J Prince is a hip-hop veteran and mogul from Houston’s Fifth Ward.
In 1985, Prince used his wit and street smarts to create Rap-A-Lot Records, which helped to make Southern rap acts such as the Geto Boys, Devin the Dude and UGK’s Pimp C and Bun B more palatable to mainstream America.
After more than three decades in the music industry, the 54-year-old entrepreneur released The Art & Science of Respect, a memoir about his storied journey to success. He tells it all, from escaping the pitfall of the ‘hood to working closely with prominent figures including Drake, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Suge Knight and Irv Gotti.
Prince spoke with EBONY.com about the book, his influence on hip-hop, Grambling University and if he regrets calling for a truce between Drake and Pusha T.
How would you describe your career to those you may not know about your legacy?
I laid the foundation for Southern hip-hop [and] much of it that you’re enjoying today. I began in 1985 when the [subgenre] wasn’t in effect at all. It was a time when it was being discriminated against, and they were trying to stop us from becoming who we are today. When I say “they,” I’m speaking of the powers that be that I had to compete against down South. [Hip-hop] was monopolized by East Coast DJs who criticized our accents, our look and the golds in our mouths. They tried to impose on us down here that we weren’t good enough to rap.
You created hip-hop’s Third Coast—rap acts from Houston and other Gulf Coast cities in the Southern States. How does it feel three decades later to see how much it has been incorporated into popular culture?
It feels great. I remember when we used to get booed. So, to witness Southern hip-hop having the game in a headlock the way we do now, I laugh all the time about that. Not only do we have it in a headlock, but it also appears we have no plans on letting it go. I’m loving it. [Laughs]
As the founder of Rap-A-Lot Records and all your other ventures, you are the blueprint for many of the hip-hop moguls, including Master P and Diddy. Did you always want to share your street knowledge?
Definitely. I felt like hip-hop was the way out; it was the new dope game. On my intros on the Geto Boys albums, I was trying to persuade a lot of the homies that I knew were in bondage. I wanted them to embrace [the genre] as an exit, and it was much better than the dope game. I was planting those seeds to Master P, Cash Money, Tony Draper, Biggie Smalls. People all over the world heard me, and I think it inspired them to turn their hustle up.
In your memoir, you are very open not only about your success stories but also your less happy times. Why did you share so much of your struggles?
I wanted to wake up sleeping giants and the people with big dreams and little resources. To fertilize that seed, I had to go to places that many of them could identify with, and being from the hood we all have the same stories indirectly. I had to go there and share my story because people want my glory.
In Charlamagne Tha God’s latest book, Shook Ones: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, Scarface wrote the foreword and both of them touch on how growing up in the hood created PTSD. Your book also touches on that trauma but how you were able to use it to build your empire. Would you agree with that?
Most definitely. I think I’m scarred to a certain extent. The difference is I didn’t allow it to take control of me to where I got caught up. Well, I did, but I didn’t stay in bondage. I was strong enough to exercise different principles and other things I shared in my book.
It’s almost like releasing a rope down a deep hole to help pull your fellow man up. That is what I’m trying to do is to show different scenarios such as my spirituality to pull one up out of a hole.
What would you credit for your ability to overcome?
It began with my spirituality. I also credit education and not embracing bad habits. I avoided bad habits such as using drugs. All my life I was offered a joint, pill or drink but I stood strong on not [partaking]. I noticed how taking that pill or drinking affected many of my friends. I observed how it took control of some part of their life they never got back. For me holding on to my spirituality and educating myself and not embracing bad habits made all the difference.
Honestly, I probably know J Prince better than most people.
You do what he asks you to do. The end. https://t.co/BcfQxbYIOY
— Jas Waters (@JasFly) June 4, 2018
Jasmine Waters co-authored your book. Do you think it made a difference having a Black woman help tell your story?
I think it was a great choice, and it wasn’t a choice that I planned on doing. But along the journey—just like in life—you get different sides, spirits, and places. It’s important to know how to identify the spirit-led situations. [Choosing] Jasmine was one of those moments. When I extended the opportunity for her to write, she proved to me she could write executing half of a chapter. I was instantly sold.
