For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Jim Jones is one of the artists who can say that they can write in their sleep. The 42-year-old now has an album coming out called El Chapo and it’s entirely produced by the architect of the Diplomats sound, Rsonist of The Heatmakerz. When you hear the album, you’ll hear a veteran who’s honed his skills.
“It wasn’t always about going in the studio and making a record because we can all go in the studio and making a record… we can all make a record sound perfect. Does your jump shot work in every park, nigga?” Jones vehemently told REVOLT TV.
You’ve been recording music for more than 15 years. What was the first studio session you ever had?
The first record I ever recorded was inside of Bassline [Studios]. I forgot the name of the record. This was the first year Cam’ron got signed to Roc-A-Fella. It was the year Philadelphia had the All-Star Game. That was All-Star weekend and I remember a nigga owed me some money for a bird. You can ask [Young] Guru, I’ll never forget that shit. I was in there pissed. Cam and everybody ranging up. I was like, ‘I’m not going, bro. A nigga owes me money. I need my fucking money.’ So, I said I was going to stay in the studio. I ended up doing that record. I was like, ‘I’m just going to record a record. Guru, load that shit up.’ We recorded the record. The record got finished. The nigga came to bring me my money. I got my money. I got fresh. I hopped in the ride and flew to Philly. Now, I’m hype. I got a song that’s dope that I can play for Cam and I got some money in my pocket.
What were some things you had to work on in the studio that you’re good at now?
I was off-beat like a motherfucker. I had to learn to find a rhythm. The person who told me to keep rapping was [DJ] Clark Kent. I went with Cam to Hot 97. This was when Flex was doing freestyles back in the day. This was when we signed to Un Entertainment and Cam brought me up there to rap. Un (Lance Rivera) and them were mad, ‘Oh, you can’t have that nigga rap.’ Clark Kent was like, ‘Fuck them niggas, bro. You were hot. You need to keep rapping. Listen to me nigga, you need to keep rapping, Mr. Jim Jones.’
That’s years before you even recorded your first song. That’s amazing to get that sort of support from Clark Kent and Cam.
Cam was different when it came to music. He would always make sure you would write music, no matter if you were nice or if you weren’t. I remember going to L.A. to do the ‘Horse and Carriage’ remix video with Big Pun. This is what I tell people, the difference between music then and now is anywhere you saw a group of rappers, niggas were freestyling. I remember going to do the shit with Big Pun and Pun was like, ‘What’s up, Cam? You already know. Let’s get this session going.
All the niggas that were with Big Pun were always rapping; Tony Sunshine and all of them. Big Pun was like, ‘Jim be rapping?’ Cam was like, ‘Yeah, he be rapping. Make him rap.’ Pun was like, ‘Nahhh, you got to rap. Son, you got to rap. It’s a session.’ I’m mad at Cam at this point. Then, I rapped in a session with Big Pun. But, everywhere it was, back then, you had to have verses ready. Cam always had verses ready. Cam would fuck around and rap for 10 minutes on your ass, if you play with him. That’s how niggas sparred back then to test who was on top of their artistry and who wasn’t.
Let’s talk about your new project El Capo. How long did it take you to record this?
This is a solo album. But, it’s more of a joint project because it’s with me and Heatmakerz. It’s something that’s never been done — where he produced the whole album. If you don’t know, Heatmakerz coined the whole Diplomat soundfrom all of the dope records that we’ve created. He was a major part of that. Sometimes, DJ and producers don’t get the credit they deserve. So, I’m more excited for Rsonist than I am for myself.
It took us about two years. I recorded in Rsnoist studio and rented a room in his studio. We were recording on separate sides. Then, I ended up going to his side of the studio and it just became an ongoing thing. Every time I came in, I just started going to his studio. The records I recorded for Wasted Talent, The Kitchen, Diplomatic Ties. I’ve recorded the bulk of those albums out of his studio.
