Still, the drama isn't over. When J Prince stopped by the Billboard offices to discuss his new memoir, The Art & Science of Respect, he showed off an anonymous text he received earlier that day that told him to “Keep Pusha T’s name out your mouth” and included addresses of significance to Prince. “I understand where it can go, and I’m trying to circumvent it,” said a soft-spoken Prince, who wore a black polo shirt, diamond watch, and a pinky ring.
Below, Prince tells Billboard about the decision to keep Drake out of the beef, his relationship with Gangster Disciple founder Larry Hoover, and his response to Scarface's allegations about his business practices.
What made you decide to release a book?
I wanted an opportunity to share my wisdom, knowledge, and understanding with the world. My wins, my losses -- everything that happened and came in between those episodes. I’m a guy that started with nothing and figured out how to turn nothing into something, and I want to share that. I want to share my blueprint and the trails I blazed along the journey with those interested in having something in life, [those who] want to know a shortcut.
A book is an opportunity to take control of your story. You have a reputation for being fearsome and violent. Are you comfortable with your reputation? And what do you want the book to show that people don’t already know?
I think my book is going to alleviate a lot of nonsense when it comes to where fear is concerned. I feel like I’m a person that deserves respect, has earned respect, and gives respect. I think reading my book will be a source of information to really show that. I’m sharing some intimate parts of my life. When I say my wins and losses, you have an opportunity to see my background, to really decide if you want my glory by reading my story.
Over the weekend, we learned that you put in a phone call to Drake and asked him to avoid responding to Pusha-T’s “The Story of Adidon.” How much convincing did that take?
Me and Drake have a mutual respect for one another. When I speak, he listens. When he speaks, I listen. I spoke in a manner where it made sense. I didn’t use my words loosely or lightly. I had some substance about what I said. Basically, in a nutshell, we have a situation that crossed the line of music. He dissed Drake’s mom, he disrespected his father, he disrespected 40 -- a man that’s dying, who’s ill. He crossed the line where music is concerned. We are people with a movement. This ain’t happen with Drake by accident.
When you have those kind of moments, it’s a pigpen mentality, and you have to think in a situation like that. You don’t embrace those invitations when you know it’s an invitation that’s above and beyond music. It’s a pigpen invitation. You can jump in a pigpen and become a hog, or you can stay on solid ground and deal with the issue and keep moving on [with] your success. That was our decision. I told him, he heard me, and I’m thankful he listened to it.
On the other side, you didn’t ask me this, but I’m going to volunteer this: Kanye has made one of the most intelligent decisions of his life to feel the same and not want this as well. He could have advocated differently, but I respect his decision. He told me he’s a family man -- I take him for his word, and all of that went into my decision to not allow Drake to damage the situation even further.
One of G.O.O.D. Music’s most important producers is Mike Dean, who came up through Rap-A-Lot Records. Did he connect you and Kanye?
Kanye and Mike Dean are [close]. I remember Kanye coming to Houston, when Kanye was not on the radar, to do things with Mike Dean. We go back that far. Definitely, when I spoke with him, he was in Mike Dean’s presence. Even when I calculated everything, it was hard for me to not think about Mike Dean, because I understand that’s the way he eats. What I heard being prepared [by Drake] was going to affect the rest of Kanye’s career, and it was going to cripple Pusha. I thought about it all. I didn’t just think about us. I was thinking about the whole situation. We aren’t in business to tear one another down, to destroy the way his family eats and the way he lives. With that being said, we’re past it.
I think a lot of people were wondering why you give a damn about Kanye and Pusha-T’s careers, but those connections help provide context.
And I heard from the brother. I talked to [West]. He didn’t want this. He said, “I’m a family man.” So I feel the spirit of individuals through the phone, and I’m like, "Nah." I understand what this man just done, but we’re not like him. Why am I going to tell my man to do the very thing that I just [found disrespectful]? I’ve never been one to abuse my power. I try to do right.
A lot of people think Drake is taking an L by not responding. In hip-hop, reputation can mean a lot. What do you make of that?
They can have that opinion, but we know we’re not taking an L. We understand what we’re doing, and we live and die by this decision we’re making. So for those who feel like this is a bad decision where we’re concerned, you’ve got that right. I don’t even want to change their mind, that’s their right. But that’s not going to change what we’re doing. Life continues.
You told Sway that you thought this beef could reach 2Pac and Biggie territory. What makes you think it could go that far?
Whenever disrespect is fertilized, it can always go there. When mother, father, and others are disrespected, it can always go there. I just got a text on my phone from somebody with a threat about staying away from Pusha-T. I don’t know where it came from, but I see addresses [of people I know]. “Keep his name out of your mouth, or else.” [J Prince scrolls through his phone and shows a text message from a number that isn’t saved as a contact.]
These are real-life situations we have to deal with. I understand where it can go, and I’m trying to circumvent it. But by the same token, I’m really the wrong person to be trying to go there with. I understand it, and I’m in a position to try to put an end to it. But the devil don’t even like peace. Believe it or not, he sees you going through peace, and he don’t want it. That means nothing. But this decision, we’re standing by it, and we’re going to move along to do good business.
