Old habits die hard. As Harlem rapper Jim Jones sits behind the wheel of his onyx-colored 2010 Chevy Camaro, parked inside a Washington Heights garage overlooking the Macombs Dam Bridge, a substantial stack of $100 bills rest in a neat pile beside him. He owns the title of a recording artist, yet it's apparent he hasn't ditched all the habits from his days hustling on street corners. "That ain't nothing," he boasts, pulling a larger knot of cash from his True Religion jeans' pocket and throwing it on his lap. "This is a lot."
On an overcast day in New York, Jones waits patiently inside his ride for the opportunity to personally hand out his latest effort, 'The Ghost of Rich Porter' -- a 21-track mixtape that honors Harlem drug dealer Rich Porter and features collaborations with the likes of Gucci Mane, Byrd Gang, Maino and Joell Ortiz, among others. After much anticipation -- the project was slated to debut earlier this year but pushed back several times -- Capo brought The BoomBox along as he lead his charge in dropping off CDs at several Harlem hot spots, including fashion mecca Cap USA. Between visits to a Go Pro hat store and the Culture Trendz barbershop, one resolute fact hung like a cloud throughout the day -- things don't always turn out as planned.
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A Day in the Life: Jim Jones
"This mixtape is the best way to prove my point to everybody that Harlem go hard, nah mean," Jones says, passing time until a member of his team brings a box of tapes to the garage. "New York City is in our veins and this is what we do. It's been cold for New York and it's been cold on the streets. The music that we been hearing haven't been reflecting the streets, haven't been reflecting the hustle or the consequences that come with the hustle. So this was big for me, this was big for the streets, this is big for my team. It's like a brand new beginning for us. We're starting from the bottom up."
Statements like this prove Jim's not a boss of Mr. Burns proportions, taking his employees for granted like they're Homer Simpson. Capo is more about "we," rather than "me." His right-hand man Ash, who acts as the rapper's road manager, attests to that. From shooting hoop together since age eight, to filling in as Jim's tour DJ and chauffeur, Ash has been witness to his boss' altruistic work ethic for more than 25 years. "He's showing me the way as far as the business and getting money," Ash reveals. "But he's still the same person who will jump out, talk to you for a couple of minutes, might smoke something with you, drink something with you, give you some advice [and] laugh."
At the moment, Capo needs a laugh after learning that the covers to his mixtape haven't been printed out yet. His publicist coolly assures him that the matter is being handled at a nearby Kinko's, but that does little to help Jim, who's been waiting more than two hours to hit the streets with his product. "I'm super pissed off right now," he admits while jumping out of the car dressed in a white t-shirt, blue, white and black scarf, black leather coat and white-and-black Jordans.
However, his face reads otherwise. A wave of calm washes over Capo as he stands in front of his vehicle to chop it up with Ash and Byrd Gang member Shoota. Their discussion turns toward a topic that plagues many youth raised in urban neighborhoods. "Most kids in Harlem came from a home with only one of two parents," Jim continues with animated fervor, "from my era, that one parent was just as young as us. When we're in the house, they're like, 'You better go outside.' That's why the first thing we do when we get money is buy the biggest car. Nobody wants to go upstairs to the projects; we want to stay in the car. Nobody taught us what to do with this money. That's what this whole mixtape is about."
Even with a current project to promote, the 33-year-old rapper has his eyes set on future goals. "The next album, I just want to have fun recording it," Jim reveals, back inside the car while popping a red Starburst into his mouth. "I don't know, my music is funny. I don't really have direction." On the other hand, when it comes to his acting career, the process is a bit more thought out. After a run as the star of last year's Off-Broadway play, 'Hip-Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones,' Capo caught the performance bug. "That's one of my dreams, to switch over and become a prominent actor. I used to always want to be 007. That was my dude. He just always made it look easy, always," he says.
As expected, Jim Jones can't sit holed up in a garage any longer. With no mixtapes in sight, he heads to a barbershop off 125th Street, with entourage in tow, to get a shape-up. Before hitting the barber's chair, Jim makes a quick stop at Harlem's Go Pro to pick up a fitted cap. Once inside, the braided rhymer chooses a black hat emblazoned with a white "B". When asked what sports team the letter represents, friend Shotta chimes in before Jim has a chance to. "Blood," he quips. Without hesitation, Jim addresses his pal's admission. "He was just joking. That was a force of habit," he reveals through heavy laughter.
While cruising downtown towards Culture Trendz to see Lou the Barber, Jim shows no signs of anger despite not having passed out a single copy of 'The Ghost of Rich Porter.' He's rather jovial, even opening up about his childhood nickname ("They called me Jomo, then Jomosquito because I was short") as he pulls up in front of the shop. Before entering the establishment, Capo is greeted with pounds from several men hanging out on the street. Inside, it's as if a musical red carpet was thrown into the air for his arrival as the lyrics from Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's 'Déjà Vu (Uptown Baby)' blast from a speaker, 'Harlem n----- know how to play.' Seated in a chair, Jim checks his Twitter account from an iPhone, then closes his eyes as Lou, who was once rapper Loon's manager, tends to his beard.
Then, a fresh-faced Jim hits a nearby Golden Krust to score a beef patty, coco bread and cola champagne soda as dusk creeps into the sky. Faint raindrops fall but the rapper seems oblivious to the weather as he stands on the sidewalk eating his meal, a crew of men surrounding him. Even after consuming his last bite, Capo remains on the block, soaking in the scenery of the streets he ran not too long ago.
"When I come through nowadays," he continues, "I don't get the same looks that I did when I was in the hood. It's kind of a eerie look when we come through. But that comes with the territory. Sometimes the pounds and the handshakes don't got the same type of love and the same type of energy that it had once when we were all coming up like thieves and hustlers." As he finishes, a gaggle of girls walk past, giggling and whispering, obviously aware that Mr. 'Pop Champagne' himself is just a few feet from their reach. They refrain from approaching Jim, but a young boy in a green coat makes his way closer. "Can I take a photo with you?" he asks, camera at the ready. Willingly, Capo poses with the fan.
Before nightfall, Jones receives a call, on one of his three phones, that a box of mixtapes are finally in transit to his location. "Got me in the wet weather for hours," he chuckles. "But that's my style." Though much later than expected, Jim completes his most important task of the day-providing his hometown with music that speaks to the streets. After being thrown off-course for most of the day, Capo never once lost his cool. Why? "Patience," he states. "Patience is a motherf---in' virtue."