There was a moment there where Mike Jones might have been the biggest name in hip-hop. Sure, he may not have had the longevity of a Jay Z, the street status of 50 Cent or the multi-dimensional catalog of Eminem, but there was a period in the mid-2000s where Jones’ name could be heard blaring from car radios and echoing through crowded cities across the country, where sales of his single “Back Then” soared over a million, and where his debut album, Who Is Mike Jones?, was certified double platinum. Hip-hop heads knew his cell phone number by heart, thanks to singles such as “What Ya Know About,” and he himself became a catchphrase for the Swishahouse-led new Houston scene of Chamillionaire and Slim Thug.
And then it faded almost as quickly as it had come. His 2007 EP, The American Dream, debuted at No. 183 on the Billboard 200; his followup, 2009′s The Voice, started out much better at No. 12 but faded quickly on the charts. What followed was a break from music that left him relegated to nostalgic conversations, during which he dealt with label issues with Asylum Records and a battle with cell phone companies to try and get his signature number back. “The politics were slowing me down, and I never thought that would happen,” he says now via phone. “Especially where I was at that moment. But, you know, politics happen, and that’s what I learned. Shit happens.”
For over three years, Jones was handcuffed in the major label system, trying to free himself from the business side of things to get back to the creative side. “At the time, it was crazy,” he says of the politics of the situation. “It was like running a race…I didn’t understand it, why there was a need for it, especially at the time when everything was winning. Everything. Everything was moving—the new stuff was selling, everything. What I look at now, when I see the people that surround me, the same politics that they did on us, they’re pushing on other folks now. Back then, it was expected that you were gonna come out and sell, and when we came out the gate we moved the songs, the whole nine. Nowadays you don’t even have to go platinum.”
But now, Jones is gearing up for a comeback. He’s created some rumblings in the Houston underground, posting a couple freestyles to his Soundcloud, readying a mixtape and announcing on Twitter that he’s back. He long ago cleared the air with Chamillionaire, got his Ice Age Entertainment label back on good terms with Swishahouse and lost a ton of weight, working on his health and fitness extensively while on his hiatus. His phone number—the one he made famous—he has back halfway. And he’s getting ready to drop his third full-length, Where Is Mike Jones?, which doesn’t yet have a release date. But, he says, it’s coming.
“First time I came out, people thought it was a gimmick, people laughed at it,” he says. “Then I was a phenom, [and] everybody started giving out their phone numbers. I went through the phase already, where people—they don’t take the time to understand what’s happening, what’s being done, [they] just wait to hate. I came through that. So I can’t do nothing but come out the same way I did.”
People, he says, have heard he’s back: He’s getting calls about features, he’s getting love from his old fans. He’s getting back to the Mike Jones that people remember and trying to not just be that nostalgic figure who fans remember as a guy with a catchphrase rather than a guy with bars and songs. He’s the elder statesman now; he’s gone platinum, he’s sold millions, and now he wants it back. “[The success] was unexpected when it happened the first time,” he says, “so for me to expect that now, I can’t… The name is gonna speak for itself when the time is there, just like the music is gonna speak for itself.”
His Money Train mixtape and Where Is Mike Jones? album may announce him to a new crowd of hip-hop fans, but they have to drop first, and so far there’s very little material out. But at least, this time, he’s been there before and knows what to do. “All I’m gonna do is just be me and do what I do,” he says. “The people that understand me [will support it].” —Dan Rys (@danrys)