James Prince

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
J. Prince
James L. Smith

(1965-10-31) October 31, 1965 (age 58)
Houston, Texas
Other names
  • Lil J
Years active1986–present
Musical career

James Prince (born James L. Smith, also referred to as J. Prince, or Lil J.[1]) (born October 31, 1965) is an American music executive, promoter and manager. He is the CEO and co-founder of the Houston based record label Rap-A-Lot.

Prince is known as one of the 'godfathers of the rap music industry',[2][3] and inspired other southern hip hop label executives including Birdman of Cash Money Records and Master P of No Limit Records. Artists that have had careers shaped by him included Scarface, Geto Boys and Bun B.[4]

Smith and his son Jas are also known for introducing Canadian rapper Drake to Lil Wayne and helping Drake sign to Young Money Entertainment in 2009. He has also managed prolific boxers such as Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Shakur Stevenson.

Early life[edit]

Prince was born to 16 year old mother Sharon Johnson with an older sister Zenia and younger half-brother Thelton. They grew up in Fifth Ward, Houston's 'Bloody Nickel' apartments which were known for cocaine use and poverty.[5] He played football and had an entrepreneurial spirit since a young age. From the age of 7 years old he would mow his neighbours yards in Shady Acres, play craps, sell stolen marijuana plants, and work on a welding truck for money.[3][6]

His sister died from getting hit by a train while walking home from school. Amongst other turbulence, friends and family were going to jail while Prince was rotating from school to school and between different homes. He graduated from Kashmere High School.[7]


Prince was working as a bank teller in 1985 in the fault department, then getting laid off at the age of 20.[7][8] The initial goal prior to the label was to keep his younger stepbrother known as the rapper Sir Rap-A-Lot out of street life, as well as friends Raheem and Jukebox from skipping school. They would meet on the porch of his grandmothers house to perform and practice.[6] After purchasing an abandoned building, he turned the property into a used car dealership, known as Smith Auto Sales on the west side of Houston. At first he sold bucket cars,then moving on to exotic cars which athletes would come and purchase.[7] The same rundown two-story building that Prince owned, was where the artists then moved on to record into during 1986.[9]

Prince co-founded Rap-A-Lot Records with Cliff Blodget, a Seattleite,[9][10][11] in 1987. Bloget was a computer science major,[8] who was an electrical engineer by trade and acted as the label's in-house engineer and producer alongside fellow producer Carl Stephenson.[12][9] Prince used his last bit of funds to invest into the label. He was inspired by Russell Simmons and the label he co-founded Def Jam Recordings. He moved the company in 1988 to New York City with Blodget. Around this time Lyor Cohen would show Prince check books of Def Jam artists LL Cool J and Whodini which showed him the potential revenue to be made in the music industry enlightening him to continue his vision with the Geto Boys moving the whole label back to Houston.[7][6]

The first group he formed in the label was the Geto Boys. Prince found members Bushwick Bill when he was performing as a dancer at a club, Willie D through the recommendation of his barber,[1] and Scarface in the parking lot of a club he owned playing demos to a DJ who worked there. His brother was a member but then was replaced at Prince's discretion with Scarface. This was confirmed from a freestyle battle against each other where Scarface outperformed Sir Rap-A-Lot, with the younger brother then agreeing that was the better direction for the group also.[6] Using local radio stations like KTSU to spread the reach of the label's music,[13] his first deal came in 1989 via Rick Rubin working with the Geto Boys on their 2nd album Grip It! On That Other Level.[5]

Geffen Records who had been working with Rubin pulled the project a week before its release to the lyrical nature of the album, despite claims of racism and hypocrisy made by the Geto Boys and the fact that independently the album already had sold over 500,000 copies.[14] The controversy lead to Rubin splitting from Geffen and signing with Warner Records with the album being pushed there instead, it tripled the total sales of the project.

