After Beginning His Career as an Aspiring Rapper, JJ Jones now Works with the Maloof Family on New Projects and Brand Partnerships OC Native JJ Jones Forges Career Networking Personality
Written By: Erik Hale
Photographed By: Stephen Panosian
Jones is a promoter, a connector, a brand ambassador, a personality—you name it, he can do it. Our first meeting is at a Whole Foods in Aliso Viejo. A grocery store seems like an odd place to meet for lunch, but, as I came to find out, Jones has a certain way of doing things. He has a natural, effortless ease and doesn’t walk so much as glide toward me, flashing a giant smile. He’s decked out in top and bottom matching gear and extends one long thin arm, engaging, and then on the move again. The theme that is most consistent with Jones is motion, and his body has been in motion for a long time.
Jones moved with his mother (his parents are divorced) from Los Angeles to Orange County when he was in the third grade. In eighth grade, the family moved to Inglewood. It was a culture shock at first, leaving buttoned-down Orange County for Inglewood, plus Jones was struggling in school and “always asking too many questions.” His mom dressed him in white polo shirts and blue dockers in a Blood neighborhood. When Inglewood didn’t work out, Jones moved to Shreveport, La., where he learned “charm, manners and Southern hospitality.” After about two years, he returned to California where he attended three different high schools before finally graduating from Aliso Niguel. Every year, someone new was telling his mom, “We are going to get him together.” But really the only person who could get Jones together would need to be Jones himself.
“Wherever I’ve went, I’ve always got along with everybody, ” Jones says. Maybe he just got along with everyone too well.
After high school, Jones worked at a home loan center, coached basketball at the YMCA and won rap battles. He was friends with Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, the bass player from Korn, who happened to have a basement studio in the nearby Laguna Hills community Nellie Gail. Jones spent hours practicing in Fieldy’s studio, day after day, working on his raps.
That practice paid off when Fieldy took Jones, only 19 years old, to a party filled with celebrities, playmates and billionaires, including Henry Nicholas. On the way to the bathroom, Jones bumped into Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom. He gave a short speech that filled Jones with confidence—the Fortune 500 CEO applauded Jones’ energy and told him that if he would focus, he could do something special with his life. People had been telling Jones this his entire life, but this time he listened.
At the same party, Jones met Dalene Kurtis (2002 Playboy Playmate of The Year), who wanted to introduce the young rapper to the guy she was dating, Phil Maloof, who was working with Interscope Records. Maloof’s family also owned the Sacramento Kings and The Palms Casino. After listening to Jones rap on the spot, Maloof told him he wanted to sign him to his record label and introduce him to his brothers. In an era pre-dating smartphones, Jones had yet to figure out who Phil was, but Maloof asked him to come to Las Vegas to audition for his brothers and a few friends. So Jones went to Vegas, CD sample in hand, to meet the Maloofs at a suite in The Palazzo hotel.
When Jones arrived, he put his CD in the player and readied himself to perform. Suddenly, the power went out.
“You don’t need music, just rap, ” Maloof says.
So he did. And he crushed it. No music, just Jones. Yet, as impressed as they all were, the Maloofs saw something else in Jones.
“Do you really want to be a rapper? Or do you want to be a businessman?” asked Joe Maloof, president of Maloof Companies.
“I want to be a businessman, ” Jones replied.
“Good. Then I want you to come to work for me as my driver, ” Joe Maloof said.
“What?” Jones couldn’t believe it. “Nah, I am just going to keep doing this.”
He returned home to Orange County, where his friend Zack encouraged him to reconsider the opportunity he’d passed up. Jones reached out to the Maloofs and this time accepted their offer. He was moving again, this time to Las Vegas.
Jones started working as the Maloofs’ driver, living in a hotel for the first two weeks. The Maloofs had quite a few homes in Las Vegas; Joe Maloof was living in a $4 million home in Lake Las Vegas at the time, but had recently broken up with a girlfriend and didn’t want to stay there anymore. He let Jones move out of the hotel and into his mansion. His decision to move to Vegas was just getting better and better. Everything happened so fast that Jones never had a chance to be in disbelief—he was working and this was just part of the job. Thirty days later he was promoted to assistant and put on the payroll.
That fall, Jones made his first trip with the Maloof family to Sacramento to conduct Kings business. Jones says it felt like everyone he met in Sacramento was unsure what to think about him. He had been fun to have around at summer pool parties in Vegas, but Sacramento was all business. Jones says he understood this right away, putting away the Vegas party attitude and turning on work mode. Whatever they asked him to do, he found a way to do it. Joe Maloof asked him to design a hat for the team store but Jones quickly found there were layers of red tape to get a design approved. He decided to circumvent that route—he pushed the hat through, had it made and the design was successful.
“We knew right off the bat we could trust him, ” says Gavin Maloof, vice chairman of Maloof Companies. “We all just had a good feeling about him.”
We finish our lunch at Whole Foods and walk to the parking lot, where Jones’ aurora blue convertible McLaren 650S Spider is parked. It’s easy to pick out among a sea of Acuras and Toyotas, and not the car of someone who wants to go unnoticed. We’re headed to Melin, a custom hat company Jones consults for—well, not so much consults as reps, and not so much reps as introduces. Jones is great at introductions.
As the Maloofs’ assistant, it was Jones’ job to take out celebrity clients and powerful friends and show them a good time. His first celebrity client was Jamie Foxx.
“JJ will take you out, ” Joe Maloof told Foxx over dinner one night.
