Back in 1986 the hip-hop landscape looked very different than it does today. Def Jam was running things in the East, Ice-T was holding down the West, and there wasn’t much going on in-between. That is until, deep in the heart of Texas, James Prince founded Rap-A-Lot Records. From the label’s most famous group The Geto Boys—to later stars like UGK, Devin The Dude, Do Or Die, Trae The Truth, and Z-Ro— Rap-A-Lot put Southern rap on the map long before it was hot to be from Houston.

This year Rap-A-Lot celebrates its 25th anniversary with a limited edition box set featuring appearances by Drake, Lil Wayne, Birdman, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, T.I., Bun B, Big K.R.I.T., Yo! Gotti, Yelawolf, Trey Songz, and Slim Thug among others. Complex was fortunate enough to get on the phone for a rare interview with J. Prince, the man behind the movement.

Interview by Rob Kenner (@boomshots)

How did the big Rap-A-Lot 25th anniversary box set come together?

That was a team effort, myself along with the staff, the other members from Fontana. We’re just trying to be creative and really give the fans more than a dollar’s worth.

What’s in the box set?

 

On the DVD, Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen, Run of Run-DMC, and even Jay-Z all gave their opinion of me and the inspiration that I brought to hip-hop.

 

On the DVD in the package a lot of the guys spoke about [Rap-A-Lot’s] inspiration—from Cash Money to Master P to Tony Draper to Swisher House. You know, Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen, Run of Run-DMC, and even Jay-Z all gave their opinion of me and the inspiration that I brought to hip-hop.

You’re also redoing some of the classic Rap-A-Lot songs with new artists. How did you choose the artists to be a part of that?

Well, we went about choosing the artists that, first of all, I had a lot of respect for. And the other thing was choosing a lot of the artists that was excited about the opportunity. And thirdly—because some of them didn’t make it—we chose the ones that complemented the songs the best.

Have you announced which artists will be redoing which songs? Like, who is going to be covering “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” for instance?

Actually “Mind Playing Tricks” hasn’t been completed, but Drake was doing a 2012 version of “Mind Playing Tricks.” But what’s gonna take place is, there’s so many songs on this first batch, “Mind Playing Tricks” is not gonna make it on this first batch. But we’ll be coming with another batch some time, and hopefully he’ll have it complete by then.

The first release date is in December, right?

Right.

But Drake’s song will be released in 2012?

Right.

Speaking of Drake, I’ve heard different stories about how your son Jas Prince played a big part in Drake being discovered and getting on with Lil Wayne. What’s the truth of that?

 

When [my son] was playing Drake's music for me, I wasn’t used to a guy doing all that singing where rap was concerned. So I asked my son, I said, “Man, do you really like this? Cause I ain’t really feeling this too much.” And he said, “Dad, you told me to get somebody who was buzzing. This kid is buzzing in Canada.” I said “If he’s buzzing I like him then.”

 

Well the truth of it is, my son brought Drake to me when he wasn’t with anyone, and he played it for me. And I was like, “You like this guy?” And he said, “Yeah.” He said, “You told me to find something that was buzzing.”

And from there you know it all was history. I struck a deal with Wayne and we merged the companies together and brought Drake and got with the other part of the family, Cash Money, and we all done a deal together.

Do you remember what Drake song your son played for you?

You know I don’t. It was a combination of songs that Drake had. I think maybe on a mixtape or something. It was a combination. Because when [my son] was playing them for me, I wasn’t used to a guy doing all that singing where rap was concerned. So I asked my son, I said, “Man, do you really like this? Cause I ain’t really feeling this too much.”

And he said, “Dad, you told me to get somebody who was buzzing.” He said, “This kid is buzzing in Canada.” I said “If he’s buzzing I like him then.”

So is your son an A&R scout for you? What else does he do?

That’s one of his gifts, for sure. Because to hear that guy as excited as he was about it. You know, there was excitement on his face and in his conversation. He was riding for Drake as though he was the next Michael Jackson.

“Mind Playing Tricks” is a whole different era of hip-hop, and like you said, Drake’s sound is a different sound than back in those Geto Boys days. That should be interesting to see what he does with that.

 

I’m real proud of what’s happening with Cash Money. They standing strong and they’re relevant today. So I have to salute the homies for holding it down like they are—definitely, being from the South.

 

Yeah I felt it would too. I didn’t want to come out half-cocked with that song. Because I heard a few people try it out, and I just… I couldn’t live with it being that way. I think the guy will really come up with something creative. Matter of fact, I’m looking forward to hearing it.

We’ve seen big empires rise and fall since you started Rap-A-Lot.

I’m real proud of what’s happening with Cash Money. They standing strong and they’re relevant today. So I have to salute the homies for holding it down like they are—definitely, being from the South.

How would you say the hip-hop game has changed a lot since you first started Rap-A-Lot in 1986?

I’m not as excited about the game today as I was back in the day because the money is not the same. It’s so many ways of being cheated and people stealing your music until it’s a situation where it don’t excite me as much. I like to get paid with my efforts and things that I’m doing, so I decided to diversify my portfolio and plant seeds in other areas.

What are some of those other areas?

Definitely boxing. That’s a major love of mine. And I’m also really excited about my condom company, Strapped.

That’s still going on? I remember you launched that several years ago.

Yeah, we’re still moving forward. I had a conversation with my brother Baby over there at Cash Money. He wanna be partners with the Strapped movement. And we’re already family so I’m looking forward to wrapping that up so we can really start taking this company on another level. And most of all making a difference in people’s lives.