Monday, January 12, 2009

How Jim Jones is Reinventing the Remix

For me the fun of writing in this style, that is for and around A People’s History, is pursuing things I like in Hip Hop and what specifically makes it good. For that reason, Jim Jones presents an interesting challenge. His voice is frankly ugly, not grimy or guttural in the Jada or Jeezy mold, simply awful. A horse croak that lies flat on a beat. His flow is often deliberately off time, I’m still not sure what a good Jones verse sounds like, and content? Still, I enjoy his work on occasion, and for some reason the greater New York area does as well. “Ballin” was the biggest song of 2006. I’ve seen old ladies on line at a kosher grocery store in Midwood pantomime shooting fadeaways. Double up on that for “Pop Champagne”. For every critic out there tearing a hole in Ron Browz, try to remember how laughable “I’m in love with a stripper” seemed whenever the fuck it came out and how you wondered why that dreaded moron sweated Akon so hard. The song is a stripped down banger, and if you want proof try hanging out in the Journeys off Union Square for a half hour sometime this week. (Plus, dude produced “Ether”)

So what is it about the Capo that makes him compelling or remotely worthy of attention? In my opinion Jones wins with Personality Rap, a genre that has absolutely nothing to do with any classically valued ability on the mic and is all about salesmanship and presentation. It’s a style that’s prevalent in the periphery of New York’s hip hop scene. Sheek Louch, late Noreaga, Lil Cease, Tony Yayo. (some Personality Rappers are better than others) All rappers I should hate but occasionally drop songs I enjoy. And they do it around their verses and hooks, with intros, outros, jokes, quirks and ad-libs. They sell you with humor and warmth. They’re people you enjoy hearing on a personal level, and Jim Jones has found a new way to exploit this talent and remain relevant.

Jones has turned a position as Cam'ron's hypeman into a fairly respectable career. He's had a handful of smash hits, a few albums that don't suck and he won a battle with Jay-Z. You can’t talk about The Diplomats without talking about Cam. Present in his post Come Home With Me work is an embrace of an individuality, a weirdness Hip Hop historically works towards suppressing in the interest of cool. For your consideration: The willingness to wear pink, tight jeans, (unthinkable when the Dips began doing it pre-Hipster rap in New York) what amounts to basically an entire seperate slang language and songs about irritable bowel syndrome. Jones has basically taken that and made his aesthetic out of it, excelling with random punchlines and silly, self-aware, ostentatious style. (A one man play about his life?)

Case and point is the slew of remixes Jones has popped up on this season. What’s important to keep in mind is his selectiveness. Jones has his finger firmly on the popular pulse at the moment and more than his physical verses, his mere willingness to branch out and appear on these unlikely songs endear him to a listener considering Jones as a whole. Like a guy showing up at every rooftop party in Williamsburg regardless of whether the crowd is shrink fits and dunks, unwashed Levis and their girlfriend’s flannel or button downs and ACGs. Let’s take a look at three notable examples.

Kid Cudi- Day & Night

Kid Cudi is an artist I knew absolutely nothing about and made a conscious effort to avoid based solely off the circles in which his name had been ringing out. One of my boys practically forced me to listen to this and I’m glad he did. On paper this song should suck. It’s Kid Cudi and Jim Jones over a sped up “This is Why I’m hot” with a spacey, shimmering organ emerging from time to time. I don’t exactly know what to call the verses but I know it’s not rapping. The song is an emoish ode to smoking weed and being introspective. All that being said, this cranks. They say we’re post irony, Kid Cudi’s career might be a litmus test. (He does a fairly faithful rendition of “50 ways to leave your lover” on a recent not bad mixtape) You have to respect Jones for playing the elder statesmen and reaching out to an up and coming artist on a pretty unorthodox contribution. But, in what will become a theme, Jones understands the base he’s reaching out to. He’s catering to a new generation of listeners with diverse tastes and styles, not afraid to shuffle Cudi in with Bon Iver and unapologetic in doing so. To borrow a phrase from the stoner basketball heads at Free Darko, Liberated Fans. The generation gap is far too vigilantly held in New York in my opinion and everyone loses as a result. Jones’ verse here is typically light and engaging as he takes a slightly more earthly approach to Cudi’s theme, and for anyone who hasn’t taken notice he’s supplanted Jeezy as the best ad-libber in the game. In fact, Jim’s ad-libs have replaced the punchline for what you pay the most attention to in his verse. (“Sorry Judge”) I’m not even sure whether I can say I like this, but my lack of certainty and inability to define what exactly this is excites me. All I know definitively is this is the perfect song for a cold, solitary walk home from the train.

