Can you be a legend and still be "slept-on?"
That's a question that only applies to a select few. There are only a handful of folks, in any discipline, that you can say are both highly regarded and somehow underappreciated. In the annals of southern Hip-Hop, there is no shortage of such artists. The South had to fight for its place, and then it fought all the way to the top, and along the way, there were artists who helped elevate the region and the sound, who the masses maybe never got to see shine in the most visible way.
And the man known as Fiend certainly fits into that category.
When the No Limit tank was rolling over the mainstream, the lyricist born Richard Jones was one of the label's most undeniable talents. Master P was the general and his brothers C-Murder and Silkk the Shocker were clear lieutenants; Mia X was First Lady, and Mystikal was the breakout star. But Fiend was the rock; that emcee who elevated every track he appeared on while also dropping two of the label's best all-around efforts: 1998s' There's One In Every Family and 1999s Street Life.
Born in New Orleans, Fiend had been building his name before No Limit; he'd dropped his debut album on small independent label Big Boy in 1995.
"In my uncle's house, he was the lead singer in a band called The Galactic. He was also [on] Dukes Of Hazzard," he explained on The 85 South Show this year. "He was traveling with cats at age 60. It made me prepare myself with all kinds of music. You can create something new, you could encourage somebody. You never know how it goes."
Fiend's father owned a bar and it helped him get exposed to greats and raised his ambition for a career in music.
"Let's say he'd have Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes," Fiend said. "I'd be able to go see these cats, get autographs and shit. I was able to see this in a barroom as a kid. That increased my chances of being great because I saw something great."
It was Fiend's mother and brother who encouraged his rapping the most, with his brother in the streets hustling but pushing him to be the best rapper he could be. It was his brother's death that motivated him to push forward with music, and his neighborhood and community rallied behind him. That led to him signing with Big Boy Records.
"Here comes No Limit Records," he told the 85 South Show. "I was already fucking with Kane & Abel. They was signed to a label by these two accountants. I got a chance to go places and be around some big shit. My pen got me in rooms that most people wouldn't fathom."
The move to No Limit kicked Fiend's career into high gear. His gravelly baritone was immediately distinct on a label with no shortage of larger-than-life personalities. His standout verse on the anthemic "Make 'Em Say Ugh" put him squarely in the southern rap mainstream. And he followed that appearance with the critically-acclaimed There's One In Every Family, his first album for the label.
"I'm ecstatic," the rapper told MTV at the time. "This is my first time going nationwide and I didn't know how the fans were going to react. I'm very grateful."
He would depart No Limit in the early 2000s, founding his own brand, Fiend Entertainment, and seeking to gain more control of his art and his business.
"I got married and a month after I got married, my Dad died," Fiend explained to Erik Tee in 2014. "So I went to Europe. I just left. My wife was like 'Go get your head right.' I went over there for like a weeek or so, and I was just vibing. I said to myself 'I don't want to grieve.' I just closed my Dad's eyes. had to turn off his life support. This [was] a little bit much for me. And even as horrid as it seemed, I really wanted to celebrate. Not be on the down and out."
Exploring his father's music collection and spending time in Europe, Fiend went to the studio and crafted new music; wanting to share what music was like for him and his father. Sampling soulful music of the past, Fiend crafted his project Tennis Shoes and Tuxedos and it was the birth of his 2010s incarnation, International Jones. And in 2011, he landed with fellow New Orleans emcee Curren$y's label, Jet Life.
"I have these new fans that know me for 'O.G. The Jar' from Currensy projects."
Fiend has built a 25-year career on the back of his own voice and perspective and undeniable authenticity. His music resonates across generations and across regions; he's now one of the most legendary artists in New Orleans rap. You can't front on Fiend. His pain and his glory have all been part of his art and his journey. It's why he resonates. Real always recognize real.
When you look at the scope of his career, the depths of his talent, his creativity and his longevity, it's clear that Fiend deserves all the props that he's gotten and more. He sits alongside some of the all-time greats, and while "your favorite rapper's rapper" may be empty praise from some; here it best describes the respect granted to International Jones. There may be one in every family, but every family ain't got a Fiend.