Prior to the success of Ice Ice Baby, Prince wanted to sign rapper Vanilla Ice after seeing him perform in 1990 at The Summit. He did not follow through as a result of his business partner Blodget feeling that the artist lacked talent.[15]

Prince signed a deal with Priority Records in 1991 for distribution,[5] releasing the Geto Boys third album We Can't Be Stopped.[10] By the mid-1990s co-founder Blodget had parted ways from Rap-A-Lot.[12] In 1995 Prince signed the next distribution deal with Noo Trybe Records and Virgin Records.[10]

During the 1990s, two DEA agents placed a probe on Prince and his label, believing the label was a front for a major trafficking network. At this time a concept for a music distribution label that would have acted dually as a union for recording artists was being planned between Prince, Suge Knight, and Irv Gotti which was eventually cancelled. The two agents were later convicted of corrupt conduct.[16][17][18][19]

While the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry was going on, Prince had suggested out of concern that The Notorious B.I.G. and manager Puff Daddy leave Los Angeles for their safety, weeks before the 1997 murder of the rapper.[20]

During Destiny's Child formative years in the early 1990s, Prince was approached by Mathew Knowles and one of their managers asking if he would join in, but he declined as their sound did not match his more hip-hop oriented label.[2] Decades later another opportunity came to his 19-year-old son Jas who had reached out to Lil Wayne and Bun B, alerting him of the singer Drake after finding him on Myspace,[21] suggesting they collaborate together which lead to a label deal with Lil Wayne and features with Bun B on the albums So Far Gone and Trill OG.[3][15] Jas and Prince Sr. were listed as executive producers or contributors for points on Drake's Thank Me Later, Nothing Was the Same, and other follow up projects as a result of the introduction, as well as entitlement to 33% of his earnings.[22]

On February 13, 2015, Prince uploaded a spoken word diss track entitled "Courtesy Call" as a response to Sean Combs for a conflict he had involving Young Money artist Drake.[23]

In 2018 Prince released his autobiography The Art & Science of Respect: A Memoir with a foreword written by Drake.[21] In the spring of 2018 after the release of The Story of Adidon, Prince advised Drake not to respond to Pusha T helping deescalate the issue between the two parties.[24]

In 2021 Prince helped revive Drake and Kanye West's relationship with the goal of all three coming together to help Larry Hoover by raising awareness on incarceration in the United States. They threw a benefit concert in December 2021 with support for judicial reform advocacy groups.[25] The concert was at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and produced by DONDA and PHNTM.[26] It was played in select IMAX theatres, including Grauman's Chinese Theatre, while being streamed on Amazon's Music and Prime Video services.[27]

In March 2022 Prince boycotted the Grammy Awards over Kanye West having been banned from attending.[28]

In November 2022, after the death of rapper Takeoff in Houston, Prince issued condolences[29] and set up a memorial at the site of the incident.[30]


Prince was an avid fan of boxing growing up, being an amateur fighter and a fan of promoter Don King.[6] He became a manager for boxers as a way to get into that industry. He opened a boxing gym in Fifth Ward, Houston around 1999 known as JPrince Boxing which later became part of the multi-million dollar Prince Boxing Complex,[3] under the umbrella of Prince Boxing Enterprises.[31] Prince had the intention of meeting Mike Tyson in Las Vegas to manage the boxer, he was instead approached by Floyd Mayweather Jr. who was also a fan of his label. After being ignored by Tyson, Prince decided to go with managing Mayweather.[4] They settled on a 20% deal which was 10% higher than the management deal he had with his father Floyd Mayweather Sr. supervising, as well as the potential opportunity to start a rap career over at his record label.[32] The management relationship ended in 2003 due to financial differences between the two.

