Familia. A group banded together by tradition, lineage, characteristics, occupation or origin. In the volatile and unpredictable path of life, sometimes all there really is at the end of the day is family. Entourages and crews appear and dismantle faster than wildfire, but only a strong unit can withstand the fickle and tumultuous road of this business called entertainment. Almost like the pages out of some epic storybook, five determined men united after battling injustice, poverty, incarceration, death and everything in between. As an ensemble, they again faced tragedy with the murder of one of their own, but just like a true squadron, this Dipset offspring triumphed over the insurmountable odds steadily stacked against them. Here to resurrect the raw, nitty gritty definition of hip-hop are the untouchables: Jim Jones, Chink Santana, Mel Matrix, NOE and Freekey Zekey. Welcome to the Byrd Gang.
Writer St. James sits down for an in-depth chat with Jim Jones about the Byrdgang movement, Diplomats, Dame Dash, NYPD, making millions, hustlin' in the music industry and much more.
Jim Jones on the NYC Hip-Hop scene: "when you press mute on the TV everybody looks like their from New York...we set the precedents for style, swag, sound, rap."
St. James: Jim Jones, how you feeling?
Jim Jones: I’m feeling good, I can’t complain. I’m back at it. I got some good music back out there. Dipset, Byrdgang, Skull gang, we going harder than ever. How you feeling fam?
SJ: I’m good fam, I appreciate you asking my dude. It’s the 80s out here in Nap so I’m happy as hell!
JJ: I can dig it, I love summer time in NY. Matter of fact I’m about to go get me another drop top!
SJ: I just want you to give the people some brief background on the new Byrdgang Movement and what that’s bringing to the hip hop game.
JJ: It’s not necessarily a new movement; it’s really an extension from the Diplomats. Diplomats is the umbrella and I’m blessed to have that, but Byrdgang is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s my own ideas, my own ambition, you know Diplomats we had partners so you had to come together to make decisions. And the group of gentleman and females that I’m working with are so talented but they come from crazy walks of life. Like it motivates me to see people that have had a hard life and I'm able to help them better their life and the music. Plus the music is crazy. The music is so crazy that people are not even going to believe it. A lot of times with artists, they have great music and you never hear it due to their promotions or the label, or them not working as hard as they need to. What we on and why I’m with you now, is that I’m trying to go so hard so that everybody hears the music. That’s what’s going to sell the ticket. Me introducing these 5 gentleman to the world.
SJ: So who are you bringing to the table and tell us a little bit about each.
Mel Matrix: Melly Matrix we call him “murder”. That’s my young G, and for the last 10 years I didn’t know he could rap up until about 2 years ago. We was on the bus and he started freestyling and I don’t know if he had been doing it for fun because he been around us for so long, but whatever it was, it was too perfect. He’s from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. All these cats are ex felons and things like that with the law but he’s trying to change his life and Melly is a monster. He is part of a group called “Top Gun”. In the mold of aaaaaaaaa…..Mobb Deep…..LOL nah let me stop. He’s killing the game. I tried to fill different lanes to capitalize on different parts of the game and Top Gun and the group he has with Hell Rell and Sandman Harpo boys, I think they are going to fill that void.
Sandman: He’s from Brooklyn, Crown Heights, another deadly individual on them lyrics. These guys are all monsters and the thing that surprises me is the music. We’ve been doing the M.O.B. mixtapes for awhile so the street already know what they are about but I’m trying to get more people to latch on to the music.
NOE: He’s from Baltimore and he’s probably one of the more talented individuals I’ve met in my life when it comes to music. He doesn’t just write raps, when it comes to rapping he can rap circles around anybody, I’ll put my money on him. But I seen him sit there and write R&B songs for an artist, or go in the booth and reference the song as far as singing it. You go in the studio and it’s hard to believe that they are studio rats now. We all used to hug the block. The block was everything to us. Now we hug the studio. Just to see people with that discipline, and know that it’s not necessarily coming right now and the fast money slows up while you are working. But they realize that once it pops off it gets faster than drug money. So just to see them disciplined and fall back and work in the studio because they know it’s gon come is fulfilling.
