Known simply as J. Prince, James Prince’s legacy is cemented in hip-hop. As the CEO of Rap-a-Lot Records, Prince has spent the last two decades putting Houston on the map when it comes to rap music. But with the release of his memoir, The Art & Science of Respect: A Memoir by James Prince, last summer, he’s now aiming to teach others who may want to walk in his entrepreneurial footsteps a thing or two about the music business.
During SXSW last week, Prince sat down with ESSENCE to discuss his memoir, his legacy and even the recent controversy surrounding his artist YBN Almighty Jay, who was jumped and robbed in a brutal altercation in the Bronx.
ESSENCE: What made you decide to write a memoir?
James Prince: I would travel around the world, and people would always ask how I accomplish the things that I accomplished. So I thought, what better way to share information than in a book? I believe readers are leaders. So I consider myself a leader, and I wanted to lead by example, by writing my book.
ESSENCE: How did you pick what to include and leave out of your memoir?
J.P.: Well, I definitely didn’t want to include anything that was incriminating. Off the top, I knew I had to have my lawyers read over things. Sometimes, if you leave room enough for people to lie and do different things, they do it. But mainly, I wanted to write about my life, a biography of what I’ve done, what I’ve been through. My what, where, when and hows; my befores, my afters, everything that happened in between.
A lot of times, people, you know, they want your glory but they don’t know your story. So I felt like, by saying my story, there was an opportunity to really inspire and motivate people. With my story, along with my journey, you can’t help but to be inspired and motivated because I’m going to be at your doorstep. You’re going to be able to relate to some of the things and some of the obstacles, and the different things I went through to accomplish the goals I wanted to accomplish. So I just wanted to keep it real.
When you’re talking to the youth, the future, it’s important to be as transparent as possible. I learned from raising my kids that when you try to hide different things that you may have went through, that you may be a little ashamed of … to be honest about it. And to show that “OK, I went through this, I did this, I went through this, and I came out of this.” It’s a level of respect that goes where they’re concerned. Because now they can say, “Oh, my dad had done that. He’s not perfect; he’s not hiding from all the real things, the real weaknesses and different things that he had.”
ESSENCE: What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in your career?
J.P.: Well, in my career, I guess racism is on the top of the list. Racism, harassment, the obstacle of poverty. When you’re surrounded with poverty-minded individuals, they become an obstacle because everybody doesn’t believe in you; everybody is trying to trip you and cause you to stumble so you’re not able to reach your goal. My neighborhood was a major obstacle, you know, being in the jungle, being in the water with the sharks, and having to figure out how to survive. But those obstacles also became my strengths, you know, by learning how to survive in that environment.
ESSENCE: What advice would you give young people who are looking to get in the music business, either as an artist or as an executive?
J.P.: I think one of the first things they need to do is align themselves with a great attorney. To me, that’s like the foundation of being able to keep everything you earn if you become successful, and a lot of people do it ass-backward. A lot of people become successful and do a lot of things, and then when they wind up broke, they have regrets. I think it’s so important to make sure you align yourself up with a great attorney. And then from there, find like-minded individuals to motivate you.
During my journey of trying to come up, if I would have hung with certain people or kept myself involved in certain situations, then I never would’ve been able to reach the goal that I wanted to reach. So it’s important to align yourself with like-minded individuals. I believe there are three types of friends to have along that journey: one that looks up to you, one you can see eye to eye with, and the one you look up to. And, you know, that was like a balance to me, versus hanging with a lot of clowns.
ESSENCE: Recently you had an artist who got his chain snatched and beat up. Have you told him to be leery of the people he surrounds himself with? Where is he from?
J.P.: He’s from Houston.
ESSENCE: And it happened in the Bronx. Do you think he was targeted?
J.P.: Well, it was in a hotel. A lot of people think this guy was like …
ESSENCE: Roaming the streets?
J.P.: Yeah. He was in the hotel going to his room, and you got some clowns hanging out in the lobby who want to commit some crimes and saw him as a weak vessel. You know what I mean. And a lot of time, coming up in my hood, I had to figure out how to deal with that, being a small guy. A lot of time when guys see your size and see you in a vulnerable situation, then they look at you as prey.
Here’s a guy with jewelry, you know, with money and, you know, three or four guys with him, and you all 20-some deep. So it’s, like, some clowns. I call them “moment thinkers”—the guys who get caught up in the moment and don’t think about tomorrow. It’s always about right now, what they can get, what they can do right now, and don’t care about tomorrow.
So they saw an opportunity and, you know, they grabbed it and did what they wanted to do, and then publicized it. And since they publicized, you know what I mean, I publicized it. This is what they all asked for, and then one wants to cry when I publicized it. So that’s the kind of thing that goes on with a lot of bullies a lot of times. As long [as] they can bully, they’re fine, but when you bully them back, it’s a different story.
ESSENCE: So what do you want your legacy in hip-hop to be?
J.P.: I would like to be remembered as an economic builder that helped to shape, mold and uplift my community. I shared my economic blueprint with a lot of people that are successful today. If I can be remembered in this day and age as doing that and being an asset in my community, that’s enough for me.