I got this thing where every night before I walk out, the last 30 minutes of the session, I always record a verse. I’m like, ‘Yo, pull that up. Let me record before I leave out.’ This [album] is the result of all of those records I recorded before I left the studio. Rsonist called me one day like, ‘You got a lot of these records with dope verses on them. You might as well finish these records. Let’s do a project.’ Here we are.
My favorite song on that project, by far, is ‘State of the Union’ where you get political.
Actually, Rick Ross is on that song and Marc Scibilia. I got some pressure on this album. I ain’t going to lie. This project is extra spicy. My man Marc Scibilia… I’m very excited to watch people’s response to the way he sings. He puts me in the mind of a Justin Timberlake. I don’t like to put anybody in anyone else’s shoes. But, the music and coolness he brings to the table are James Dean-ish. His voice is really melodic.
You said on the song, ‘You could build a wall as tall as the sky/We all know the coke is still gon’ fall from the sky.’ Did you already have that sort of song in your head before you recorded it?
Nah, when Rsonist did the beat, I was like, ‘Nah, this beat is semi-stupid, retarded and nuts.’ We went down to Miami to record and finish up a couple of things, and mix down the album. One night, I went in and recorded a verse. This is a true story, you can ask anybody. I recorded a verse, I came out, and I really didn’t like it. Then, Chrissy [Lampkin] called me saying, ‘I’m in the area, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m in the stu.’ She was like, ‘I’m pulling up.’ She pulls up, her and my [publicist Chanel Rae. They pull up in Miami and the energy she bought to the studio that night was on another level. I would say 15 minutes after she pulled up and bought her energy in there, I went back in the booth and did the verse that’s on the album in one take. That was that.
What does Jim Jones need in a studio session?
I like a lot of confusion in my studios. If you know anything about my session, some nights, it could just be me and a couple of people in there. Some nights, it could be the whole gang in there walking in and out. I need to feed off that confusion. I need to feed off people talking. I need to feed off their conversation. I need to feed off their words. Sometimes you need a lot of that in life to point you in the direction you need to go for your music.
What was the longest session you and Rsonist had for this album?
I would say the Miami sessions were probably the longest sessions we had. We were locking out for 12 hours. Staying in there until 6:00 -7:00 in the morning. Over here, we got a clockwork, vamp hours. I come in like 12:00 a.m., and we leave about 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.
Have you ever wrote lyrics that you regret saying because it may be revealed too much?
I always watch what I say because I’ve been through some real-life situationsand the people around me been through some real-life situations. Police play a big game of cat and mouse with music, and real people, and try to match your words with shit that has nothing to do with anything. I make sure I’m very keen about what I say and very broad. Even when I did that record, I had just got locked up. ‘I just posted bail at the court, wish I could speak on my case/ Minor set back, but we still gotta keep it on waists.’
What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen done in a studio?
One of the most impressive things was the night Cam and JAY-Z did ‘Welcome To New York City.’ The sparring of bars that went into that record and the speed with which these verses were done was almost like clockwork. Cam would go in the booth, he came out, then JAY would go in the booth. JAY came out of the booth and then Juelz [Santana] went in, and did the hook. Niggas were in there like they were fighting. That was one of the greater moments in hip hop of niggas doing music that I’ve ever seen.
Over your 15 years as a solo artist, what popular song was recorded the quickest?
‘Summer Wit Miami,’ I recorded that in Harlem. I called Trey Songz. I said, ‘I need you to jump on this hook.’ He said, ‘Send the hook.’ So, I sent the beat with the first verse, he sent the beat back with the hook and then, I did the second verse. I was like, ‘Oh, he nailed this shit.’ We got it done that night. It didn’t take me no time to do that.
This August will mark 15 years since you released your solo debut album, On My Way To Church. When you reflect back on the sessions for that album, which ones stick out?
‘On My Way To Church (Intro),’ I do remember recording that one because I recorded it in Miami myself. I engineered it and recorded myself by the side of the pool. That was a whole dope boy album. I paid for that whole album out of my pocket. Juelz and Cam came to the house and did their verses. They were mad at me because the A/C had broke that day in the house… They were like, ‘We’re out. I’m doing my verse and I’m out.’ If you know Cam, he was like, ‘I’m out of here.’