Prince managed Andre Ward after the 2004 Summer Olympics, in 2002 Prince called Ward after hearing he was about to quit boxing due to the passing of his father but convinced him to continue his career. They split ways in 2008 due to financial issues also, with each filing a lawsuit with each other over the matter in 2008.[4]

Prince has supervised the careers of 15 other boxers, leading some of them to their biggest victories, including Winky Wright, Jared Anderson, Roy Jones Jr., Diego Corrales, Mark Johnson, Duke Ragan, Efe Ajagba and Hasim Rahman.[33][4][3]

Other ventures[edit]

In 2006 Prince founded condom company Strapped, after a close friend contracted HIV drastically going from 300 pounds to 75 pounds, passing away afterwards. He had the idea for the company since 2002. The company primarily served the Houston area, educating youth about HIV/AIDS prevention and hosting events set up to address the issue of AIDS in the Black community,[34] and has been represented by artists like Lil Wayne.[35]

For over two decades Prince has operated a 1200-acre ranch for raising black angus cattle and hay.[6][3]

In 2020 he launched Loyalty, a liquor and wine brand.[36][3]


In January 2007, Houston Mayor Bill White and the City Council honored Prince for over 20 years of commitment and dedication to the city.[31] The result of the proclamation named an official James Prince Day in Houston. The recognition came after a recreation center Prince built in Houston's 5th Ward. The facility has since been used to host events relating to Christmas, Thanksgiving, and back to school events.[13]

In 2007 his condom company Strapped gave over 7,500 free HIV tests for people aged 18–24 at the Hip-Hop 4 HIV concert at Reliant Stadium.[34]

In December 2007 Prince donated $100,000 to Bread of Life's Meals that Heal program in Houston.[37]


In June 2010, J Prince was honored alongside Master P, Jermaine Dupri, Timbaland, and Slick Rick at the VH1 7th annual Hip Hop Honors Awards for both his creative contributions and his philanthropic ventures.[38]

In 2011, a limited edition DVD box set was released by Rap-A-Lot with appearances from several rappers, including Rick Ross and Young Jeezy and industry execs such as Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons among several others praising Prince.[39]

In 2019 Prince received an honorary doctorate degree in the form of a doctorate of humane letters from Texas Southern University. This was received in part to his commitment at the university giving guest lectures to students, offering Rap-A-Lot internships, and endowed scholarships to their students in need of financial assistance.[40][13]

Personal life[edit]

Prince has 7 children, including 3 sons, J Prince Jr., Jas, and Jay "Baby Jay" who also work in the music and boxing industries.[3][21] He has been married to his wife since the late 1980s.[31]

Prince Sr. is a practicing Christian.[20][13] Prince has an island in Belize known as the Prince Island.[6][7]

At the age of 23 he purchased a house for his mother and a 30 acre ranch.[3]



