Jim Jones is a hip-hop luminary. A businessman. An OG. As a member of the legendary rap group The Diplomats, Jones became a household name. Thanks to his brash spirit and fierce loyalty to the group, Jones was able to reach the status of a cult figure in hip-hop that led to a successful solo career.
It’s been seven years since his last studio album, Capo, and in that time, he’s added to his extensive résumé. He released four mixtapes, became a reality TV star, a music executive and a mogul whose business acumen ranks him as one of the top hip-hop entrepreneurs.
In February 2017, Jim Jones signed to former rival JAY-Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, to the surprise of many. The move opened the door for countless possibilities, including new music, which we have in the form of Jim’s seventh studio album, Wasted Talent, released Friday.
Inspired by the 1993 Robert De Niro crime drama A Bronx Tale, the album finds Jim reflecting on the life lessons he learned growing up in Harlem and during his time in the rap game. Features from Mozzy, YFN Lucci and Jadakiss and production handled by Heatmakerz, Jahlil Beats and others bring a modern twist to Jim’s authentic New York sound.
“Doing this album, I got into a bit of a musical zone that I don't think I've been in before,” Jim tells Billboard. “It was different.” Supported by the singles “Chicken Fried Rice” and “Still Dipset,” Wasted Talent has Jim delivering his trademark mettle and passion with a refined lyricism.
Jones spoke to Billboard about the album, the importance of the films New Jack City and A Bronx Tale to this album, and a clarification of the comments he made about the popular streetwear brand Supreme. Check it out below:
What was the inspiration behind Wasted Talent?
The album title is a play on the movie A Bronx Tale. I encourage all my youngsters that think it's dope to be a gangster to watch it. You will get some perspective on what it is to have morals inside of this game. One of the lines said in the movie is, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
Where I’m from, we see that all too often. We all know a person who's probably wasting their talent. But there are a lot of people that bounce back and figure out how to turn a negative situation into a positive. There's also a lot of people that didn't get the opportunity or resources to kind of explore their talents. So it’s a combination of all that.
You also used the film New Jack City as a source of inspiration, mainly the commercial you released for the album starring yourself and Cam’ron. What’s the significance of these two movies to you?
Seeing Calogero in A Bronx Tale reminded me of myself coming up between The Bronx and Harlem, starting off so early and being able to hang out outside. It wasn't like I didn't have a household or someplace to be at. I just had the feeling to be outside. To be around my uncles and all these gangsters and watching how they portrayed life, this movie was like a flashback of my life.
New Jack City is Harlem. The movie kind of embodied what Harlem was about. The flash, the braggadocios, the kids in the park playing ball, the old heads playing ball for money. That scene in New Jack City was kind of pivotal because of where me and Cam was at, or where people thought me and Cam was at.You know, that was a very intense scene.
Which was the better movie in your opinion?
A Bronx Tale because it had more substance to it. The movie itself was believable. The story of New Jack City was believable because that's what was going on in the '80s. The crack epidemic had taken over plenty of neighborhoods and there were millions of dollars made off of this cocaine substance. New Jack City it did what it did but A Bronx Tale, there was just something special about it.
This album contains your trademark New York sound with a modern twist. How important is it for you to embrace the contemporary sound of hip-hop?
I gotta stay relevant. Nobody trying to be out here looking old like yesterday. You trying to look like you new in here and ready for tomorrow. You gotta find that thin line of maintaining who you are without sacrificing your dignity and staying in the wave the kids got going on. The way the music is going you gotta be in the loop. You can't do what you did yesterday if you want to get busy tomorrow.
Speaking of staying relevant, you’re pushing that idea further on this project by collaborating with artists representing the younger generation like YFN Lucci, Lil’ Durk and Eric Bellinger. What was it like working with them?
All those artists you just mentioned right there are dope. Durk, I know personally he’s dope. YFN Lucci, I'm a fan of him he's just dope. His music, his hooks, his melody is fire. Eric Bellinger surprised the shit out of me. We were on the same label, but to be honest, I didn't really know who he was until we met at our label’s Christmas party.
We hit the studio and he was telling me about all his writing credits. The shit was so dope I had no idea. He did some shit in the booth where he was sounding like Ne-Yo. I was like, “what the fuck going on here? Who is this here?” From there, it just all made sense. Shout outs to Eric Bellinger.
So would you say you’re a teacher to this new generation? It seems like you're playing that role in your career now.
Yeah, but teachers don't get paid, man. It's funny you say that because someone told me I could never be the student because I was always too smart. But teachers don't get paid, bro. They teach, you get your own knowledge through their teachings, and you go get paid. You gotta figure out how to be a student and teacher and get you some money off the shit that you give everybody else. Do I want to be called a teacher? No I don't. Fuck the teacher.
Where does Wasted Talent fit in with the rest of your catalog?
I've done a lot of music and I put out a bunch of projects but I don’t know with this one. I just like it. I felt good doing it. When I came to the studio, I actually wanted to be in the studio and I wanted to do music. I wanted that challenge of breaking these beats down and putting bars on them.
