You may have known J Prince from the mid-1980s when he founded Rap-A-Lot Records, or recently after he took to the internet to defend his son, J Prince Junior, after the shooting of U.S. rapper and Migos member, Takeoff. Whichever the case, he is not a new name in the music sphere, especially for hip-hop fans. However, how much do you know about this music executive, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Rap-A-Lot Records? Let’s find out.
J Prince Early Life
James L Smith, popularly known as J. Prince, James Prince, or Lil J, was born on October 31, 1965, in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a 16-year-old mother, Sharon Johnson. He was raised in the ward’s ‘Bloody Nickel’ apartments, known for extreme poverty, crime, drug use, and violence. While still a child, J Prince wanted to make something out of himself and started mowing his neighbours’ Shady Acres land, working on welding trucks, playing craps, and selling stolen marijuana plants while still playing football.
Besides growing up in one of the toughest places in Houston, Prince came into contact with death at an early age, losing his sister to a train accident on her way home from school. He also watched his friends and family get jailed and kept moving from one school and home to the next before finally graduating from Kashmere High School. Despite this challenging upbringing, Prince’s spirit wasn’t broken as he became one of the most successful hip-hop music executives, which we will see in the next section.
As shocking as you may find it, Prince started his professional career as a bank teller in 1985. However, his bank’s fault department laid him off at the young age of 20. He was determined to ensure that his younger stepbrother, Sir Rap-A-Lot, didn’t join the streets and that his friends Jukebox and Raheem didn’t skip or drop out of school, so he bought an abandoned building in West Houston and changed it into a used car dealership- Smith Auto Sales. He first began with bucket cars before moving to exotic ones that attracted athletes.
This is the time frame when Prince introduced himself to the world. Since Prince, Sir-Rap-A-Lot, and friends regularly met on the porch of their grandmother’s house to practice even before he started the dealership, they decided to move into the building that housed the car dealership in 1986. In 1987, Sir-Rap-A-Lot Records was founded. He had a co-founder, Cliff Blodget, a computer science major and electrical engineer who became the label’s in-house engineer and co-producer. In 1988, after investing his remaining funds into the label, Prince moved it to New York City with his other co-founder. On seeing the checkbooks of Def Jam artists Whodini and Cool J, he knew that there was a lot of money to be made in the music industry and decided to move the entire label back to Houston, where it flourished.
J Prince is a family man. He has a number of children, including three famous sons, J. Prince Jr, Jas, and Jay ‘Baby Jay,’ who are familiar figures in the music and boxing industries. You must have heard of J. Prince Jr during Takeoff’s shooting when fans accused him of walking past the rapper’s lifeless body and exiting the premises despite the incident happening at his own party.
J Prince married his wife in the late 1980s. Together they own Prince Island in Belize, signifying a life of success. Prince is known for purchasing a house for his mother and a 30-acre ranch by age 23, which is no mean feat.
Like most significant figures in HipHop, J Prince is not new to controversies. During the 1990s, two DEA agents probed J Prince and his label Rap-A-Lot, believing that the former was a cover for a huge trafficking network. Even though the agents were later convicted of corrupt conduct, it saw the cancellation of a pending music distribution label deal between Prince, Irv Gotti, and Surge Knight.
During the same period, Prince got into a feud with rapper Pimp C of the UGK label, who accused him of stealing the label’s publishing rights. Even though the two parties later settled their differences, Prince vehemently denied the allegations. J Prince’s son, Jas Prince, also sued Lil Wayne and his Cash Money Records label in 2008 for unpaid royalties from ‘So Far Gone,’ an album from Drake, an artist he claimed he had discovered. The lawsuit was successfully settled out of court.
J Prince also came out gun blazing on Birdman in 2015 when Drake accused him of failing to pay Lil Wayne and delaying the release of Carter V. The Feud even became more pronounced when the music producer’s record store, The Galleria, got robbed in 2018. As you may have guessed, he blamed Birdman for the robbery. No one was arrested in connection with the incident, and Birdman denied involvement.
Recently, J Prince’s son, J Prince Junior, got into a feud with Offset following Takeoff’s death that saw his father take to the internet to defend him. Junior blamed Offset for not being around during the rapper’s death and joining internet fans in condemning him (Prince Jr). Offset responded that no one should question his relationship with Takeoff since they didn’t know how the two related.
Despite all these controversies, J Prince remains one of the most influential figures in hip-hop.
J Prince had managed to amass quite a fortune for himself. Most websites estimate his fortune to be worth $25 million, enough to make someone lead a decent life anywhere on the planet.
J Prince remains an influential figure in HipHop. The businessman, music executive, father, and husband have managed to make something out of his life despite growing up in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Houston. He is indeed an inspiration to many.
1. Does J Prince Have Any Other Ventures
Apart from owning a record label, J Prince is also a businessman. He owns a condom company, Strapped, which he founded following one of his friend’s death from HIV. Prince also launched Loyalty in 2020, a brand that deals in liquor and wine. Lastly, Prince has a 1200-acre ranch where he raises black angus cattle.
2. Does J Prince Have Any Protege?
Yes. J Prince’s protege is America’s successful rapper Drake, whom he discovered and introduced to Lil Wayne in 2007. Drake was then signed to the rapper’s Young Money Entertainment and is currently one of the biggest names in Hip Hop.
3. Is J Prince Involved in Boxing?
Both J Prince and his sons are involved in boxing. The music executive managed boxers in the past, giving him a chance to penetrate the industry. He opened the JPrince Boxing gym in Houston around 1999. He also managed Mayweather Jr, a relationship that ended in 2003 owing to financial differences. Other notable boxers Prince has been involved in their professional lives include Andre Ward, Jared Anderson, Winky Wright, and Mark Johnson.
4. What’s J Prince’s Legacy?
Apart from being one of the biggest stars in HipHop, J Prince received an honorary degree from Texas South University for his commitment to giving guest lectures, scholarships, and Rap-A-Lot internships to the institution’s learners. He was also honoured by Houston’s mayor Bill White in 2007 for over two decades of commitment and dedication to the city of Houston. Prince has also been educating the youth on safe sex and even started Strapped, a famous condom brand. Lastly, Prince was honoured alongside Timbaland, Masta P, and 2 other artists at the VH1 7th annual Hip Hop Honors Award for his musical contributions and philanthropy.