Now that he's laying down the law on a regular basis, it's time for a refresher course on how J. Prince became one of hip-hop's most formidable figures.
Over the past year or so, Southern rap lynchpin J. Prince’s newsworthiness has risen to unanticipated levels. Regarded as a self-made entrepreneur that etched his own space in hip-hop’s lore, the founder of the illustrious Rap-A-Lot Records has kept his head above ground in a way that is at odds with his tried and tested business practices. Where stories of J. Prince pulling rank are normally consigned to hushed tones, industry corridors and speculation, he’s been no stranger to making his presence felt in recent months. When Drake and Pusha T were trading vitriolic diss tracks, the Houston institution was quick to explain that he used his reverence and status to prevent the situation from reaching a fever pitch:
“I spoke with Drake. I made an OG call to Drake this morning, telling him, ‘I don’t want you to respond to this. We’re going to put this to bed because we can’t get into the pigpen with pigs. Because pigs turn into hogs and hogs get slaughtered.”
Just last week, J. Prince once again deployed his power to put out a call-to-arms over the YBN Almighty Jay robbery in New York. As the young artist is a Rap-A-Lot affiliate, the Texan took exception to the ambush and used Instagram to mobilize the industry:
“Mob Ties Call To My Real Street Niggas Around The World But Especially On The East Coast In The Bronx. There’s A Clown By The Name Of Zae And His Crew Who Want To Become Famous By Bragging About Robbing Rap Industry Niggas. They Recently Bragged About Robbing The Artist YBN Almighty Jay Whom I’m Invested In. They’ve Robbed Him Of His Money And Jewelry Including A Rap-A-Lot Piece. So Therefore They Have Robbed A Piece Of Me. This Is A Perfect Opportunity To Execute Our Unity Where We Don’t Allow Moment Thinkers To Muddy The Water Over The Movement."
In the eyes of many, his decision to vocalize this recruitment drive on social media was a severe miscalculation and a violation of the well-worn credo that bosses move in silence. Met with jeers and general disdain from the perpetrators, it marks a rare occasion where a man with the OG status of J. Prince has been publicly disregarded. Although it’s just accepted as verified fact by hip-hop heads, this recent prominence brings up the question of how exactly J. Prince attained this level of esteem and why the utterance of his name can be enough to quell a volatile situation.
J. Prince poses with Dave Mays, Benzino, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Russell Simmons and Suge Knight at the 2004 Source Awards - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
Considering he titled his autobiography The Art & Science of Respect, it’s safe to say that earning respect played a pivotal role in placing him among hip-hop’s elite. Widely regarded as the progenitor of southern hip-hop as we know it today, Rap-A-Lot Records may have started from the grassroots but became a force to be reckoned with in the late 80s through to the 2000s. Born of Prince’s unwillingness to languish in a cycle of poverty and to keep his brother off the streets, the label that would be instrumental in the careers of The Geto Boys, Big Mello, Devin The Dude, Bun B, Pimp C and others was made possible by his unwavering drive to escape his circumstances:
“When you come up from the ’hood, the negativity—some people, it breaks along the journey, I never allowed any of it to penetrate into my spirit to where I was knocked off track from chasing my dream.”
His keen business mind helped turn the once-ridiculed notion of southern hip-hop into a worldwide enterprise, and to that effect, one of the main sources of Prince’s reputation comes from his readiness to go to bat for the causes he believes in. Alongside rumours that he fended off a DEA drug investigation with a timely $200,000 donation to Al Gore’s presidential campaign-- a claim that he has since denied-- and pleaded with Biggie to get out of LA before his untimely murder, one of the more infamous legends that surrounds Prince is that he prevented Master P from murdering Pimp C over a financial dispute. Allegedly prompted after the two camps collaborated on “Break Em’ Off Somethin”, the story goes that the No Limit soldier kidnapped the UGK legend and pistol-whipped him before calling Prince to ask for permission to slay him. As is to be expected, J forbid him from doing so and saved his fellow Texan’s skin. On 2006’s “I Know You Strapped,” Sweet Jones himself seemed to corroborate the story amid labeling P a “phony 2Pac”:
“You n****s weak so you call Houston for the hit, But didn't know that we got gangsta n***s all over this bitch, So now you bitches gotta deal with the King ho.”
In the years since Rap-A-Lot’s southern monopoly was besieged by other imprints that followed similar doctrines, Prince has diversified his interests into everything from boxing management to his condom brand Strapped. With clients ranging from Floyd Mayweather, to Andre Ward and Skakur Stevenson, it would be easy to assume that Prince had relinquished his formerly steely grip on the music business. However, when it comes to today’s hip-hop paradigm, he and his son Jas’ greatest contribution is the discovery of Drake. In an interview with Complex, Prince discussed how he set the course for a budding rapper from Toronto to become a commercial phenom
“My son Jas Prince discovered Drake. He played some of his music for me and I said, "Man, you like this?" I couldn't hear it at first but Jas convinced me that this was the new sound and to trust him. Then he says that Drake is buzzin' so I asked, where? Jas goes, "In Canada." [Laughs.] So I call some homies in Canada to check if the buzz was real and they confirmed that he was hot out there. We brought him down to Houston and my son introduced him to Lil Wayne and suggested that Wayne take Drake on tour and that's when he put his arm around Drake on stage.”
Drake and Jas Prince attend Drake's concert after-party at the Tryst nightclub in Las Vegas, 2010 - David Becker/WireImage/Getty Images
From then on, the former used car salesman and his son have been allotted executive producer spots on Thank Me Later and Nothing Was The Same respectively and remain close counsel for the MC. In 2015, Prince made their affiliation known to the world when he released "Courtesy Call." Not unlike the album intros that he’s provided for Bun B and others in tone, the spoken word track was a stark warning to Diddy, Suge Knight, Lil Wayne, Baby and Slim in which he claimed that “these n****s is awakening a sleeping giant” after there were several disputes that revolved around Drake’s career.
Four years on, his latest public service announcement on YBN Almighty Jay’s behalf is in keeping with how he laid down the law on other perceived trespasses. The only difference is that this time, it has fallen on deaf ears and the robbers are actively provoking Prince-- so much so, that Prince has followed up w crystal clear clarification of his intentions with the original call-out.
At this stage, it’s the first real test of his solidified status as an OG in quite some time. Predicated on his incorrigible ambition and firm belief in the importance of respect, his rep as a music industry legend was spurred on by his ability to traverse over any obstacle to success. As lauded for his philanthropy and commitment to the 5th Ward district that moulded him; he once donated $100,000 to Meals That Heal-- as he is infamous in the rap game, Prince is the sort of one-of-a-kind outlier that you only find within hip-hop’s fascinating history books.
Whatever happens with this latest YBN Almighty Jay fracas, there’s no better way to depict the tenacity of this grizzled vet than with words from the man himself:
"People don't just volunteer and smile and give you a hug and say, "Come and take my place." Sometimes you have to get creative and make different things happen to let one know that [you're] for real. And that's about as clear as I can get on that."