Have you received any other threats before this?
This is the first one, but it’s definitely on my phone. Of course, people talk loosely, but a pair of lips will say anything.… Your people that surround you are going to come together. Somebody want stripes. Somebody want to get brownie points. When you don’t put these kind of fires to bed, that fire turns into a blaze or explosion, and there it is. That’s real life.
We’ve seen Drake battle with Meek Mill, and he was willing to battle with Pusha-T. It seems clear that Drake isn’t content with just reigning the charts -- he wants to be respected as a lyricist. How often do you guys talk about that?
We don’t really talk about that, but I think he’s already earned that. I think Drake has earned a lyricist position in the hall of fame. But I definitely don’t want him to jump in the pigpen to earn those kind of stripes. Had this been a level playing field situation -- like him and Meek, or many others that happened before him, where mothers weren’t hurt and fathers weren’t hurt -- then may the best man win. But when you go into households and take it to these different levels, that’s where it goes.
Lil Wayne is currently in a legal dispute with Birdman over contracts and compensation. Has Drake been affected by this?
I’m trying to help my son resolve his issue where Cash Money is concerned. We’re making progress. Drake, his attorneys handle that side of business with him. If he hasn’t said nothing about it, he doesn’t have no problem with it. We’re about to get our business straight. I can’t speak on Lil Wayne, but I think progress is being made all around. To the credit of Cash Money, they are moving forward with getting us straight. So it’s just an amount of time.
What kind of growth have you seen with Drake over the years?
I’m the one who brought him to America. My son Jas discovered him, and we brought him here. It goes back that far. He’s evolved as a man first. All around. I see him being more business-oriented. He’s allowed his entrepreneurship to expand. The guy’s a wise dude -- he’s far from stupid. Anybody who can deliver hits like that is very artistic. Sharp dude, constantly evolving.
You have a reputation for being very protective of people like Drake, Scarface, and the Geto Boys. How do you decide who’s worth your protection?
When I embrace a person as my family and as my friend, more of my obstacles and challenges in life come from people I embrace than for me. That’s just how I’m built, you know what I mean? I’m loyal that way. If I’m down with you, I’m down with you. Ain’t no limitations as far as that’s concerned. That’s in my DNA.
You famously had a a conversation with Larry Hoover, the founder of the Gangster Disciples, on Geto Boys’ album The Resurrection. How did you set that up, and what was that conversation like?
A lot of people don’t know that Chicago was one of the first cities to really embrace Rap-A-Lot. Before Houston embraced us, they could relate to our subject matter before anybody around the world. With that being said, I spent a lot of time in Chicago, and eventually, Larry Hoover reached out and extended an invitation for me to visit. Upon visiting with the brother, he knew all about me and my music. We had an opportunity to really brainstorm together and hear his love for his community.
I had an opportunity to express how I wanted to take Rap-A-Lot to a different level, the same way that the East Coast and West Coast were on. I wrote all about it in my book. I have a chapter called Larry Hoover. He’s one of the most brilliant guys that I met -- a lot of our brilliant homies are behind bars.
Scarface released a book in 2015, and while he had love for you, he also had some negative things to say about your business dealings. Have you spoken to him about what he said, and are you on good terms? [Ed note: In Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap, Scarface wrote that J Prince released two Scarface albums from leftover studio sessions without his permission; he also said that once his contract with Rap-A-Lot was cfulfilled, Prince told potential clients he was still signed.)
I don’t even know what that is. Here’s the thing, and this goes for Scarface and all the others: I never did nothing other than honor my word. Can’t a man on this planet say I’ve done differently than an agreement I’ve made. If I didn’t go above or beyond, that’s on me. But I’ve done what I was supposed to do. Face never said any of these kind of things to me. I can see Face right now, and it’s love. When I talk to him about it, he didn’t say it: “I didn’t say that. They worded that wrong.” It’s hard for me to even answer them kind of situations. It be fake to me.
One reason I try to distance myself from people who give mixed messages is because a lot of time, it’s phony shit to me, and I’m not comfortable around it. I don’t even know how to address it, because I don’t know what it is. He don’t come to me with that, so I don’t know. It’s a hell of a thing to love out of one side of your mouth. But I understand that he’s bipolar, so I don’t know if that has something to do with it. But from what I know, Face got love for me. This is what he shows me, this is what he tells me, we don’t have no issues.
Rap-A-Lot has been putting out music for more than 30 years. Which Rap-A-Lot artist never got their just due?
One of the groups I think never got their proper credit was the Odd Squad. Devin the Dude was in the group. The producer was blind, his name was Blind Rob. There was another member named Jughead. Those guys were really talented, and I don’t think they got their proper due. I didn’t have the machine. They were more of a commercial kind of group, and I needed the power of a major machine to crack them. Most of my groups, I was able to crack them through the streets. But the Odd Squad had a commercial twist to them. But you should check that out. They were dope, man.