Last fall, I caught a showing of Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life and Mind of Jim Jones, a “play” set to the music of the as then unreleased Pray IV Reign. As I sat in the audience before the curtains, watching Dame Dash and Juelz Santana cavorting in the aisles, I thought I was prepared for how terrible it was going to be. I was not. It was fucking terrible — performances cringingly hammy, plot details groaningly clichéd, segues practically experimental in their incomprehensibility, music…well, we’ll get to that.
The premise is that Jones, playing himself, has been arrested for a tangential involvement in a shooting and has struck a deal with the judge: He’ll return in a month a better man, or he’ll go to jail; the rest of the play is supposed to depict Jones’ transformation, with shades of his real life development as a man. Or something. But it’s actually just an excuse for a blatantly and painfully self-serving ode to the mystique of Jim Jones. And this is a problem, because Jim Jones has no mystique. Despite what Jim Jones might tell you, Jim Jones is not now, nor has he ever been, a star.
Monologues came – along with Anna Wintour hangout sessions, MGMT remixes, and a sycophantic documentary – within Jones’ partner Dame Dash’s supposedly visionary branding strategy. At the time it all seemed so nonsensical, so crazy – a music industry also-ran behaving as if he were a massively popular, extremely interesting, sharply divisive larger than life personality? – that you had to wonder: Do they know something I don’t? With the release of Pray IV Reign, we now know the answer: Hell no. Jim Jones is still a tepid, uninspired rapper, and Dame Dash is no miracle worker.
Jones traffics in the same fast-life-rap milieu as Rick Ross, and as far as that goes he is a capable, professional executor. His music is cold and sleek, all gloss and huffed-up posturing. And he isn’t a terrible rapper, just numbingly average: His raspy baritone is solid and predictable. At the peak of his abilities, he’s churning out stuff like his earlier hit “We Fly High” and Reign’s “Na Na Nana Na Na” — carefully structured, fundamentally sound, boring radio songs.
Which means the album — all perfunctory exultations to the amount of pain suffered through, the amount money being spent, and the amount of joy being had at various nightlife destinations by one Jim Jones — isn’t an abomination. It’s just pointless. Nothing sticks. The only times you’ll be tempted to rewind is when Jones says something stupid, which is often: calling himself the “Black James Dean” (“Girlfriends”), referencing Norbit (“Na Na Nana Na Na”), using terminology abandoned by sorority chicks a good three years ago (“Frienemies.”) Even mailing it in, Juelz Santana is a relative genius MC here (“Sultan of Bruni? / Nah, it is I”).
But technically, this is irrelevant for Jones. He’s repeatedly declared himself solely a businessman; the only mission at hand is to move units. And at that, he failed also: The album’s first week sales were 42,818 units. The timing for the flop was especially bad, with the return of “frienemy” (shudder) Cam’ron — working off a far less calculated marketing campaign — already dwarfing the attention paid to Jones and Reign.
Usually I’d applaud an inferior product being ignored. But the only intereting thing about Jones is the disparity between the way he percieves himself and the way everyone else does (as far as they’re thinking about him at all.) If he’s cognizant of his failures, he’s just another guy. So, Jim Jones, here’s to more delusion.