Chink Santana: Chink is from D.C. You might know Chink, he used to do all the hot beats for Murder Inc, he’s got Grammys. The Ashanti joints whatever, so you’ve probably never seen his face, but you know him as far as creativity and what he does. First of all, he can play EVERY instrument. Period. Like I’ve seen him go in and play bongos and then turn around and start playing the guitar. He’s that type of dude, he can go in and sing, rap whatever. So it’s a group of multi talented individuals and I love to be a part of that and watch them grow. For me, I’d like to make people more richer than I’ll ever be so that if I ever go broke I can ask for a helluva loan you smell me!!??
Jin: She’s my pop artist. Pretty girl, her voice is outstanding and she has a song called “Louie Louie” that is semi sickening. I’m trying to plug all lanes and have R&B artists. She’s on the first two singles I have going on. She puts you in the mind of a Jodeci. It’s kind of scary. Everybody is mixed in on the music and the whole project. The whole vibe is lovely and the music is real soulful. It’s instrumental to everyday living as far as being in the urban community and your back is against the wall and they ain’t giving us any jobs so all we have to do is hustle hard. Hustle hard for that piece of mind and the finer things. You know what I’m talking about.
SJ: What’s the difference in the space you’ve been in as far as the Diplomats to now Jim Jones the businessman again and running a label?
JJ: Well a lot of people are talented at the music and what they do. I’m talented at hustle. That is my talent. All of this that I’m doing is hustling this for this one brand. It used to be cocaine, now it’s music. Or now it’s just business. I been a businessman I was just in the streets. Now it’s just a legal way for me to make money and I’m learning so much as far as this music industry in concerned. I couldn’t wait to be in this position. To push buttons and sign artists and watch them flourish, and keep my bank account bigger. But it’s all relative to business man. They tell you its 90% business and 10% talent, but you still need to have that 10% talent to get the 90% business. Did you catch that?
SJ: You already know! You’ve been rollin’ with Dame. He’s co signed your new album. Has he helped you or taught you things to help this movement along?
JJ: A lot of people don’t know that I’ve known Dame since I was like 6. Like we grew up in the same building. But you know as you get older and become a man you take your own paths. Dame was always the man and a mentor even when we were young. He was flashy he was always getting money. What he did in this rap game is what I always remember him doing. Now that I’m more calm and everything is non emotional, like he told me I was too emotional, now I’m able to have him work with me, or show me different things. They claim the game is to be sold not to be told but in the case with Dame he’s telling me everything. They’ve made history over and over again. Dame is the man. That’s Flash Gordon. He been flashing on cats. You can’t take nothing away from him at all. He’s made two of the biggest artists ever. I mean he brought out Kanye. He brought out Jay Z. Diplomats. He did Cam’ron. He’s got historical shit. And he sold. See when you talk about business, I don’t know how many record labels or conglomerates that have actually sold. I don’t know how many Roc-a-fellas or Ruff Ryders have actually sold. But he was actually able to sell the name brand. Roc-a-fella sold for a lot of money and that is what you are in the game for. We are not trying to run a label forever, you are trying to sell. Just like all these other businesses, you get your equity up and go in. People get caught up in being famous and all of that but when they buzz dies down they can’t sell shit.
SJ: Is that what the Byrdgang/Jim Jones Brand is about?
JJ: That’s why you see me working on so many labels and things working for me. That’s why I got Asylum working for me. That’s why I got Koch working for me, Columbia working for me. I have 3 labels working for me at once. I am working with all these labels to push MY brand. That’s UN heard of. That’s just a front they can’t stop because I have 3 different record companies working for me.
SJ: Tell me about the project coming with Byrdgang. Any features, hot producers??
JJ: Well like I said, we’ve put out the M.O.B the mixtapes. And now finally comes the album. We finally got a chance to put the content we wanted out on an album so if you’ve heard the mixtapes you know what the album is gon be. To the third power. And our goals is to move units. Like everybody is a facade nowadays. People doing the music and setting a little bit of the wrong example because you niggas not getting money like that and living a facade that you turning on to people and then the people start acting like they getting money and they ain’t getting shit either. Some of us are really balling and we can do things, but let’s get back to getting that money. When I was coming up, I used to listen to the music when I was trying to get money, or going to do dirt. The music was everything. I’m trying to give that back and dictate so my niggas can really get some money.
SJ: So is that your motivation in this business to get cats back to that point?
