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Even from the back row of Austin’s 3Ten music venue, behind 250 people, it’s hard not to notice James Prince’s wristwatch.
As the diamonds danced atop his timepiece, the 53-year-old Houston-born entrepreneur answered a myriad of questions on stage during a live Q&A as a part of the promotional tour for his latest memoir, The Art and Science of Respect.
When the session concluded, nearly the entire audience lined up for their chance at a meet-and-greet. Though I was eager to rattle off my handful of inquisitions on the spot, I resisted. My time would soon come in a phone interview.
It’s hard not to be drawn to Prince. Despite his small frame, his urbane demeanor permeates every arm motion, stride and syllable. When he chooses to speak, which is often saved for only the most-necessary of occasions, he delivers his thoughts deliberately, every word coated in a syrupy southern drawl.
“I feel like I’ve definitely been everywhere I want to be and beyond,” he told me. “I really had no idea that it would be this fruitful.
By “it” he means the entrepreneurial journey that lead him on a path of wealth and respect. As a product of Houston’s Fifth Ward, surviving the daily tests and threats on his life is a success in and of itself. In 1979, Texas Monthly labeled the ward “Texas’ toughest, proudest, baddest ghetto.”
In 1986, Prince formed Rap-A-Lot Records as a way to keep his brother, Sir Rap-A-Lot, off the streets, and to service the overlooked Houston rap scene. Despite an immense amount of talent, the third coast was ignored by executives and exploited by east coast DJs. Throughout its 30 year history, Rap-A-Lot became one of the most successful independent hip-hop labels, beginning with the prosperity of the Geto Boys and the promotion of Pimp C, Bun B, Z-Ro, Trae tha Truth, Lil Keke, Slim Thug, Lil Flip and more.
But as quickly as the attention touched the city, it moved onto other southern hip-hop hubs such as Atlanta and Miami. Prince believes the lack of Houston representation in today's rap world is because its talent “chose not to perform while the spotlight was on the city. Simply meaning, they went into other businesses, like grills and nightclubs, versus getting in the studio and performing while the spotlight was on.”
Prince’s son, Jas, picked up the slack. In 2007, he found a relatively unknown rapper named Drake on Myspace. The Toronto native eventually signed a deal with Cash Money/Young Money. Jas was entitled to 33% of the rapper’s earnings but was never properly compensated. An $11 million suit was filed against both companies. The suit is still ongoing but Prince claims that they are communicating with the executives at Universal and hopes it will all be resolved soon.
More recently, he stepped in to settle a vicious lyrical spat between Drake and Pusha T. The personal digs in each’s songs reminded Prince of how quickly a rap beef can escalate. In 1997, just weeks before the Notorious B.I.G.’s untimely passing, Prince urged the Ready to Die rapper and his manager Puff Daddy to leave Los Angeles to protect Biggie’s safety. For Prince, no hip-hop battle is worth a life, especially one he and his son have a financial stake in.
Confronting music executives and dissolving disputes only adds to his reputation for being a resilient, and sometimes feared, industry veteran.
“The music game is a game that will run the weak off,” he said. “I went into this business with a made up mind, meaning not making it wasn’t even an option.”
It’s the same tenacity that helped him take on the boxing world, too. In 2000, Prince managed a then-130-pound Floyd Mayweather before taking on clients such as Andre Ward and Diego Corrales.
In addition to chronicling Prince’s rise out of poverty, The Art & Science of Respect is littered with nuggets of tycoon-esque wisdom and business lessons. When asked how he finessed his way through the ins and outs of business, he told me that his achievements were the product of trial and error, and possibly genetics.
But how does a proud southerner and church-going Christian justify his lifelong affinity for wealth, knowing that the Bible plainly states that the love of money is the root of all evil?
“I don’t love money, but I like it so much it’s hard to tell the difference,” he admitted.
With his monetary needs met and his memoir on shelves, Prince now has his focus set on producing a personal biopic. Until the time comes for his story to be on the television screens, he has one simple goal: “I just want to have fun all day, every day.”