Jim Jones: The Musical
The potential number of “no homo” heckles was astounding. Astronomical. I stopped counting somewhere between the sweaty jail scene (featuring dudes in tight white shirts dance-fighting) and the part where about ten guys swayed around Jones and sang “this is for the bitches” in unison. The Jim Jones Musical, a.k.a. Hip-Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones, is an invite-only listening session masquerading as an Off-Broadway autobiography masquerading as urban social commentary masquerading as something like art. People dance, act, sing, and rap, sometimes all at once. Produced by Dame Dash—who helped pioneer the rap musical genre (?) with Jay-Z’s Streets Is Watching a decade ago—Life & Mind is a promo stunt mindful of its “Jones Is Crazy for This One” blog headlines. Elle Macpherson was there. So was video chick Melyssa Ford, who eyed cameras over her shoulder. Videographers shined bright lights into peoples’ faces.
While most of the 80-minute performance had Jones rapping into a Michael Jackson headset as a phalanx of model-actress-singers weaved behind him, there were also scenes … with dialogue … that Jones must have, you know, rehearsed at some point. Most of the fun involved watching the rapper—known for his comically sloppy rhyming style—nail his lighting cues, rush offstage for a minor costume change, and deliver cornball jokes about sex addiction like a high school underachiever trying to impress his tough-but-fair drama teacher. So when his eyes became glassy and nostalgic during several dramatic moments, it was weirdly moving—like seeing a girl genuinely break down after getting through an autobiographical ballet number at her own Super Sweet 16.
The plot was as continuous and groundbreaking as the album it’s intended to plug: Jim, King of Harlem, gets framed by a nameless hater, must endure hardships and learn life lessons while cheating on his main chick with various side chicks before a final courtroom scene seals his fate. The Wire for Dummies (Who May Also Be Illiterate), basically. Without any sort of big picture, the perks of this production were found in small places: Jones’s trembling hand during a tribute to fallen friend Stack Bundles, the low key, fatherly scene with his teenage counterpart, the Al Bundy-esque backpedaling when his wifey finds him at the club.
The guy’s got a round-the-way star quality that bubbles when he doesn’t have to force couplets against brawny Harlem bap. If Jones has any hope of becoming the superstar this unique-for-hip-hop vanity project makes him out to be, the rapping should stop. Because he’s not Jay-Z. Life & Times was oftentimes more enjoyable than Streets Is Watching because Jim Jones isn’t a genius. He’s unguarded, blunt. He’s the tough guy who’ll squeeze his shy son onstage for five minutes while soaking up post-show applause.—Ryan Dombal
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 13, 2008