The biz-ness can be a lowly place, even for a Prince.
A veteran hip hop visionary of almost two decades, Prince Paul knows this. He knows that critics can digest artistry the wrong way, and that labels can excrete you without a second thought. He knows what it’s like to be misunderstood. Pioneers go through such misunderstanding. “My recollection of hip hop is the beginning,” he says. And it’s true: he started DJing in ’77, before he had reached his teens.
By his eighth-grade year, Paul found himself flipping beats for old school legend Biz Markie. I hadn’t quite been potty trained yet. In high school, he joined forces with Stetsasonic, now legends in their own right. A natural progression, he says, is for a good DJ to evolve into a producer. He soon found himself laying down beats for one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time, De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising.
Despite the commercial success and recent placement of that album in hip hop’s treasure chest, Paul regards his work on the Gravediggaz debut, 6 Feet Deep, as his finest. Released almost 10 years ago, it was hacked at by critics for its deranged and demented concept (stellar beats from Paul and performances from a younger RZA allowed for it to be resurrected as a now-classic album). In addition to the sub-par feedback from this release, Paul had also recently parted with De La. Dejected and depressed with the business, his next project was to be his last.
He independently released his severely underrated psychoanalytic concept album in 1996, titled Psychoanalysis: What Is It? The tracks exemplified different ailments and diagnoses suffered by cracked out headz. Despite clever collaboration on a few cuts with a new friend by the name of Dan the Automator, Prince Paul meant for this project to be his “farewell” piece. “It was a cool record to make, but that was another time that I just felt like my career was over.”
Ironically, Paul admits, the album revitalized his career. Tommy Boy picked it up and rereleased it, soon after Chris Rock asked Paul to help him on Roll With the New, and connecting with the Automator would open the door for future success.
Devising the first ever “rap opera” in 1999 with Prince Among Thieves, the more thuggish concept earned him overwhelming acclaim. Despite sales not matching the rave reviews, it was an overall positive experience for him. “It made people look at me as more of a writer,” he said. “It really raised the bar a lot on me.”
Prince Paul soon after rejoined forces with the Automator, creating the ambitious side project Handsome Boy Modeling School. So… How’s Your Girl? was a great success that left critics and fans drooling (a follow-up is in the works).
His latest release, Politics of the Business, takes a subconscious jab at today’s commercialization of a culture Prince Paul practically oversaw development of. Sales are good right now, he says – yet critics have distrusted it.
Paul is skeptical of such critics. He broke it down like this: say you are expecting a steak dinner and salivating the entire day, only to be given Cap’n Crunch come mealtime. “You like Cap’n Crunch, you buy it at the store, you eat it all the time,” he said. “It’s still good, but it’s not what you were expecting…” But he is ultimately used to this. Due to the fact that each successive album is different than his last, he says, “I put myself in a position to get scrutinized every time.” He reassured himself, correctly: “A lot of times it’s years and years later … that people get it,” he laughed. “It’s like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that 10 years ago when I was in the corner crying?'”
Prince Paul is still optimistic about Politics, and remains humble. “I’m not trying to change the world on this record; it’s a commentary … it’s a record I had to do.”
Asked what to expect come his Friday performance, Paul nervously proclaimed, “I’m doin’ something that has probably never been done before in hip hop. Either they’re gonna throw tomatoes at me or they’re gonna cheer me out.”
Now, Paul’s one goofy motherfucker, but I know he’s serious. He requested that concert-goers keep an open mind. “If you’re gonna go in there with some preconceived notion, then you’re gonna wind up losing out.”
“Or really expect me to be crappy, cuz then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Crappiness is not part of this misunderstood genius’ rŽsumŽ.