Prince Paul Pushed More Boundaries With His Prince Among Thieves Film (Video)

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In 1999, Prince Paul raised the stakes in an already illustrious career. After pivotal work with Stetsasonic and Gravediggaz, the Long Island, New Yorker had proven himself to be a visionary. More recognizably, the vet was largely responsible for the sounds of the first three De La Soul LPs, as well as acclaimed work with Chris Rock.

However, whether by group or production, Prince Paul’s name lacked the impact it deserved. As guys like Dr. Dre, RZA, and Pete Rock were becoming name-brand producers, the longtime Tommy Boy Records artist sliced away at a sophomore album as ambitious as any in his career. Prince Among Thieves involved the theme and narrative concept that Paul had historically lent to other works. Only this one was completely his show. Whereas 1996’s Psychoanalysis: What Is It!? dabbled more towards a side of the genre occupied by DJ Shadow and DJ Spooky, P.A.T. was Paul’s Chronic—meets—Ready To Die, a producer ensemble with a cinematic approach to execution. This was a Hip-Hop Opera two years before MTV’s Carmen, and arguably much less formulaic.

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The experiment worked, and Paul found a lead character MC in The Juggaknots’ Breeze Brewin—who had recently left a disenchanting major label deal. Supporting cast included a litany of rappers who had always been big of character and charisma. Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, Everlast, Biz Markie, Chubb Rock, and Xzibit were just some of the cast. Reading the liner notes to the LP was staggering as well, how Chris Rock, Kid Creole, or RZA could slide into roles devoid of their profile. Paul—who played a stock character in this year’s The Breaks—made it about art, never industry.

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However, more than nine minutes of Paul’s 77-minute LP did make it to the film medium. Prince Among Thieves was also released to VHS as a 10-minute mini-movie. Like Dre and Snoop Dogg’s Murder Was The Case five years prior, the film seemed tertiary at best. Overly ambitious, the work featured many of the names above—in character—bringing down protagonist Tariq. Everlast, Sadat, Keith, Chubb, and everybody showed up, with a pre-9/11 New York City as an interesting backdrop. Paul, who had enjoy the fruits of stardom was also immersed in the burgeoning Underground Hip-Hop movement. Even as a story, all of these factors fit into Prince Among Thieves. The Warner Bros.-distributed LP debuted on the Top 200, and gave Paul and De La another hit in “More Than You Know” to add to their collection. Few artists take an idea to action as fully as Paul Huston, and Prince Among Thieves is visual, beyond the often overlooked film.