Jim Jones, 'Pray IV Reign' (Columbia)

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Pray IV Reign
Critical Mass
Label: Columbia

by Chris Ryan

Whether spitting some of Lauren Conrad's broken language while airing out an ex-homey in the oddly touching "Frienemies" or extolling the healing properties of women's nether regions on "Medicine," New York hustler Jim Jones is, despite his own best efforts, effortlessly charming.

Pray IV Reign, Jones' fourth solo album, tries to balance tracks rich in self-mythology with material designed to make him rich. Learning from the template of Diddy, who ascended to solo-artist stardom after the death of the Notorious B.I.G., Jones exploits the inactivity of his Dipset crew and the artistic disappearance of running buddy Cam'ron to push his own brand. Pray swerves between "Thug Mansion" -- style songs of sin and regret, with Jones wondering wistfully, "If there's a Harlem in heaven...," and club bangers (such as radio staple "Pop Champagne") that recall the balls-out hedonism of his 2006 breakthrough single, "We Fly High."

While Jones' confidence as an MC has grown, his talent still lies more with songs of the streets than with songs of the sheets ("Precious" wastes an intoxicating, droning melody on trite chatter about the ladies). With "Let It Out," which features a tense beat and Latin freestyle keyboards, he effectively details his humble beginnings: "It started out with sneakers / Then it got much deeper." Like any great solipsist, Jones is most interesting when he's talking about himself.

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