rehearsed as hard as we needed to, but it didn’t really hold merit in my life. I thought it was fun. I thought it was great. I thought it was a dope a** night. The energy was there. Obviously, The LOX thought about it way more than we thought about it. I think they felt they had something to get off their chest. I hope they did. I hope it works for them. I hope it’s been beneficial. I see Jada’s been able to get a bunch of shows all over. I hope they capitalize as much as they needed to. But, you know who sets the trends out here. I’ve been doing that. I’ve been the leader, you heard? The leader of the old school leading to the new school.
"The LOX thought about [the Verzuz] way more than we thought about it. I think they felt they had something to get off their chest. I hope they did. I hope it works for them. I hope it’s been beneficial. I see Jada’s been able to get a bunch of shows all over. I hope they capitalize as much as they needed to"
Before I let you go, I wanted to know, what are you expecting in 2022? Do you have any predictions for the New Year?
I cannot predict the future, but I am ready for anything that goes on in the New Year. I do know this – I’ve worked my a** off in the year of 2021 preparing and prepping and cooking. Now, I’m ready to put this food out on the table so we all can eat. I’ve got a slew of music out. I’ve got six albums I was working on simultaneously including this Gangsta Grillz, which was the last album that I was working on. I’ve got Quarantine Studios, which is up and running. Shoutout to AWS for building that technology. I’ve got Capo Coin that’s out. So, you can go and get you some Capo Coins. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to use Capo Coin in the inner city of your community. I’ve got crypto ATM machines that we’re putting deliberately inside our inner-city communities, in our mom and pop’s stores so that we can hip our people to financial literacy and teach them more about cryptocurrency and how we’re going to bank the unbanked. I’m also heavily into fitness. I’ve got a brand new gym that I acquire ownership of, Iron Ring. Vamp Fit Fitness. Clothing. Fashion. The Drip Report on Friday. I give you the weather on REVOLT. I’m ready for it.