My favorite song on that project is ‘End of the Road’ with you, Bun B and T.I. How did that song come together?
I recorded T.I.’s verse in his hotel room on the Mbox (a mobile recording device). I introduced the Mbox to anything having to do with hip hop and R&B.
What’s the longest you’ve ever stayed in the studio?
Oh, we lived in the studio. There was no coming home. Sometimes, we would sleep in the studio. I remember when Cam signed his first deal. The Hit Factory that used to be open on 54th street, they used to have two beds and shit. We booked that shit for like two years. Cam and I had sneakers and all of that shit. We had showers in there. We were young, busting moves, coming back, bringing bitches to the studio, going to Harlem and coming back.
You have to realize Harlem is just up the block from us [editor’s note: This interview took place on East 53rd street and 3rd Ave]. That’s what people don’t understand. A lot of people don’t get that who are not from New York City. [Harlem] is Manhattan. That shit is up to the block.
Speaking of those early Dipset days, y’all put out three volumes of Diplomat mixtapes in 2002 with about 15 -16 songs each. What were those sessions like?
Cam is a workhorse. His work ethic is like none other. I can never take that away from him. When it comes to doing music, he’s a different breed. It’s like he’s studying for a college final and shit. He’s that meticulous with it. Every day, when we were on tour, he would make sure everybody wrote a rhyme. Then, every day, at 5:00 p.m. on the tour bus, it was ‘Battle Hour.’ So, he would make me, Juelz, J.R. [Writer] — whoever else was on the bus — spit the rhyme that they wrote. These are the lessons I took with me that really inspired me to get who I am as a solo artist.
Is there a session from Diplomatic Immunity when you knew that you were working on a classic?
There’s a lot of them sessions. When I did ‘We Built This City.’ I got this beat from Just Blaze. At first, I was telling Just Blaze I need to make this beat. He was like, ‘I got that beat already.’ I was like, ‘You’re lying.’ He’s like, ‘I ain’t lying.’ You know how producers are, ‘Yo, I got that beat. I’m going to go tomorrow and bring it in.’ I was like, ‘Nahhhhh, I don’t believe you got that beat.’ He was like, ‘What?’ We were in Bassline, he went in his studio and pulled that up. I was like, ‘Ohhhhh, we built this city!’
I played it for Cam and he was like, ‘Oh, this shit is fire! We got to do this.’ ‘Oh Boy’ was another one. Sorry, Just Blaze. Just was like, ‘JAY said he wanted that beat.’ Cam was like, ‘Word? We’re taking that shit to the radio right now.’ I said, ‘What?’ That’s why the first time they played it on the radio, it was like a minute and a half (laughs).
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you how the Cam’ron/JAY-Z reunion happened at Jay’s B-Sides show? That shit shifted things. I know people who were crying when they saw y’all reunite onstage.
I’m not allowed to say…Nah, I’m just playing (laughs)… From me knowing Cam all these years, not to say he’s stubborn, but he stands on his morals. I thought that he would be reluctant to do it. I was like, man, I’m in a real position hereand how the fuck [do] I bring this up.
Oh, you were the connection between Cam and JAY for that?
So, we have to thank Jim Jones for that moment?
A little bit. It wasn’t really anything. I was just like, ‘Bro, yo, yo.’ He was like, ‘Nah, man, it’s whatever. If that’s what you want to do, let’s do it. Let me know the date and everything.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to give such and such your number.’ He was like, ‘Alright, whatever.’
Many did not expect you to be this big for this long. When did you know you would be here for a while?
You don’t… This shit ain’t an easy game. All my days weren’t easy. Shit is a seesaw, like anybody else who has a job. I’m just trying to maintain, stay relevant, keep good energy around me, keep a clear mind. As you get older, you get wiser. Things you did yesterday, you’re not doing today. Or, if you are doing it today, you’re doing it much better than you did yesterday.