INTERVIEW: J. Prince has stepped out of the shadows to take control of his own narrative.
“Respect and love are greater than fear.” This is the basis of James Prince’s whole operation. A quiet storm in both form and function, it’s hard to imagine that this is the man who was “raised by wolves” if we’re letting Scarface paint the picture. A modest frame and a sedated southern accent, courtesy of his Houston roots, all but defy the dark narrative taped to the industry veteran’s back. After a conversation peppered with years of experience and free advice, the idea is even harder to believe.
This summer marked the arrival of J. Prince’s official memoir, The Art & Science of Respect (with a foreword penned by Drake) and in it, the notoriously reclusive Rap-A-Lot Records founder lays it all on the table in an effort to dissect the makings of one of the most respected men in Hip-Hop, dismantling some preconceptions while confirming others surrounding his checkered past. He made a stop in Atlanta at this year’s A3C Conference in the promotion of the biographical work, to speak in an intimate chat with Day 1 Radio co-hosts Maurice Garland and Brandon LSK. Afterward, I got the chance to sit down with him to go into further detail about a few of his most poignant takes from that conversation: his outlook on next generation, the art of not “punking out,” and his often overlooked Christian faith.
Refinement and reflection color Prince's every word and you can bet that a career that spans over three decades comes with jewels to last a lifetime.
Read the interview below.
HotNewHipHop: You noted that the support you’ve received in response to your new book has been a bit of a shock. How often do you reflect on the widespread reach of your legacy? Did a young J. Prince ever imagine this much influence?
J. Prince: In retrospect, I didn’t see any of this coming. I just wanted to break the poverty curse where my family was concerned. I didn’t have any idea that I would be in the music game. In the beginning, all I knew was that in order to become a millionaire, I had to play in a million dollar playing field. I understood that much. Sometimes, you get the fortune tellers that will sit here and say, ‘Oh, I saw this, knew this.’ Nah. I didn’t see it. I didn’t know it. I’m just glad it’s here.
According to you, artists, now more than ever, have to take on the roles that would traditionally be outsourced: manager, publicist, and distributor. With that in mind, how important is it to build out entrepreneurship along with artistry?
Artist development has become a situation where the record company wants the artists to do that themselves. With understanding that, you have to apply some entrepreneurship in order to even be heard. All that ties into is turning up your hustle. You have to relentlessly turn up your hustle. If the competition is going for one hour, you go two, three, four hours. It’s a matter of turning your hustle up.
You very often stress the importance of “keeping it real.” What is the biggest piece advice that you would give to the generation rising under you on balancing authenticity in the age of social media?
Don’t be a follower. Don’t let society make you submit to the things of the world. It’s a lot of pressure—more pressure on this generation than ever before, but it’s important to stand your ground on what you believe in and what you were taught by your elders. Don’t compromise.
You dabbled in rapping before, the stint was brief because you wanted to stay in your own lane. Nowadays, the “music executive” has become what the superproducers became: a star in their own right. In your case, it took a while for you to step out from the shadows in the first place. Why was it important for you to let your artists do their own thing and not force your own spotlight?
When you’re building a team—just like a football team or a basketball team—you want the people in each position who are best in that position to play. You don’t want a quarterback trying to be a center. That isn’t what he does. He throws the ball. It’s the same way in the music game. For one to get caught up in the spotlight or get caught up in the moment because the lights are on or the stars are shining—that’s wrong. That’s not even exercising good leadership. I mean I love to see the rappers—a lot of things came with their success—but under no circumstances did I want they had. I knew they didn’t have what I had. So, you do you and I’ma do me. I was secure with doing me and at the end of the day, we won.
With that being said, you’ve also made decisions in what you believe were appropriate times to step outside of your traditional role. Specifically, when you stepped in to mediate Drake’s beefs this year. Where did that sense of responsibility come from? Is it attached to the role of leadership that you take on?
Yeah. I would hope that anybody that has some sense in their head would see a situation that’s going all the way left, or see their fellow man who’s going to crash or fall off a bridge, would have enough nerve to speak up, and say, 'Hey brother that’s wrong. You gon’ die if you go that way full speed because that a bridge with fire underneath.' So, yeah we most definitely have a social responsibility.
There's a pretty dark and menacing narrative that follows you around. Your book reveals how much of a man of faith you actually are and how important your faith is to you. How do you manage to balance spiritual ground in an industry that fosters an environment that tends to go against tenets of your Christian faith?
I tell everybody that my personal life and my business life are two separate things. I think it’s important for people to know that men of God—prophets, disciples, all of them—they weren’t punks. So, one may have a misconception about a lot of these prophets and a lot of these men of God that have been here before me. You don’t have to punk out to be a man of God.
Define “punking out” in this industry.
Punking out in this industry would be letting a person handle you any kind of way that they want to handle you without any consequences.
Right, and you mentioned the importance of letting people know what the consequences are from the very beginning. How do you go about imparting that on others—the philosophy of getting what you give?
More is caught than taught. It’s like talking to my kids. I explain to them, ‘Okay. Here is what you’re doing. Now, the next time you cross this line, there’s going to be consequences.’ So, therefore they can’t say, ‘I didn’t know.’ I love for a person to know. It’s one thing to do something out of ignorance. It’s another thing to purposely do something no matter what, and those are the kind of individuals that I have a problem with.
In staying behind the scenes, you managed to avoid a few of the pitfalls that a lot of your peers have endured. With that came longevity for you while we’ve witnessed others public fall from grace. What was the foresight and focus that you had in order to ensure that you didn’t end up on the other side of that narrative?
I stay grounded with my spirituality. It was the foundation of everything because if I didn’t have that, then, I would’ve almost committed suicide. It’s always about tapping into a power that’s greater than the power of bondage and that power for me was God and I never lost my connection with Him. I’ve done a lot of bad things, but I always found my way back because I never lost my connection.