J. Prince Reveals The Original Plan For Scarface & Tupac’s “Smile” (Video)
J. Prince has shunned the spotlight for much of Rap-A-Lot Records’ 32 years of business. The label’s founder, the man born James Smith, has gone public in a very big way this year. The Houston, Texas native published his memoir The Art And Science Of Respect. Right as the text and audio-book was made available to public, Prince also made headline news for advising Drake—who he refers to as a family member—to stand down from a reported “career-ending” response to Pusha-T and Kanye West following May’s “The Story Of Adidon.”
Many of Prince’s interviews thus far have dealt with Drake and his book. However, for fans of 1990s Rap-A-Lot history, James’ Rap Radar Podcast interview packs something a bit different. In the one-hour conversation with hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller, J. Prince holds little back. The slow-speaking executive with the H-Town dialect recalls settling creative and financial misunderstandings with Rick Rubin (20:00), as well as Irv Gotti (34:00), at very different times in his run. He explains how the fallout with former associate Suge Knight was over Knight’s predatory plan for Drake. He also describes a time when Bushwick Bill threatened to jump off of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to satisfy a $10,000 bet with Geto Boys’ band-mate Willie D. According to J., he prevented that incident from happening.
Notably, for all of J. Prince’s preference to avoid the spotlight, albums have been an exception. Throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond, Smith gave addresses on many of his artists’ albums. The Rap Radar Podcast asked him about something else, the time that he rapped on Geto Boys’ 1992 song, “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta.” The song, later resurrected by the film Office Space, was included on the Uncut Dope compilation. That Rap-A-Lot project came as Willie D had left the group (and would return after some years). Big Mike, who Prince says was brought to him by Suave House Records founder Tony Draper, would be added—following his stint with The Convicts. However, during that transition, J. Prince stepped in with big words.
“I don’t know how I ended up rappin’ on it. I ended up writing two of the verses on it. For some reason, I ended up rappin’ on that song. I had to feel something. [In] my verse I was talking about the President, and I know why I felt that way,” says Prince. “Maybe I had a get-happy moment and just wanted to spit.”
B.Dot then asks Prince if he is aware of Office Space‘s effect on the song. “Not really. Not really. But I knew that we get a check from Office Space.” Scarface begins the song, followed by Bushwick Bill—whose verse was presumably written by Prince. After a second Facemob verse, the Rap-A-Lot CEO closes out the song. In the music video, Prince was riding shotgun to a Mercedes convertible driven by Scarface. Big Mike and Bill are in the car’s backseat.
At the one-hour mark, J. Prince is asked about another Scarface song, “Smile.” Featuring Tupac Shakur, the song was became the highest-charting hit of Face’s career. It was included on his #1 The Untouchable album, as well as Death Row Greatest Hits.
Produced by Tone Capone, Mike Dean, and Scarface, the song arrived to the public after Pac’s 1996 death. However, Prince says that he tried to send a statement over the coastal beef. “On ‘Smile,’ the interesting thing… that record didn’t go like I really wanted it to go. Because, I wanted Biggie [Smalls] on that record. I went to Puffy after Pac had got killed, I went to Puffy and asked him if Biggie could be on that record. Of course, at the time, he told me that Biggie didn’t want to. ‘Cause I told him I had a verse from Pac. He didn’t want to be connected. I can only imagine what that would have turned out to have been if I could’ve had that verse. That would’ve been [one of Biggie Smalls’] last verses too.”
Prince says that he was not responsible for the video’s controversial crucifixion imagery. Tupac and Biggie worked together prior to their deaths. They freestyled at Big Daddy Kane’s Madison Square Garden concert. Additionally, producer Easy Mo Bee recorded them on “Runnin’ From Tha Police” in 1994.
Elsewhere in the interview, Prince discusses feeling that Devin The Dude’s Odd Squad group was slighted by radio. He also confirms that his brother, founding Geto Boys member Sir Rap-A-Lot is back in prison, after being released from a 20-year-sentence some time back.
#BonusBeat: The “Smile” music video: