J. Prince talks about building economic freedom and his hip-hop legacy

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Known simply as J. Prince, the legacy of James Prince is cemented in hip-hop. As CEO of Rap-a-Lot Records, Prince has spent the past two decades putting Houston on the map when it comes to rap music. But with the publication of his memoirs, The Art and Science of Respect: A Memoir by James Prince, last summer, he now aims to teach a thing or two about the music industry to those who would like to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps. During SXSW last week, Prince sat down with ESSENCE to discuss his memoir, legacy, and even the recent controversy surrounding his YBN artist Almighty Jay, who was jumped and robbed in a heated altercation in the Bronx.

ESSENCE: What made you decide to write a dissertation?

Jacques Prince: I was traveling the world and people always asked me how I was doing the things I was doing. 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 wanted to lead by example in writing my book.

ESSENCE: How did you choose what to include and exclude from your briefs?

JP: Well, I absolutely didn’t want to include anything incriminating. Right off the bat, I knew I had to have my lawyers read it over. Sometimes if you give people enough room to lie and do different things, they will. But above all, I wanted to write about my life, a biography of what I did, of what I lived. My what, where, when and how; my before, my after, everything that happened in between. A lot of times people, you know, want your fame but don’t know your story. So I felt like in telling my story there was an opportunity to really inspire and motivate people. With my story, with my journey, you can’t help but be inspired and motivated because I will 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 that I went through to achieve the goals that I wanted to accomplish. So I just wanted to keep it real. When talking to young people in the future it is important to be as transparent as possible. I’ve learned while raising my kids that when you try to hide different things that you might have been through, you can be a little ashamed… to be honest about it. And to show that “OK, I went through that, I did that, I went through that, and I got out of that. It’s a level of respect that goes where they’re concerned. Because now they can say, “Oh, my dad did that. He is not perfect; he doesn’t hide from all the real things, the real weaknesses and the different things he had.

ESSENCE: What obstacles have you encountered in your career?

JP: Well in my career I guess racism is at the top of the list. Racism, harassment, the obstacle of poverty. When you are surrounded by poor people, they become an obstacle because not everyone believes in you; everyone is trying to trip you up and trip you up so you can’t achieve your goal. My neighborhood was a big 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, learning to survive in this environment.

ESSENCE: What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the music business, either as an artist or as an executive?

JP: I think one of the first things they need to do is match up with a great lawyer. To me, it’s like the basis for being able to keep whatever you earn if you are successful, and a lot of people do it backwards. A lot of people are successful and do a lot of things and then when they end up going broke they have regrets. I think it’s so important to make sure you line up with a good lawyer. And from there, find like-minded people to motivate you. During my trip of trying to climb, if I had hung out with certain people or kept myself involved in certain situations then I would never have been able to achieve the goal I wanted to achieve. So it’s important to align yourself with like-minded people. I believe there are three types of friends to have on this journey: one who admires you, one you can see eye to eye with, and one you admire. And, you know, it was like a balance for me, versus hanging out with a lot of clowns.

ESSENCE: Recently you had an artist who had his chain ripped off and beat him up. Did you tell him to beware of the people he surrounds himself with? Where is he from?

JP: He’s from Houston.

ESSENCE: And it happened in the Bronx. Do you think he was targeted?

JP: Well, it was in a hotel. A lot of people think this guy was like …

ESSENCE: Stroll through the streets?

JP: Yes. He was at the hotel going to his room, and you have clowns hanging out in the lobby who want to commit crimes and see him as a weak vessel. You know what I mean. And a lot of the time, coming to my neighborhood, I had to figure out how to handle it, being a little guy. A lot of times when guys see your size and see you in a vulnerable situation, they see you as prey. Here’s a guy with jewelry, you know, with money and, you know, three or four guys with him, and you’re all in your twenties. So they’re, like, clowns. I call them “thinkers of the moment” – the guys who are caught up in the moment and don’t think about the next day. It’s always about the present moment, what they can get, what they can do now and tomorrow. So they saw an opportunity and, you know, they took it and did what they wanted to do, and then made it public. And since they went public, you know what I mean, I made it public. That’s what they all asked for, and then you want to cry when I made it public. So that’s the kind of thing that often happens with a lot of bullies. So long [as] they can bully, they’re fine, but when you bully them back, that’s another story.

ESSENCE: So what do you want your hip-hop heritage to be?

JP: I would like to be remembered as an economic builder who has helped shape, shape and uplift my community. I have shared my economic plan with a lot of successful people today. If I can be remembered today as doing this and being an asset in my community, that is enough for me.

SUBJECTS: j prince SXSW


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