Prince Paul, A Prince Among Thieves (1999)
Label: Tommy Boy
Prince Paul: “What’s weird was that Psychoanalysis kind of created this weird buzz. Monica Lynch, who I’ve always had a great relationship at Tommy Boy, said, ‘I really like this Psychoanalysis record. I want to re-release it. And if you’re ever going to do any type of record as creative as this, we’ll do it. And I was like, ‘Hold on—I can do any record I want to do?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’
“The reason they wanted to sign me wasn’t even for record sales. It was for the fact that the departments over there were bored. Now they had this marketing machine of getting an artist, getting a pop record, and everybody was basically generating the same old. So they wanted to bring me in there to make things different. It boosts things around, changes things, and gets things creative. So I took advantage of it.
I said I wanted to make a movie on wax. I wanted to make an adults’ kid album. I actually proposed this idea to Russell Simmons in the early ’90s. I remember this clearly, Russell might not remember this, but I do. He said, ‘Okay, demo it up for me.’ I was like, ‘I can’t demo it up. It’s an idea. It’s a concept. It’s a children’s record.’ And he didn’t want to mess with it.
“I proposed the idea of A Prince Among Thieves. I said I wanted to make a movie on wax. I wanted to make an adults’ kid album. I actually proposed this idea to Russell Simmons in the early ’90s. I remember this clearly, Russell might not remember this, but I do. He said, ‘Okay, demo it up for me.’ I was like, ‘I can’t demo it up. It’s an idea. It’s a concept. It’s a children’s record.’ And he didn’t want to mess with it.
"So I finally got the opportunity. I wrote a story, scripted it out in my weak writing attempt. I’ve watched a whole lot of b-class movies. I was like, ‘Yo, I’m going to take every scene from every bad movie I watched, the cliché scenes, and put all of this in one story.’
“So I had to find somebody to play the lead. Breeze Brewin’ was a dude, years back, was signed to this label that asked me to remix a lot of his stuff. That was when I first got exposed to the Juggaknots. The record never came out, and he just kind of faded to obscurity. So I did some research, found his number, cold called him mad years later. He was like, ‘Who’s this?’ I said, ‘It’s Prince Paul.’ He didn’t believe that it was me initially, but we were able to get it popping.
“As we were building, I wanted to get Chino XL as the other lead character. I mentioned Chino XL to Breeze, because I was a big Chino XL fan. But people really didn’t like Chino XL. I know dudes who despised that dude. I thought he was incredible. But for some reason it just didn’t pan out. And every time I mentioned getting Chino XL other people were just like, “Eh…”
"So to make it easier there was a guy who was around my way named Sha, who just had the right voice. And it would be easier. Getting Chino would be difficult to work with him because he lived…I forgot where he was at the time, but it wasn’t close.
I wanted to get Chino XL as the other lead character. I mentioned Chino XL to Breeze, because I was a big Chino XL fan. But people really didn’t like Chino XL. I know dudes who despised that dude. I thought he was incredible. But for some reason it just didn’t pan out.
“Notice how I said a lot of cats weren’t interested in working with me anymore? And A Prince Among Thieves had a lot of cats who were underground, not mainstream heavyweights at the time. They were a lot of cats from back in my era, who in the late ’90s, weren’t as popping. [Laughs.]
“And cats needed checks. We’ve had mutual respect for one another, but at the same time nobody rhymed for free. So that was more or less the thing. Like, ‘Yo, I’m doing this song, and I’ve got a budget.’ I didn’t tell people about the script or what exactly I was doing.
"Matter of fact, Kane didn’t know until further down the line. I remember he was on BET, and they asked him, ‘So when Paul put the record together…?’ And he couldn’t answer any questions, because he didn’t know anything. I just gave him the lines, and I recorded them, and I just put his parts where they matched.
“I gave the guys the script, the lines, found all the people for the parts it’d fit, and contacted them. Some people I got, some people I didn’t. I tried to get Vanilla Ice, but got dissed. His manager was like, 'Nope.' I wanted to put him in the jail scene with Sadat X and Xzibit. Imagine Vanilla Ice spitting some ill lines, like hardcore rhymes. People would lose their minds.
“I contacted everybody, and I told them what the concept of the song is, wrote it, never told them what the album was about, and they’d come in, they would read the lines, and I would take it home, piece it together. I would sample things, I would have a little sequencer, and remember no Pro Tools at the time. So I spent a lot of time making that record. If it was up to me, and if I had the money, I would’ve had DMX as the villain, but I didn’t have the budget or the respect for that.
I tried to get Vanilla Ice, but got dissed. His manager was like, “Nope.” I wanted to put him in the jail scene with Sadat X and Xzibit. Imagine Vanilla Ice spitting some ill lines, like hardcore rhymes. People would lose their minds.
“Somebody came up to me and said Sticky Fingaz’ Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones, was similar in concept to A Prince Among Thieves. Then MTV does that Carmen thing with Beyonce. I was like, ‘What? Look at this. Nobody was thinking nothing like this!’
"The sad thing is when my record came out, Tommy Boy literally sat on it for a year, and they didn’t know what to do with it. I handed the album in February of 1998, and it didn't come out until February of 1999. I remember playing it for the staff, and everybody was like, ‘Okay…’ They didn’t get it. [Laughs.] It wasn’t on top priority. So very little money was put into that.
“That video trailer was shot with like 15 grand or whatever. And that was when everybody was making million-dollar videos. I was trying to sell Tom Silverman the concept like, ‘Yo, let’s do what Master P did with ’Bout It, ’Bout It. Let’s just do a low-budget movie. I’ll get all these people here to shoot a film, and it’ll be crazy.’ He said, ‘Nope.’
"I couldn’t even get a T-shirt. I had to get Levi’s to make T-shirts for me. They didn't want to invest in it; they didn’t see anything in it. It was a record for them to build morale around the office. It wasn’t a record to sell. So when it came out with all this critical acclaim, it wasn’t until the end when the hype died down, guys at Tommy Boy were like, ‘That was a great record! Do it again!’ Like, how?”