Who can't root for Mike Jones? The gentle giant of Houston's blazing hip-hop scene captured national attention mid-year with the smash "Still Tippin'," opening the door for that song's other MCs, Slim Thug and Paul Wall. His second single, "Back Then," covered familiar territory for newly signed rappers—"Back then hoes didn't want me/Now I'm hot/Hoes all on me"—even as he poked fun at his doughy self.
Much more than his slow-mo beats, patient flow and self-deprecating streak, what distinguishes Jones is his pervasive sense of marketing. Naming his marquee debut Who Is Mike Jones? he asked an obvious question before anyone else could, then threw his cell number out there at every chance, as if we could each just dial him and truly find out who this guy is.
But we don't need to. It's all right there in the album. Mike Jones is a guy who gets jerked around (the Stylistics-kissed "Scandalous Hoes"), takes his time in traffic ("Turning Lane"), likes to show off his new wheels ("Flossin'") and still challenges all the arrogant bastards out there ("What Ya Know About . . .").
The key track is "5 Years From Now," on which Jones looks forward and shudders at the possibilities. He wonders about his grandmother (to whom the album is dedicated) and his Grammy chances and whether he'll even be alive. "We got people in Iraq/Tell me why they can't come home," he pleads. "If you care about your future/Please listen to the song."
By album's end, Jones emerges both silly and sympathetic. While not as socially conscious as Common or Talib Kweli, he sneaks in some awfully big questions between those radio-ready bangers about rims and hoes. Now let's just see where he goes from here.
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Mike Jones and Twista perform at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Tues., 8:30 p.m. $40.