JJ: That’s exactly what I’m after. Like most of these cats in the rap game, they’ve only been around since 2003. I’m one of the few people that been here since like 96’. I’ve been in the game, and seen it really change a lot. So a lot of people don’t know where it came from or where it started. Like shit, this rap was everything for us. This is what makes our world go ‘round. And we get caught up in the bullshit and it’s making me upset. I’m trying to get back to that space where niggas was really having money, niggas was having fun, niggas coming out with fly cars...whatever. But we are to the point where we are lying right now and if we lying then we need to not be doing that. If you on your grind then you need to be doing that. If you on your music then you need to be doing that. These niggas is talking about they got a yacht worth $40 million and a chain bigger than my head. And these types of shit these niggas is walking around with is blowing me. Like you haven’t even made a gold record yet but you can buy a million dollar chain? Kiss my ass man.
SJ: How do you feel about the NYC hip hop scene right now? Do you see NYC regaining any of the lost ground in hip hop over the last decade?
JJ: I’ll put it like this. You still have to go to Hollywood to make movies. You want to get a record deal. Come to NY. It’s just like life, everything moves in a circle and 360. We’ve seen it go from the West coast, Midwest, to the South. And when you press mute on the TV everybody looks like their from New York. Not to take a shot at anybody but we set the precedents for style, swag, sound, rap. They making good music why not? For the most part, the people to sell 8 million are from New York. The 50 Cents, The Jay zs, The Ruff Ryders, like every huge cat from New York takes the precedent for the whole game. It’s what we do. And the new one is me. I’m bout to go crazy on everybody in this game. Because I’m sick of it. We bringing it all the way back home because it never left. Just like New York hustlas, we always went out of town to get money.
SJ: I’m from VA, so I know what you talking about! LOL.
JJ: I used to dribble down in VA. OWWWWWW!!! Come through down Petersburg, Richmond. Selling them teenagers and all that! OWWWWWWW!! LOL.
SJ: How is everything with you and the Dips and everybody? You know Cam, 40, Juelz, how is your relationship with them since everybody is kind of branching into their own movements?
JJ: It’s good to have everybody in they own movement. First thing we want everybody to be able to get money on they own. We want everybody able to branch out and make the movement bigger. We don’t want no one boss, I want everybody to be a boss. And then we all bosses!
SJ: With your situation occurring at Summer Jam with the entourage and the Sean Bell verdict how do you feel about NYC and the police because everyone is looking at you all like “what are you going to do”? We can possibly riot.
JJ: Everybody is talking about we need to protest, etc. and yeah we need to do everything we can do. But we also have to be smart. This is 2008 not the times of Martin and Malcolm and they did their thing. They are not letting us do that type of shit anymore. We have to be smart about the tools that we use to make this bullshit better. Like the Sean Bell incident happens everyday. As you know, I just got into it with the police and had an incident where they pulled a gun out on me for NO reason. Undercover. And I didn’t know who the fuck they were and they didn’t come out with any badges until after they had sprayed mase, then they want to say they are police. Shit is crazy. It’s tough out here. And they still out here profiling and they rap police out here. We don’t get any respect out here. The more we get money, the more they want to take us down and it’s terrible. And for the ones that don’t got no money they are done from the get go. Cats with felonies and shit. The situation gets way too deep and it’s been going on forever. And we ain’t getting a break no time fucking soon.
SJ: So the HOT 97 Summer Jam incident was a reflection of that?
JJ: The police get scared, they get nervous. They don’t follow protocol. I don’t even want to even get into all of that because it’s bug man. I’m not going to say all police are bad but there are police that really give them all a bad rap when it comes to us and shit. I feel like it’s no justice, it’s no fucking peace. So fuck them.
SJ: Who do you admire if anybody in the game?
JJ: Who do I admire in the rap game?
SJ: Yeah, if anybody! If you don’t, you don’t have to say anyone. It can be Russell Simmons, whoever.
JJ: I admire niggas like Dame. I admire niggas like Puffy. Any nigga that’s making a whole shit load of money off this rap game. Because we started this from nothing and that’s what I’m trying to do and shit like that. But there’s not too many more people that got more money than me. The 50 Cents, the Jays and people like that. But they have everything I’m trying to get and to where I’m going. Let me fix that!
SJ: Tell the people something they don’t know about Jim Jones.
JJ: I like Icee’s in the summer time! I’m eating one now!! LOL