SXSWorld March 2016 – Music


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 25 of 43

2 4 S X S W o r l d | M U S I C M A R C H 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M hen James Prince started Rap-A-Lot Records in Houston, Texas, in 1986, little did he know that he was launching an independent label pow- erhouse, which would spark an entire regional Southern hip-hop movement and also help create the genre later known as "gangsta rap." In advance of his SXSW Music Keynote Conversation, Prince agreed to share his thoughts and ref lections on his 30 years in the music business: Is it true you that you started Rap-A-Lot to keep your younger brother and friends in school? James Prince: That is most definitely true. The foundation was laid down between my brother and a couple of other guys. I made a promise that if they would go to school then I would support them in rap. That ultimately led to my motto of having everything being based on my word — my grand- mother always reminded me: "You said those things to those boys, so you better keep your word!" The label itself really got its start when I put together The Geto Boys, which consisted of Raheim, Juke Box and my brother. I separated Raheim to do a solo album. I struck a deal with A&M records for $150K in advance to spend on Raheim, but I also took some of it to invest in the Geto Boys. What was the musical climate like in Houston in the '80s when Rap-A-Lot began? JP: The music climate at that time on the airwaves and in our clubs was all about New York. That had a heav y inf luence in our market. Later, when I began to create my movement there was a lot of criti- cism from DJs etc., because of the "country" accent Southern rappers had. That was a hurdle we had to cross. How did you develop your business strategies of maintaining inde- pendence and getting your releases to the market quickly? JP: Well, the difference from being independent versus being in the majors is that as an independent label you have to be able to be your own boss, have your own relationships and be able to make a move immediately. In other words, if we wanted to pump out a record tomorrow, we'd already have a relationship with DJs etc. ...Typically we'd walk in clubs and different places where we knew our contacts would be, and one request later, we had them playing our track. This is in comparison to being in the majors, where you have the initial contact you have to hand over the record to, then wait for them to pass it on to someone else, who then gives it to another person, and another and so on. At Rap-A-Lot we are able to make decisions immediately. You have been credited with pushing the Geto Boys into being more lyrically provocative. What motivated your decision to ignore the common belief that commercial success was only in the middle of the road? JP: First of all I'm a man of faith. I'm an un-systemized person as well, meaning people cannot impose on me their opinions, thoughts or beliefs. I felt we had a movement with the direction we wanted to go in, and without having radio and video at the time as a support system, we did what we felt was best, and that was to create contro- versy. We addressed topics that ghettos all over the world wanted to, but did not have the podium on which to do so. I created the name Geto Boys because I wanted to be a voice for ghettos all over the world. Those same ghettos embraced us because we were them. The Geto Boys became targets for the likes of the PMRC and Senator (and GOP presidential candidate) Bob Dole. How would you describe that experience? JP: That was real challenging. We got pressure from every three- letter law enforcement organization you could think of. I was able to get through it because I believe no weapon formed against me shall prosper, and I believe in freedom of speech as well. We wanted to test that freedom of speech and test how effective that would be on behalf of our fellow Americans. Recently, you are known for promoting Drake's career. What was the process of bringing him into the Rap-A-Lot fold? JP: Drake is a discovery of my son, Jas Prince. He played Drake for me. I didn't get it, as I have stated several times. He assured me that Drake was the next guy up. At the end of the day, he used a key word he learned from spending his days at Rap-A-Lot: "he's buzzing." After verifying the buzz, I was a believer as well, and we welcomed him in and later put the relationship with Cash Money together. Thirty years ago, what did you imagine Rap-A-Lot might look like in 2016? JP: I never imagined that far, and I never imagined any of this would take place. Thirty years ago, I was just trying to fulfill a dream of becoming a millionaire, to break the poverty turf that existed within my family and community. That was my motivation. Thirty years ago, I had more of a day-to-day mentality, but as time passed I did realize hip-hop would become a major inf luence within the world. Before we even had a black president, I knew we would get there because I saw the effect hip-hop was having on every person in every race. It was penetrating the heart of the youth all over the world. T James Prince take part in a SXSW Music Keynote Conversation with Bun B, tomorrow (Friday, March 18) at 11am. See for the latest details. James Prince: Southern Rap Pioneer Looks Back on 30 Year Career by Andy Smith W J a m es Prin ce B R U C E B E L L M E D I A

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of SXSWORLD - SXSWorld March 2016 – Music