“See, my moms always told me that I was a soldier with the ability to be a leader,” Jim Jones told Funkmaster Flex about 15 minutes into a lengthy interview on Hot 97 on Wednesday night.
I’ve seen enough Jones interviews to know that when he delivers an Art of War–like aphorism, some real shit is about to commence. (Here’s another classic example.) Over the past few years, Jones has been known more for VH1’s Love & Hip Hop and his on-again, off-again relationship with fellow Dipset member Cam’ron than for his own seemingly stalled solo career. But the appearance on Flex’s show was meant to herald a fresh start for the 40-year-old rapper: He was there to announce a newly signed management deal with Roc Nation that effectively puts Jones’s old beef with Jay Z to rest.
Talk of Hov and the Roc Nation deal would come much later in Jones’s nearly 90-minute discussion with Flex (or so I’m told; I had to tap out). But the most compelling moment of the interview, as you might expect, was Jones’s discussion of Cam, Juelz Santana, and the Diplomats’ legendary smash-and-grab of New York hip-hop in the early aughts. The conversation, which started with Jones reminiscing about Cam’s rise to stardom while Jones embraced a role as his aggressive watchdog, brought Jimmy to tears. It was something:
“I put my life on the line for this. I been to trial for this. I been on America’s Most Wanted for this. I been on Gang Files for this. I been on everything you can name, so when people play on me, I get real emotional ’cause I operate off emotions. … There’s never been a time where I’ve backed down from any situation in this world. Except God. And I been up against 20, 30 deep by myself when niggas left me by myself. You heard? I escaped those situations and still come back and give niggas high fives.”
The takeaway: Jim Jones will not be remembered as a great rapper, but he is a rap legend. Jones improbably evolved from being Cam’s muscle to his “mans and nem” to having a career of his own in which he not only had a top-five record (“We Fly High”) but also managed to instigate beef with every major rapper of note over the past 15 years. (Another handy aphorism: Always shoot up, never shoot down.) The connective thread through all of this has been Jones’s hair-trigger temper, whether activated to protect Cam and the Dips 15 years ago or to issue a middle-aged slapbox challenge to French Montana, as he does later in the Flex interview. No apologies, or fucks, given. But behind all of the volatility is a real passion, as evidenced by the tears he shed while describing his unwavering loyalty. It was a glimpse of genuine emotion that gave even this cynical rap fan pause.
Ah, right: the cynicism. One might view Jones’s move to Roc Nation — where he joins veterans like the Lox, Fat Joe, T.I., and Yo Gotti — as a last-gasp clutch at relevance. I choose instead to see it as a savvy move for a rap lifer more concerned with preserving his legacy and active revenue streams than chasing radio hits.
In summarizing the Diplomats’ legacy to Flex, Jones said: “We broke a lot of barriers. We started from nothing. We had no OGs. We had nobody to tell us if what we was doing was right or if what we was doing was wrong. We didn’t have a blueprint. We had us. We had that love, we had that energy. We had talent, we had the style, we had the charisma. We had Harlem. And I refuse to let anybody play us for anything short.”
I wrote a short profile of Jones in 2004 that led with another aphorism: “He who cares least holds the most power.” To my eyes back then, his mystique was powered by reckless nihilism. Truth be told, he cared a lot all this time.