Jazmine Sullivan- Bust your windows (Remix)

I profiled this song a few weeks ago, and when I saw Jones dropped a remix I clamored with anticipation. This song is ripe for the kind of subverted turn-around 50 Cent used to be famous for with remixes of songs like "Fat Bitch" and ”Get on your knees”, taking something fairly heartfelt and genuine and poking fun in that specifically hood asshole, anti-hero manner he pioneered. Instead Jones runs with the concept. This is clearly an unofficial remix, he drops two verses that clock in somewhere around twenty seconds a piece. Most likely the least interesting contribution here but the most indicative of the approach I’m attempting to document. His mere presence is the point; if you feel a lack of investment, that’s because he’s not investing. It would appear Jones is reaching out to another branch of his demographic, or perhaps the very same that is amped to hear him over “Day N Nite” and “Electric Feel”. Not to say his work is awful, there’s a fairly intelligent extended metaphor relating to grimy behavior and tarnished clothing, and of course “Not the Lambo!” is definitely an in-joke right now with a group of friends who love Byrd Gang somewhere in Harlem. (Or Brooklyn, or Cincinnati, or Oregon) But it’s a cameo.

MGMT- Electric Feel (Remix)

Some people really hate this band and Jones’ appearance on the song, and I’m going to have to blame that on context. In New York, this song was for a time, wholly ubiquitous. I don’t mean in certain circles, at the height of their popularity here this Summer and Fall MGMT was everyone’s favorite group. I mean EVERYONE. This extends to Hipster get togethers mid-town in between Vampire Weekend and the Hold Steadys and grimy ass project apartment parties in Bed Stuy in rotation with Pete Rock and the Beatnuts, I literally have seen both. In a certain light this was the most logical of the three appearances profiled here. I think the idea that there’s this demographic of hipsters who like rap because it’s ignorant and stupid is insulting, pretentious and at this point a well worn, lazy cliché spouted by removed critics who hate from their attics with headphones fitted snugly over ears. Jones adds humor and swagger to an exuberant anthem that needs none, but his appearance is an open mind. A willingness to stretch the well entrenched comfort zone and once again, in New York (at least) there is an army of kids who genuinely love Dipset and MGMT without condescending to either. Do we fault Jones for understanding the changing nature of the game while simultaneously celebrating the South for bucking the institution? (circa 2000) What if he likes this shit and who should be dictating what he likes? I miss the logic. As for Jones’ actual contribution, it’s appropriately upbeat but nothing special. Talking around an already vague subject matter, dropping a few punchlines, a few ad libs, then keeping it moving. This is no star making turn. He’s adding very little to the product, filling up instrumental breaks with sex talk. It’s almost like he just stopped by to say “I’m feeling this. What’s good?”


tray said...

So I don't know whether you read me or not, but I've been hemming and hawing about swag and basically I buy into the Personality Rap concept. That said, it all depends on whether you find the Personality Rapper in question to have a winning personality, and I often find Jimmy to be a pretty annoying Jeezy-imitating douche. However, he has killed a few remixes - a few older ones that I would've used instead of these would be 'Throw Some D's,' 'Krispy,' 'Sexy Lady,' and of course, 'Walk It Out.'

tray said...

Oh, and he makes this Webstar ripoff of Browz borderline listenable:

emily said...
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Abe Beame said...

Yeah, I chose the songs I did based on their variety and what I feel is a very intentional selectivity. Maybe his contributions to those remixes are better but the argument of the post is where he shows up not what he shows up with.