Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who Is Mike Jones?
Before you fire off some apoplectic email, at least - at least - hear the case for why Who Is Mike Jones?
is the most important Houston rap album ever made. And try to be objective because despite the fact that Jones - subject of a Houston Press cover story last July
- might be the most loathed rapper in Houston's history, the case for this album really is airtight. We'll even break it down into bullets since that's the way most of you all like to read about this stuff. There are two sections:
First, the paper stats:
- Who? peaked at the No. 3 spot on the Billboard Top 200. Number three! And not on the "Billboard Top Hip-Hop Albums Between February 11 and 23" or whatever other little subcategories PR people try to pawn off as relevant. We're talking about the real deal: the Billboard Top 200. Guess how many other Houston rappers can say that? Here's a few who can't: EVERYBODY WHO MADE THE COUNTDOWN NOT NAMED BUN B OR SCARFACE. That's tough to overlook.
- Who? went platinum. Think on that for just a second. That means more than one million copies of Who? were sold. ONE MILLION. And to that point, also consider how many illegal copies were sold, how many singles from the album sold in iTunes, how many singles were sold as ringtones, how many Who is Mike Jones? T-shirts were sold, how many people went to the club just to hear the radio singles and how many concert tickets were sold to see Jones perform songs from the album. Ballparking it, that album probably generated more than $100,000,000. Like it or not, that means something.
- It received 7 out of 10 from Pitchfork. Scarface's The Fix, perhaps the second best album he's ever made and one of hip-hop's most respected efforts, got a 6.3. Quantitatively, that means Who? was seven percent better than The Fix. You can't argue with math.
Second, the cultural stats:
- This album, above all others, represented Houston's boom of 2005. "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'" were two of the biggest songs of that year. Name the last time that happened. You can't. Because it never has. No other Houston rapper from that cohort captured the nation's attention like this nasally wunderkind. Not even Paul Wall's "black white guy" schtick could wrestle it away, and people usually eat that shit up.
- Come to think of it, no Houston rapper from ANY cohort has ever been as visible as Jones was for those few weeks in 2005; not the Geto Boys, not UGK, not anybody. Sure, there's something to be said for consistency, but we're not so sure that being a moderately famous rapper for six years is more impressive than being the most famous commercial rapper on the planet for one month.
- The best producer on the album was Salih Williams. Who's Salih Williams you ask? Exactly. Salih Williams produced "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'." With the exception of those two songs (and maybe "Flossin'," if you're feeling nostalgic), the rest of the album's beats were subpar. But Jones was sooo at the height of his powers that he carried each and every one of them into relevancy.
Remember that Denzel Washington movie Out of Time
where they're in Florida or something? Terrible plot, terrible script, terrible supporting actors and actresses; but Washington did such a phenomenal job that it nullified all of the rest of the badness. That's what Jones did for portions of this album. And you get crazy credit for that.
- Jones was in super-beast mode for the entire album. Proof? Bun, Keke, Big Moe, Slim Thug, Killa Kyleon and Paul Wall all had guest spots, and Jones never let a single one of them steal a song. Not even Bun could keep up Jones on Who?, and he's always hijacking tracks. Did you even hear him on Drake's "Uptown"? Bun destroyed Weezy and Drake on that, and that verse wouldn't even make it onto Bun's "Top 10 Songs I Stole From Other Artists When They Let Me Feature On It" list.
- If you separate the parts, Who? is a nice microcosm of Houston rap's history. All of the types of songs you'd want on a CD from Houston that blew up were on there, and they're all quality. You've got the then-new stuff ("Back Then," "Still Tippin'"), the standard "This Is Where I Pay Homage To The Woman That Raised Me And Try To Let Fans Know That Behind This Icy, Icy Chain I'm A Human With Feelings" track ("Grandma"), the track about how scandalous these hoes can be ("Scandalous Hoes"), the track about police ("Laws Patrollin'"), the meta track ("Screw Dat") and the track where Big Moe crushes a chorus and makes a song that should've sucked not suck ("Flossin'"). Big points for corralling all of that together.
- Watch the video for "Flossin'." The whole premise of the song is that Jones has a bajillion dollars at his disposal. But when one of his beauties is required to make some Kool-aid for Jones (at the 0:46 mark), she stirs it with her hand. And what's more, she's happy about it. The entire video is filmed in a mansion. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cars in the background. Jones is draped in diamonds. But he won't even spring to buy her a ladle.
At first I thought this was ridiculous, then I realized he did it on purpose to show just how player he was at the time. Anyone can convince a girl to get them something to drink. Mike Jones is the only man in history to have a girl stir the drink with her hand and smile while she does it.