During your Breakfast Club interview, you said the book, Think and Grow Rich, helped you on your journey. You also said you weren’t a big fan of reading early in life. Why did you choose to record your story in a book as opposed to a movie?
I learn the importance of reading, although it was late, I still did. I do believe that readers are leaders. After reading Napoleon Hill’s book, I continued to nourish my mind and spirit through reading. I wanted to write a book before a movie or docuseries because it is the filler for the direction.
Your kids are involved in the music business. Did you make a point to speak about generational wealth or them continuing your legacy?
I most definitely shared all my wisdom and knowledge with them. I did not choose their careers. I believe that everyone has different gifts. My expectation of them is to find their path or passion and be happy about what they’re doing. It so happened that a few of them did embrace music. I wish them the best because they’re out here doing well with it. I have other kids in different [industries]. My only wish is that they are happy with their lives.
What’s the most significant difference you see in the music industry?
It’s social media. While it took me years to do certain things, this new generation can do it at the touch of a button. That power is something that I would’ve loved to have access to back when I started Rap-A-Lot. I probably could’ve tripled the amount of money I made.
Do you think accessibility to social media culture has a negative impact on the industry?
I think it’s a beautiful thing. Anybody now can have a voice, but it doesn’t mean they have the gift or the talent to become successful. One thing that I think will never change is that you’re going to have it or you’re not. A hit is a hit whether it be back then, right now or in the future.
Social media gives relevance to someone like Tekashi 69, whose antics you also spoke about in the past. Do you think there’s a downside to that?
That’s a fact, but I think it was also like that back then we just didn’t have social media. I believe that life and death are in the tongue and if one campaigns for bad energy or darkness, he’s going to get elected. One must understand the power of the tongue.
In June, you commented about ending the Drake/Pusha T beef. Did you expect your comment to reach such a wide audience?
I didn’t know what to expect. The expectation part of it didn’t matter to me as much as doing the right thing. [I decided] to continue our movement and not get caught up in a moment where foolishness was concerned. I’m a big picture thinker, and that’s what it was all about.
I told them that I witnessed what happened with Biggie and 2Pac. I saw when one fertilized negativity and things that go beyond rap, the fruits of what takes place where that is concerned. I was very close to a situation where it was about to go that way, and that’s why I did what I did.
Can you explain why you were recently honored at Grambling University?
The band honored me as a drum major and member of the band. I enjoy listening to their music. I’ve been listening to them for a long time; to witness it in person was special.
Do you think it is important to attend a historically black college or university?
I think it begins with a matter of respect. My book is The Art & Science of Respect, but as a matter of respect, it’s equally important for somebody who figured out how to turn nothing into something [such as] myself to share stories of wisdom, knowledge and understanding to those who embrace education and are trying to make something of themselves. It’s important to me to take the path to educate.
Who in the music industry do you think best reflects the art and science of respect?
James Prince. [Laughs]
I think many people are successful. It’s one thing to be successful and make money. It’s another thing to have respect. Everyone with money doesn’t have respect, and that’s hard for me to observe from a distance. I would have to walk with that person and observe their lifestyle.
You built up enough respect to be referred to as Pops from a megastar such as Drake. What you were doing 30 years ago is much different than what you’re doing today. What does your day-to-day consist of?
I’m heavily involved in boxing. I manage a lot of fighters. I’m also heavily involved in tranquility. I balance the two. I worked very hard in the beginning to have a lifestyle where I can move like I want to move. Between boxing, real estate and other opportunities I embrace on a daily to enjoy life.
In the divisive Trump era, is there something you think Black people can do to fight back against oppression?
I think we need to create a third wheel other than Democratic and Republican, something that is hip-hop controlled. I think it would be a beautiful thing for a hip-hop culture party.
How would that be beneficial?
If you really observe our movement and mind frame, it is day and night from how Republicans or Democrats operate. I think [Barack] Obama became president of the United States because of hip-hop and the past things that took place years before he ever ran. We were able to bring cultures together like no other movement where music is concerned. We went under the doorsteps of racist parents and grandparents who despised us.
We changed that framework and broke the bondage of racism that existed throughout generations of those kinds of families. To create a movement of our own, I think it would be a powerful thing.
What's Your Reaction?
Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.