  1. ^ a b Chadbourne, Eugene. "James "Lil. J." Smith Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More". AllMusic. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  2. ^ a b Donahue, Ann (2018-12-05). "James Prince Opens Up About Drake and Beyonce". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Behind the scenes with Houston rap royalty, the Prince family". Dazed. 2021-05-04. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  4. ^ a b c d Woodyard, Eric (2021-10-22). "How J. Prince helped bring Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward and now Shakur Stevenson to boxing glory". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  5. ^ a b c "'It Was Like Flies To Honey': 25 Years Of Rap-A-Lot Records". NPR.org. 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Kenner, Rob (2011-12-04). "Interview: J. Prince Talks About The Rise Of Rap-A-Lot Records". Complex. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  7. ^ a b c d e Knapp, Gwendolyn (2018-10-22). "James Prince Has Made It". Houstonia Magazine. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  8. ^ a b "The Geto Boys, Beating the Murder Rap". Washington Post. 1991-12-15. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  9. ^ a b c "Pen & Pixel: The Graphic Design Duo That Helped Bling Hip-Hop". Red Bull Music Academy Daily. 2019-08-13. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  10. ^ a b c Patoski, Joe Nick (2013-01-21). "Money in the Making". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  11. ^ "Brewer's Ads Rapped". Washington Post. 1991-09-04. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  12. ^ a b Rowland, Hobart (1997-12-04). "Static". Houston Press. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  13. ^ a b c d "Texas Southern University - Texas Southern to recognize James Prince with Honorary Degree". Home. 2011-12-19. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  14. ^ Pareles, John (August 28, 1990). "Distributor Withdraws Rap Album Over Lyrics". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  15. ^ a b Miller, Jeff (2016-03-18). "Bun B Interviews Rap-A-Lot Records Founder James Prince at SXSW 2016 Keynote". Billboard. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  16. ^ "Former DEA Special Agent Sentenced to Over 13 Years in Prison for Corruption-Related Charges". Department of Justice. 2021-08-12. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  17. ^ McConnaughey, Janet (2021-08-12). "Former DEA agent sentenced to 13 years in corruption case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  18. ^ Lilah, Rose (2020-12-23). "J. Prince Details How DEA Targeted Him, Suge Knight & Irv Gotti Over Black-Owned Distribution Business". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  19. ^ Markman, Rob (2011-10-10). "Irv Gotti And Suge Knight Planned To Unionize Artists - News". MTV. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  20. ^ a b Payne, Ogden (2018-07-30). "Inside The Entrepreneurial Rise Of Rap-A-Lot Records CEO James Prince". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  21. ^ a b c Penrose, Nerisha (2018-06-07). "Read the Foreword Drake Penned For J. Prince's 'The Art & Science of Respect'". Billboard. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  22. ^ Caldwell, Brandon (2015-02-17). "A Brief History of Houston Rap Executive J. Prince Defending Everyone from The Geto Boys to Drake". Vice. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  23. ^ Thompson, Paul (2015-02-12). "Rap-A-Lot CEO J. Prince Defends Drake, Disses Diddy in New Record". XXL Mag. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  24. ^ Saponara, Michael (2018-10-18). "J. Prince on 'Rules' for the Drake & Pusha T Feud: 'You Would Want It to Be Some Rules'". Billboard. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  25. ^ "Kanye West and Drake were sworn enemies. Then J. Prince stepped in". Los Angeles Times. 2021-12-09. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  26. ^ Donahue, Bill (2022-07-14). "Ye 'Weaponized Fame' to Stiff Production Company $7M, Lawsuit Claims". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-05-11.
  27. ^ "Kanye and Drake go big: How to watch their 'Free Larry Hoover' concert in L.A." Los Angeles Times. 2021-12-09. Retrieved 2022-11-03.
  28. ^ Fitzgerald, Trent (2022-03-22). "J Prince Calls on Kanye West, Drake, Nicki Minaj and Others to Hold Hip-Hop Show Same Night as the Grammys". XXL Mag. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  29. ^ Price, Joe (2022-11-03). "J. Prince Offers Condolences and Addresses Takeoff's Death". Complex. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  30. ^ Blake, Cole (2022-11-13). "J. Prince Sets Up Memorial At Site Of Takeoff's Death". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  31. ^ a b c City Council Chamber, City Hall, Tuesday, January 30, 2007
  32. ^ "Mayweathers' Rift Beyond Help". Los Angeles Times. 2001-01-13. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  33. ^ Satterfield, Lem (2005-02-24). "Accomplished Prince to manage Rahman". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  34. ^ a b Serrano, Shea (2008-03-05). "Strapped-a-Lot". Houston Press. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  35. ^ Johnson, Nate (2008-03-01). "Strapped Condoms Taps Lil Wayne for Campaign AVN". AVN. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  36. ^ "Money, Power, Respect: Catching up with the multitalented J. Prince". New Pittsburgh Courier. 2020-12-16. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  37. ^ "Rap-A-Lot Founder J Prince Donates $100,000 to Meals that Heal Program". XXL Mag. 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  38. ^ Newswire, PR (2010-05-10). "'2010 VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The Dirty South' To Premiere On VH1 Monday, June 7 at 9PM ET/PT --Actor/Comedian Craig Robinson ("The Office") Will Host --Taped from NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom And Featuring Honorees Jermaine Dupri, J Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records". CNBC. Retrieved 2022-11-03.
  39. ^ Kenner, Rob (2011-11-22). "J. Prince Speaks On Rap-A-Lot Anniversary and Doing The Drake Deal". Complex. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  40. ^ Young, Matt (2019-05-14). "TSU to give Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince honorary doctorate degree". Chron. Retrieved 2022-11-07.

Further reading[edit]

  • James Prince; Jasmine D. Waters; Pilar Sanders (2018). The Art & Science of Respect: A Memoir by James Prince. N-The-Water Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9998-3701-6.