What you know about the Dirty South? Well James Prince knows a whole lot. This weekend his Rap-A-Lot Records 25th Anniversary box set hits stores. On this limited edition CD and DVD collection you can hear the Houston rap mogul's friends at Cash Money, Young Money, Maybach Music Group, and Def Jam celebrate J.Prince's success in building one of the first independent rap labels outside of New York or Los Angeles.
Now the man who put Texas on the rap map gives Complex a rare in-depth look at how he started a music empire and why he's always considered himself the fourth Geto Boy. So listen closely as a true street legend recalls how he discovered Scarface in a parking lot, how he bought his own island in the Caribbean, and what he hears when God speaks to him.
Interview by Rob Kenner (@boomshots)
You’ve been doing this a long time. One of the younger Rap-A-Lot artists, Trae The Truth, was five years old when you started Rap-A-Lot.
Ain’t that something?
What were you doing when you were five years old?
See I don’t even remember when I was five. You know what I’m saying? So that’s the difference, his memory is a lot better than mine. Now if you take me to about six or seven maybe I would start remembering.
What kind of things comes to mind?
At that age? I’m living in Houston. I was from the Fifth Ward. Let’s see, the things that came to mind at seven years old was... At seven and eight I was about a dollar. You know what I’m saying? I was trying to figure out ways to keep my pickets full. Cutting yards, shooting birds, huntin’, shooting birds, selling birds.
You could hunt in the city?
Legally you couldn’t, but I did anyway. [Laughs.] You know what I’m saying? I hunted more in the city than I did out here [in the country]. I was always about trying to figure out a way to keep a dollar in my pocket, even at that age.
What is the date that you mark as the beginning of Rap A Lot? Was it a certain record you put out?
Well 1986, it was more of a reaction from other people. It was the beginning of me planting a seed for my brother. You know? His name was Sir Rap-A-Lot. And then there were a couple guys that, when I would come home for lunch breaks, I see a couple guys, which was Raheem and Jukebox, skipping school. So I made a deal with them, y’all go to school, I’ll support you in rap.
They put me in a position where I had to honor my word because every day after school they would show up at my grandmother house and be performing on the porch. So grandmother would call me and say “You got these boys over here.” So I had to honor my word. And I tell everybody that it was from keeping my word and honoring my word that brought me where I am today.
The roots of this Houston hip-hop scene run deep.
Yeah, the roots are very deep. And you know, I always enjoy being a quiet storm. I like to make a lot of moves and not create a lot of noise in the process of making them.
When you first started there weren't a lot of people doing this thing. Who else was really making waves in hip-hop?
You had Def Jam, Run-DMC and all those guys out that way. That was basically it. Then you had Ice T, he was the only other guy that was on the scene from the West Coast at the time.
When you came out you must have inspired a lot of these independent labels to pop up outside of New York.
I always enjoy being a quiet storm. I like to make a lot of moves and not create a lot of noise in the process of making them.
Yeah, most definitely. I inspired quite a few. On the DVD in the package, a lot of those guys spoke about the inspiration and everything from Cash Money to Master P to Tony Draper to Swisha House. Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen, Run of Run-DMC, all of them spoke about myself and gave their opinion. Even Jay-Z gave his opinion of me and the inspiration that I brought to hip-hop.
We’ve seen big empires rise and fall since you started Rap-A-Lot.
Also 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.
Before you got started with your brother and your friends, was there anybody making rap in Texas?
Not here in Texas. I mean, there were some guys always trying to rap but they wasn’t known. There wasn’t no one who had put out a record before or had a name at the time. Other than rappers that was doing like diss contests.
Doing the dozens.
Yeah, the dozens thing. Romeo, Royal Flush & them, dissing one another every week.
That would go on in clubs?
Yeah, you would go in clubs and they would just criticize each other from A to Z, you know, break each other down.
With music playing?
Yeah, music playing in the background. It was watered-down instrumentals and stuff like that. But that’s about it. There wasn’t anyone that—shit, I don’t even think there was no one thinking about making a record.