That weekend, Foxx, Javon Walker (former NFL wide receiver) and Jones put up prize money and hosted an ass-shaking contest at The Palms pool. First prize was $1, 000. Hosting celebrities just became what Jones did. He was in charge of the celebrities for the Maloof family and also The Palms. He acted as if he belonged, as if he was one of them. It was easy for Jones.
Jones helped the celebrities and athletes avoid the “Player’s Tax.” Though everyone pays in Vegas, part of his job was to make sure his clients and friends did not get overcharged because of their celebrity status. He is also a natural connector, and he gained a reputation as someone to go to for the hook up. He was always out, having a great time.
“I had the best table every night. I had the owners table, I was having fun, ” Jones says. “If it was Tryst Thursdays, I was at Victor Drai’s table. If we were at TAU I was with Jason Strauss.” Jones was where the party was and that’s where his clients wanted to be. Being in the spotlight allowed him to make some remarkable connections, like the night he introduced Kanye West to Barry Bonds.
“I was running an errand one night and stopped off in Garduno’s Mexican restaurant inside The Palms. I bumped into Kanye—I had never met him but asked him if he wanted to meet Barry Bonds, ” Jones says. “Barry and I had just been talking about the song Kanye wrote about him, ‘Barry Bonds’ and they were both excited to meet.”
“Stars tend to get stuck in their own circles, ” Jones says. “I make introductions to people I think would work well together—whether it is a business, friendship or charity, I connect people. I guess you could call me a facilitator.” WIth so many influential people, it must be natural to want to share stories. But what happens in Vegas stays there, right?
“I had fun and kept my mouth shut, ” Jones says. “I never get starstruck, except for the time I was eating dinner with Bill Clinton. I couldn’t help but stare.”
Former presidents aside, Jones always maintains his cool around his celebrity clients. “He is a people person, ” Gavin Maloof says. “The celebrities trust him not to put their business in the street.” And that trust has earned him quite a few favors.
“A favor is worth more than money, ” Jones says. “I can call anyone in my phone for a favor.”
Just who would we be able to call from Jones’ phone? “The world, ” he states plainly. “Tom Brady, Ryan Sheckler, Ludacris, Michael Phelps, Floyd Mayweather … the list goes on and on.”
We arrive at the Melin office and Jones enters like a big ship, moving slowly but making waves. He’s introduced to owners Cory Roth and Brian McDonell by Sheckler’s agent, Steve Astephen from Wasserman Media Group. Astephen thought Jones would be a perfect fit for them; placing Melin hats on the heads of Jones’ celebrity friends could certainly help the business.
Roth and McDonell show Jones their hats, detailed with metal and leather trimming and stored in leather boxes. These are not your typical snapbacks. The hats range in price from just over $100 to well over $1, 000. During the first meeting, Jones suggests some tweaks to the hat designs. They like his suggestions, and him, immediately and tell Jones they want him involved. He becomes an equity partner and goes to work immediately.
The first call he makes is to Gabrielle Union. Jones tells Union he has something for her boyfriend, Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade, and sends him some hats to try. He then ships samples to friends DeMarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos, skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and Snoop Dogg.
Wade started wearing the hats everywhere. They sent him dozens of hats and he started matching the color of the hat to the car he was driving that day. At the time, Wade was in all of the tabloids because of his upcoming wedding to Union. Jones also dropped by Melin’s booth at Agenda, the surf and skate trade show. By the time he reached the booth, about 30 people had followed, including Birdman and Floyd Mayweather. The partnership with Jones was a quick win for Melin. The brand is now carried in LIDS and Bloomingdales, and Jones says the company is doing exceedingly well.
It’s quickly evident that Jones’ need to keep moving is as much out of purpose as it is out of desire. He’s currently involved with a drink to prevent hangovers called Never Too Hungover, a dating website, a brand called Publish (which he wears and encourages his friends to wear as well) and is working with the Maloofs to bring an NHL team to Las Vegas.
Two years ago, when Gavin Maloof sold the Sacramento Kings, he decided to pursue another venture: hockey. He worked with Bill Foley, billionaire chairman of Fidelity National Financial, to bring a professional hockey team to Las Vegas. Their goal was to sell 10, 000 tickets. If they were able to do that, it seemed likely they could win a franchise. Jones was able to sell boxes to competing nightclub impresarios like Jesse Waits from XS and Tryst, Alex Cordova from The Hakkasan Group and Victor Drai from Drai’s. “We ended up selling 13, 000 tickets. JJ was able to sell a lot of sky boxes to his network of friends, ” Gavin Maloof says. “JJ is a great host, he does a good job of bringing two parties together.”
With so much time spent doing business and networking, does Jones have any time for recreation? “Seventy percent work, 10 percent fun, 10 percent video games and 10 percent basketball, ” Jones laughs. “I really don’t sleep. When I was in Vegas I would need to be with Joe and Gavin all day. In the nighttime I would want to go out. I would be going all the time. Even when I wouldn’t go out, I would still be up researching, working, inspecting.”
Even though Jones flexes on Instagram with hundreds of coveted Mayweather v. Pacquiao tickets and carries an iPhone full of sports and movie stars’ cell numbers, he’s still just a regular dude.
“Trust me, ” Gavin Maloof says. “JJ is the kind of guy you want to hang out with.”
W H O /// You Know: OC Native JJ Jones Has a Talent for Connecting With Celebrities and Building Brands.