Jim Jones is not much of a rapper. In fact, calling him a rapper might be a bit of a misnomer. Getting famous on the frat-party staple, “We Fly High” — you know, “Ballin’!” — Jones has fashioned a career of the most-innocuous and irrelevant aspect of hip-hop, the ad lib, not even the ever-popular one-liners artists like Jadakiss have perfected. In essence, Jim Jones is a glorified hype man. No one listens to Jones to hear what he has to say; they listen to hear the random shit he drops between lines (“Where’s my lawyer?” and “Ballin’!”).
Jones’ voice has but one tone: audible. His inflection never changes, and his dry monotone rarely proves captivating or telling. One can argue the Autotune used in Lil Wayne’s Billboard-smash “Lollipop” is a subconscious reflection of Wayne’s disconnected and robotic relation to sex and women, making his voice literally animatronic. Such hypotheses can’t realistically be made about Jones. He has almost no charisma, save for his random interjections that often become humorous moments. It makes you chuckle but little else.
It’s kind of jarring (read: sad) then, when Jones releases a record more serious than, well, radio fluff — such as the dubiously titled Pray IV Reign. For proof, look no further than the album’s cover: a grainy black-and-white photo of a young boy and a father figure (presumably Jones) walking together. Immediately, it incites thoughts of “Footprints in the Sand”, which, if you know Jones or the album’s first single, “Pop Champaign”, it doesn’t compute.
Furthermore, it comes as a challenge to listen to tracks like “Let It Out”, an attempt to balance the extravagant life of Jones with a slum, drug-dealing past (“To the media we look like savages / But for us, it was a way of life” to “I drop a million on a home / And they still call it a big crib”). Jones doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard a million times in other redemption tracks by similar artists: It’s what we had to do to get by, and I don’t ever want to go back to the way it was, etc. His moral struggles and attempts at emotional depth fall flat (“Choke a bitch out / Then you Heimlich ‘er.”). Tracks like “My My My”, a sentimental tribute to fallen friends, isn’t much better as Jones sounds, per usual, casually disinterested.
The real problem with Pray IV Reign is, again, Jones’ obvious lyrical inadequacies. These shortcomings stand out on the incredible — by any record’s standards — “How to Be a Boss”, featuring guest spots from Jay-Z and Ludacris. The track rides an EKG of strings and razor-sharp snares as Jay-Z delivers a classic chorus, but Jones truly exposes himself when Luda and HOVA spit their own verses. Luda’s, arguably the best guest verse of the year, sees his typical-schizo personality and ping-pong wordplay, “So more money, more power, more clothes / More overseas Bugattis, more powder, more hoes / I’m the American dream, American C.R.E.A.M. / Got America leaning / And see how we serve American fiends / I seen ’em.”
Though Jones goes up against some heavy-hitters on this track, he’s outshined by nearly every guest emcee on the entire record. The most extensive wordplay he displays on the entire disc amounts to naming a track the embarrassingly named “Frienemies” and the album’s title, Pray IV Reign. The epic “Rain” finds Jones using the word “rain” literally, not the eponymous “reign”. Needless to say, captivating lines run scarce.
The album’s big draw and lead single, “Pop Champaign”, is a shell of its predecessor, “We Fly High”. The track’s listenability is near zero; its hook is processed garble; and it doesn’t have the draw of Jones’ staple ad libbing, not to mention he repeats the phrase “pop campaign” on countless tracks throughout the record. In attempting to make a record that avoids the pop fluff he’s become famous for, Jones almost completely rids Pray IV Reign of the redeemable moments from past releases. Jones proves with Pray IV Reign that he doesn’t have much to say in the way of deep, informed sentiment. If Jones’ intention was to avoid the commercial fluff he has become famous for, he succeeded. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have anything else to say.