By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
"Most of them 'hos couldn't stand me/But now those same 'hos beggin me to pull down they panties," rhymes Houston rapper Mike Jones in "Back Then," from relentlessly self-referential Who Is Mike Jones? Jones is a likable guy, funny with an agile flow. And he really likes himself, even offering his cell as catchphrase. It's a response to being a chubby reject aligned with the cough syrup chuggers of late DJ Screw's Swishahouse label. His grandmother believed he'd succeed, as Jones explains in the sweet r&b tribute "Grandma," and now he's the star. His breakthrough from local stardom lets him get away with an album focused narrowly on just two goofy themes: All that purple-liquid sippin' is acceptable, and all you "Scandalous Hoes" won't get what's in his pants even though he's the "Type of N**ga You Need."
Ying Yang Twins are slightly more humble than Jones but obviously are more insecure. Uncomfortable energy runs through the duo's U.S.A.: United State of Atlanta. The 77-minute record is an eccentric romp through all things Ying, and it works as three smaller records. The first is empathetic and shockingly soulful, personifying their own shit-talkers ("Fuck the Ying Yang Twins"), praising Jesus, and acknowledging strippers as people. The second act, though, pisses on women's lib with a hushed sex dialogue including the ballsy "Wait (the Whisper Song)" and framed by a panel of porn-comic sluts. But if the first two acts are repentance and perversion, the third is at home in the clubD-Roc and Kaine coped with bouncing titties before the glory, so why not be kings among pole-dancer stalkers?
It's on part three that Mike Jones joins U.S.A.'s perpetual bachelor party, hunting for bitches in the electrifying "Badd." Part two suits Banner better; he borrows Ying Yang producer DJ Smurf for his own whispered cat-beating misogyny on Certified. Maybe it's the sicko equivalent of trading a Wade Boggs rookie card for three Bruce Sutters.