So I'm content with the body of work I've created. In rap, we talk about the same different shit in a million different ways. It's all about wordplay. I feel like my wordplay has gotten up to par. At this point, when it comes to doing music, I don't really think there's too many n----s that could fuck with me. I don't really get my kudos like that.
What is your favorite record off Wasted Talent?
"Pray" is my absolute favorite. That record is probably like four years old. It’s real personal. I'm talking about my son, past life dealings. It's only God that gets you through certain things and I know that for sure because I don't know how I'm still here. I say that with a whole heart. It's just a dope, meaningful record. We all need to pray.
I want to ask you briefly about your planned documentary, Wasted Talent. You held an open casting call for people who may feel they wasted their big opportunity in life.
Yeah, it's going to be like a 15 20-minute documentary at the most. We want to find some of the most compelling stories that aren’t just about wasted talent. It's more or less giving people the opportunity to talk about something that happened to them that changed their life. Some of these people don't get the platform or resources to further their talent. So they get broken down and it's not fair.
For example, my man Tone who’s from the hood but is a lawyer. He did so much wrong to make a right. He did what he had to do to put himself through graduate school and passed the bar. That's the flyest shit I ever heard in my life. That's another type of wasted talent, you know what I mean? These are the stories I want to hear.
It was dope seeing you and Cam re-enacting that iconic scene. Throughout the years we always got a short-lived Dipset reunion. What’s the relationship like within the crew now?
It's dope. The vibe feels good. It doesn't feel contrived, it's organic. The brotherhood is back. We know what we need to do as far as coming together and supporting each other. Making sure communication is there, working on this music and giving these people something they've wanted for a while. I was with Juelz the other day and I speak to Cam on the daily always laughing or joking about something. Serious conversations never happen; they always go way left.
Speaking of Juelz, what were your initial thoughts to hearing what happened with him at the airport?
I was definitely confused. I didn't know what was going on; I thought it was a joke. Cam called me and told me what happened. I thought he was joking because like I said we're jokesters. It was like, “bro your boy just got caught up in the airport with a hammer.”
Like what how does that sound? I told him to stop playing but he was like, “nah bro this one for real.” God bless Juelz though, man. He’s a strong brother. He's back home with his kids and family. He'll figure it out.
I want to talk to you about the comments you made towards Supreme two weeks ago. Some agreed with you and others didn’t. What are your thoughts on the reaction you’ve been getting?
Kids these days are funny, man. I negotiated $15,000 for that picture. But that doesn't take away the fact that these brands know they have money that these artists probably need. When I made that comment I was joking. In all actuality, yeah, if it was a moral life, they owe us a check.
We made Supreme fresh. I don’t have no hate towards them. Supreme is a dope ass business and they make dope clothes. But it’s not my thing anymore for the simple fact that none of us rappers would come together and do something like that and get the support that we need. But most rappers in the industry will throw on some Supreme shit. No disrespect but I could get fly without Supreme.
What was the hype beast culture like at that time the picture was taken? No one really knew who Supreme was at that time.
When we took that picture, there were no hype beasts. We didn't put that shit on because we thought it was fly, we put that shit on because they had $15,000 waiting for us. If we didn't know who Supreme was, I know my black people didn't know who they were either because we were the leaders of the new school at that time. Supreme caught a lick and not off skateboards. They don't do anything original. They just knock off the whole hip-hop culture.
Like the Air Force 1 sneaker with the NBA patches on it. Cam put that design on the map. We were the ones wearing the leather jackets with the teams on it which was designed by Jeff Hamilton. Cam put Jeff Hamilton on the map. Supreme hasn’t done anything but their box logo white tee that we blew up. You understand what I'm saying? Them n---as know what they're doing. It's cool though.
What if Supreme did something with you guys the way Gucci is doing their collaboration with Dapper Dan?
That would be fly. I mean think about it. Our t-shirt is the most famous t-shirt that they make. I don't care what t-shirt you talk about. That shirt is like a $3500 t-shirt. Am I lying? If they were to come with some shit we're hustlers. If they got a collab for us send that shit in. I'm not stupid. I didn't say anything to diss them I was just putting the facts out there. People are taking it out of context because it's Supreme. When that picture was taken these kids were like 2-3 years old. You’re arguing about shit you weren't even a part of.
I want to ask you briefly about the trolling that’s been going on between you and 50. People couldn’t tell if you guys were serious or joking.
Fif is crazy but he's also a genius when it comes to business. Arguably the most controversial person in hip-hop. He always seems to do something immaculate as you can see with Power and everything he has going on. I got to speak to him after all that and I told him that we have so much power and popularity we need to come to together and do a dope ass fitness show. He wasn't opposed to it. So let's see.
Lastly, with your new album and everything going on with Dipset and the hype surrounding it, what can you tell the fans about the future?
As far as The Diplomats, everything is moving forward. It's a three step process. The tour, the EP, the documentary. Cam got some movie things he wanted to work on for The Diplomats. Then we're going on to Diplomatic Immunity 3. We're just living life man. Shout-out to my football team the Richmond Rough Riders. VL Mobile. If you need a cell phone go to the website and get you a sim card or some shit. Vamp Life. Vamp Fit. It's a lot man. It should be a fun filled couple of years.