SXSW Music Keynote: James Prince

Rap mogul clearly needs to pen a memoir

“Fifth Ward is one of the most beautiful places in Houston,” smiled mogul James Prince, tongue planted in cheek. In a comfortable half-conversation, half-interview with close friend and Southern rap legend Bun B on Friday, the Rap-A-Lot Records CEO and businessman delved into the beginnings of the label, giving back, and his love for the home team.

James Prince (photo by Jana Birchum)

Most of the story familiar or Google-able, there were some interesting, previously unknown nuggets. A man clearly in need of persuasion to write a memoir, Prince’s most intriguing answers came from who he did – and did not – manage to sign to his label. Jokingly asking if Mathew Knowles was in the house, he says Beyoncé’s father brought Destiny’s Child to Rap-A-Lot. Prince claims he offered a blank check, which may have spooked Knowles.

Two other could-have-beens: Oakland rapper Too Short and – of all people – Vanilla Ice. The latter was actually passed over to his business partner, who elected not to sign the platinum-selling (and highly marketable at the time) “Ice Ice Baby” rapper, because he didn’t think he was that talented. Too Short’s language – his derogatory lyrics about women – proved a sharp sticking point with women at the Rap-A-Lot offices.

Another fascinating note from Prince, a devout family man, was his decision to not allow his young children to listen to his product, explaining he “didn’t want hip-hop raising” his kids. Consistently quoting God-fearing aphorisms, and paraphrasing Proverbs 18:21 (“life and death is in the tongue”), there’s a clear spiritual lean to his determinations.

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SXSW, SXSW Music 2016, James Prince, Bun B, Beyoncé, Vanilla Ice, Too Short, Rap-A-Lot

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