In the mid-2000s, Houston rap was everywhere. The vessel that held the power players was Swishahouse, dominating hip-hop with its stable of H-town rappers. One of the biggest artists on the label was Mike Jones, whose debut album Who Is Mike Jones? announced him to the world at large. After the release of that platinum debut, things went quiet for him and the industry swallowed him up. After label issues and his second album, The Voice, in 2009, Mike disappeared from hip-hop.

As time went on, Mike stayed dormant, and hip-hop began to wonder where he was. But this year, a slimmer, healthier Mr. Jones is ready to answer that question with his upcoming album, Where Is Mike Jones? While in New York City before the end of the year, he swung through the XXL offices to talk the old Swishahouse days, Where Is Mike Jones?, and how working out became his escape from the politics. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)

Where Is Mike Jones? is your first project since 2009. What was the situation with the project?
Fighting politics, learning politics. It was just a lot of misunderstandings. In '05, the proof was there—I mean the numbers, the name. I guess in '06 people wasn’t ready for R&B type of music. “Cuddy Buddy” was '06, “Next To You” was '06. Then it was still street music. They wanted more “Still Tippin.” They didn’t want no “Cuddy Buddy,” they didn’t want no “Next To You.” Two to three years later, it [was] all about R&B. The momentum got slowed down fighting politics. A label that I thought was going to be down with whatever I’m coming with, especially when I did 2.5 [million] out the gate. Y’all pushing people who not even selling a million.

Now you're independent?
Yeah, I’m independent, now I’m taking my time just seeing what I really want from it. I already got the love from the fans. I still do events. Of course I want what’s there, but for the price that it was coming with, it's just not that important to me.

Outside of making music, how did you keep busy?
I like working out. A lot of the stuff was just on freeze with the political situation [at the label], so it really wasn’t too much you can do. It ain’t like, “Oh, I’m finna go get a endorsement deal.” Everything stops right there. You still travel and you still get the love from the people who already knew from the phenomenon that hit. It was just a misunderstanding.

When is the album coming out?
First, I’m going to drop this movement called the Money Train and the Money Train is just a train that got everybody that is about to make money. No bullshit, just straight making money and we all on the same path, full speed ahead. And that’s the mixtape where it’s going to introduce artists from the Money Train. Then after that comes, Where Is Mike Jones? hits you. It’s going to have some of the same stuff that was before but some of the people from the Money Train. It’s a gradual step.

When is that?
We tryna do the Money Train by January 2014. But Where Is Mike Jones?, we trying have it out by the summer time. Where Is Mike Jones? is already kind of complete. I gotta let y’all know where I been. I gotta let y’all know what I can do and what I been doing. It’s just stuff people got to know.

When the success started to get too big, a lot of politics started to come in and it just started changing. Where Is Mike Jones?, it’s more in-depth. You got to really take your time with it. The first one wasn’t all about the features, it was about the project. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.

How did you change from Who Is Mike Jones? to Where Is Mike Jones?
[It was] dramatic, that’s why I had to go away. When it was, “Do all you can do” and “Be all you can really be,” that’s when Who Is Mike Jones? came and showed, "Hey, look at me, big boy, big belly," whatever. I [was] putting out my insecurity and how people didn’t want to fuck with me, now they all on me. How often do you see people come out and give the real about them, even if it’s in a bad way, and turn it positive? Not all the time. It was a key time then and it worked. And people were able to know me and where I’m from. It was a phase and a time where everything could be explained before the unexplained hit.

Back then you had to get a diploma. A diploma is a plaque—it let you know you were the elite. It’s like graduating. Now you can get a GED and change the game.

Feels like you been through a lot over these past couple of years. Do you have any gripe with certain individuals?
I don’t want to say gripe. I don’t know. Some stuff just doesn’t make sense. It’s just like, you scratch my back, I scratch yours, and I thought that’s how it supposed to go. But I guess it ain’t. I understand how it goes now.

You ever think about not rapping anymore? Like, this business ain’t for me?
I went through a part of that phase, especially while everything was frozen. I'd put my mind on something else. I'd go work out and drop the pounds. It wasn’t [that] I just wanted to go from big to small, politics came in. It was something to keep my mind fresh and away from the B.S.

Working out became your escape from politics and served as a stress reliever?
Oh yeah, it was both, it was all that and at the same time turning a negative to a positive. I got to make sure I do what’s right for me and my fans.