In this week’s episode of Fresh Pair, Harlem rapper Jim Jones breaks down his picks for the most stylish rappers in hip-hop today and explains why his creative output has increased in both quality and quantity. “Before, I used to consider music like homework,” he said. “Now, I’m more eager to do it than I [was] before.”
In the early 2000s, Jim Jones rose to prominence alongside The Diplomats, a group comprised of Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, Jones, and Freeky Zekey. The release of their 2003 debut album Diplomatic Immunity changed the face of hip-hop, starting a movement that has remained a nostalgic fixture of the era to this day. Over the years, though, they’ve seen plenty of friction, which could be seen in their approach to their Verzuz battle with The Lox last year. Meanwhile, each of the group’s members took time during the hiatus to record their own individual projects, with Jim Jones going from reluctant star to the most prolific member of the group.
While his best-known hit is, of course, “We Fly High” with its signature “ballin'” dance, in more recent years, he’s actually put out an impressive array of tunes, both as a solo artist and on joint releases with the likes of producers DJ Drama and Harry Fraud and Brooklyn rapper Maino. Here are the best Jim Jones songs, ranked.
10. “Pardon My Thoughts” Feat. Dave East
2020 turned out to be a productive year for Jones in terms of recalibrating for the impressive run ahead. As far as album releases go, there was only the deluxe version of the previous year’s El Capo, which produced this gem alongside fellow Harlemite Dave East. It’s not a passing of the torch so much as it is an OG inviting a young gun to sit at the table as they swap stories about their respective experiences.
9. “Bada Bing” Feat. French Montana
Truthfully, this one gets a nod mostly because it’s so important. The years of friction between the two New Yorkers came to an end in 2021, with both appearing on each others’ albums. While “Too Late” from French’s Coke Boyz 5 is the better song, this is a Jim Jones list, and honestly, it’s just nice to see these two knuckleheads having fun making music together again.
8. “A Monster Made It”
The Fraud Department, Jones’ 2021 collaborative album with sample-flipping producer Harry Fraud, is the project that perhaps best shows Jones’ commitment to the craft. Fraud provides a variety of challenging instrumentals way outside Jones usual lane, and the rapper rises to the challenge, alternating between greasy and reflective tough talk detailing the travails of the streets.
7. “Lobby Boyz Anthem” Feat. Lyrivelli
Coming from Jones’ most recently released collab project, Lobby Boyz with Maino, this gritty, menacing anthem hits a sweet spot thanks to the Yvonne Fair sample that has backdropped some of rap’s hardest instrumentals, most notably Jay-Z’s “Where I’m From.” The two rappers do that legacy proud, bringing out the best in each other.
6. “We Set The Trends” Feat. Migos
In 2021, Jim Jones got his own Gangsta Grillz mixtape with DJ Drama, giving him yet another set of wildly different instrumentals to work with including this horn-heavy street stomper alongside North Atlanta’s finest. It’s worth a few spins for the ad-lib-a-thon alone. There’s great chemistry between Jones and the Southerners and it’d probably be a lot of fun to see what Migos would put together alongside the full Dipset — as unlikely as that proposition looks these days.
5. “State Of The Union” Feat. Rick Ross & Marc Scibilia
2019’s El Capo was very much a turning point for Jim Jones, who unlocked a new level of motivation after taking a hiatus from releasing albums to focus on his Vampire Life mixtapes throughout the 2010s. Those tapes sharpened his skills but after releasing the nostalgic Wasted Talent in 2018, he found a way to keep a Timberland boot planted in the past while taking a huge step into the present.
4. “Good Die Young” Feat. Marc Scibilia
The best hip-hop songs are always the heartfelt odes to the fallen (see also: “T.R.O.Y.,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” “Blue Laces”). Jones’ contribution to the canon is a soulful anthem from El Capo with a bluesy hook by Marc Scibilia in which Jones salutes both his nearest and dearest and late peers in the rap game like Nipsey Hussle and XXXTentacion.
3. “Crunk Muzik” Feat. The Diplomats
The second single from Jones’ debut studio album On My Way To Church, “Crunk Muzik” came out during the classic Dipset era, and it shows in the trio’s chemistry. The song is somehow both menacing and hilarious (Cam’s sound effects, Juelz’s multisyllabic rhyme schemes), and references to the cult classic action flick The Warriors just add a chef’s kiss to the whole situation.
2. “NYC” Feat. Fat Joe
Built on a sample of The Chainsmokers’ “New York City” courtesy of longtime Dipset producers The Heatmakerz, 2019’s “NYC” is classic Jim Jones. The multisyllabic Harlem flow is in full effect, the love and hate for the Big Apple shimmers through every bar, and Fat Joe delivers one of his coldest verses in years. It’s a prime example of how to age gracefully, and was one of the first signs of Jones’ newfound hunger.
1. “We Fly High”
Look. There’s just no arguing with history. “We Fly High” wasn’t just a hit — it was a movement. Spawning a remix featuring Birdman, Diddy, Juelz Santana, Lil Wayne, T.I., and Young Dro, its “ballin'” ad-lib is inescapable and always comes with the accompanying jump shot move. Jimmy might be tired of the biggest hit of his career, but the world at large still loves it and surprisingly, it still holds up over 15 years later.