He's made his share of controversial headlines, but Rap-A-Lot Records founder and CEO J Prince is a seminal figure (arguably the seminal figure) in the development of Houston rap and Southern rap at large. Without Rap-a-Lot, which Prince founded in 1986 and went on to release landmark albums by the Geto Boys, Scarface, Big Mike, Lil' Flip & Z-Ro, Devin the Dude, Bun B and Trae, among others, local and regional rap would be in a very different place.
Last week, the Nashville Tennessean announced that the Nashville-based Southern Entertainment Awards will give Prince one of this year's SEA Impact Awards, which "honor those who have contributed to the success of Southern indie urban music." Rocks Off got Prince on the phone for a few minutes and, although neither of us was really sure what this Southern Entertainment Association was, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about Rap-A-Lot's history (and future), Scarface and surviving in the digital age in a Texas drawl as slow and thick as some of the beats on his artists' albums.
RO: What are you up to today?
J Prince: Ridin’ around doing some real estate.
RO: Congrats on this Southern Entertainment Impact Award, first of all.
JP: Thank you.
JP: Not familiar with which organization?
RO: This Southern Entertainment Association.
JP: Well, I’m not that familiar with ‘em, either.
RO: When did you find out?
JP: I think I found out a few days ago. [To Rap-A-Lot publicist Sarah Lee] Who is this Southern Entertainment?
Sarah Lee: I know they’re out of Nashville. That’s pretty much all I know.
RO: Anyway, how does it feel to be honored like this?
JP: Well, you know, it’s always an honor to be honored and recognized for sacrifice and hard work that one’s put in for years. I appreciate it.
RO: It says [the award] honors those who have contributed to the success of Southern urban indie music. I guess you can say Rap-a-Lot has done that, huh?
JP: Yeah, yeah, I would say Rap-A-Lot is the trail-blazer of doing that.
RO: What’s going on at the label right now?
JP: Right now we’re gearing up for the release of Z-Ro’s new album called Crack, and we just released ABN, which is Z-Ro and Trae.
RO: Assholes by Nature?
JP: Right. And Scarface just finished his album a couple of days ago. We’re gearing up to go out [of 2008] with a bang. And Bun B, we just finished his video up.
RO: How’s his album doing?
JP: It’s doing great. As well as one can expect in this turbulent market right now.
RO: How are you guys weathering all this music-industry bad news right now?
JP: Well, it’s rough. It’s the worst I ever witnessed it being, but people will keep rollin’, so we try to just roll ahead, and hopefully there’ll be a change in the weather up the road somewhere.
RO: Has the rap music business been as affected by the Internet and all the online ways the music business has changed as the rock music business?
JP: Well, I don’t know how the rock has been affected, but with rap, from the independent perspective, most definitely. I would say 50 percent or better, the sales have been cut because of the Internet. It’s a whole new movement.
RO: What kind of things is Rap-a-Lot doing to offset that drop?
JP: Well, it would be hard for me to disclose what we’re doing right now, because we want to try to stay a step ahead of our competition. It’s almost like a boxing match right now – as soon as you let your opponent know how you’re going to fight it, you arm him with ammunition of beating you. [Laughs] It’s tough out here. That’s all I can say. It’s tough, man.
RO: Was it last year was the 20th anniversary of Rap-A-Lot?
JP: [Chuckles] Actually the end of ’06, but in reality I guess ’07 would be. The end of [‘86] was kind of when I started it, but there wasn’t much to start.
RO: Do you think there’s any way you can talk him out of retirement?
JP: You know he just completed an album.
JP: That’s Scarface. Scarface may retire, but his retirement don’t last as long as everybody else’s. You know, he take off.
RO: Besides Rap-A-Lot, I know you have a lot of other businesses. You said real estate; what else do you have?
JP: Well, you know I manage a lot of prominent fighters. I’ve been doing a lot in boxing for seven years now. And also one of my new projects I’m excited about is Strapped condoms.
RO: Yeah, we ran an article on that this year. How’s that going?
JP: It’s going great. We’re actually focusing here in Houston, and we got a nice buzz going. We’re promoting and moving it like we would break a record. It’s moving along great – it’s spreading and I think sometime in ’09 we’ll be taking it to a whole ‘nother level.
RO: Cool. You also do a lot of community work. What are you doing on that front right now?
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JP: Well, of course we have the Prince Complex, and we’re getting ready for our gala right now. I think it’s in October; I don’t know the date right now. We just finished a basketball tournament on Labor Day. Every holiday, we always participate in giving back in some aspect. If much is given, much is expected, so we enjoy doing that.
RO: One more question: Any up-and-coming rappers you’ve got your eye on right now?
Damm D, "She Just Love Me"
JP: Yeah, I’m excited about the new artist Damm D. He’s out of Dallas, and he has the hottest record in Dallas, and the record ("She Just Love Me") is becoming the hottest record in Houston right now. – Chris Gray