Ever since hearing my first Geto Boys album “Grip It On That Other Level,” I’ve been a devout Rap-A-Lot fan with a deep respect for founder James “J Prince” Smith. For at least a decade, between 89 and 99 I supported Rap-A-Lot unconditionally, and stacked up virtually every album the label put out within those years.
There have always been rumours circulating that things where not quite as harmonious as they seemed within “the house of Rap-A-Lot”, but in the ignorance of my youth I never really gave it much notice. I always felt that for the most part Lil’ J was just doing what he had to do for the greater good of the label, so that one day, once he had accomplished his vision in making Rap-A-Lot a success, everybody could eat. But as time passed and the money poured in it became harder to ignore the stories of dirty dealings that artists kept coming forward with.
J Prince is a very accomplished business man and it’s very debatable if Rap-A-Lot would have had the same legacy without an element of ‘doing dirt’ in the early stages. But when you keep hearing accounts from the main players who undoubtedly made the label what it is today, you have to take off the rose tinted spectacles and take note of what is being said. Almost every rapper that’s ever been on the labels roster has at some point had a run-in with the RAL king-pin. According to some sources, Prince ran the label like a modern day plantation, working his artists with the ruthless control of a slave master. It is common knowledge that headline acts like Geto Boys where only modestly compensated for their work and in some cases not compensated at all. Historically it was one of the original Geto Boys DJ Ready Red who was the first to expose the situation to the world when he famously left the group in 1991 after becoming increasingly frustrated with his lack of earnings.
“I stood my ground on that one and I have no regrets all these years later because I see that nothing has been accomplished. [J. Prince] still has all the money. Everybody has been through something dealing with this record company and nobody has anything. I’m glad I got out.” “A lot of other people who left Rap-A-Lot were victims to home invasions; they got pistol whipped, and got their equipment took back, but I was going to the gun range. I was learning to shoot, learning how to take care of myself, and defend myself, so if you was gonna run up on me you was gonna get double tapped.”DJ Ready Red
Ready Red is just one of many who have felt the sting of J Prince’s heavy handed business approach. There have been countless reports of artists being intimidated in to signing lengthy contracts and those who put up a resistance are threatened with violence. In 2013 Z-Ro changed his stage name, supposedly to break his Rap-A-Lot contract ties.
“It’s alotta people scared, and the fear they have is so strong that they will let another MAN get paid for their hard work.”--Z-Ro
In around 2001 Big Mike was shot at in his home, allegedly by staff on the RAL payroll. He was sentenced to 3 and half years for attempting to burn down a local studio connected to Rap-A-Lot, in retaliation.
“Let’s just say it got kinda ugly. It got ugly to the point where some things went down and I had to do some time”.Big Mike
Scarface dropped this very revealing statement in a 2010 HipHopDX interview
“Like I tell everybody, you don’t retire from this shit – it’s kinda like the game – you just quit. And any two ways you in a situation where it doesn’t benefit you, then you need to…make it to where you can benefit yourself…because for my entire career I haven’t benefited from it – not financially anyway”- Scarface
In 1996 rapper 2 Low filed a $28 million lawsuit for non payment from performances and an album he recorded when he was just 13 years old. More recently Pimp-C’s widow had been issued with a lawsuit over the release of some of her late husbands masters. She responded to J-Prince with a ‘cease and desist’ letter as she was not comfortable with the way her husbands material was being marketed.
“I’m being sued when you Rap-A-Lot are putting out a project and I haven’t even received any money or anything from? I will never amend anything, This is about him [Pimp C.] and all I can do is make him proud and make sure no one tarnishes his legacy, and what he built his whole life. I just think its sad.”- Chinara Butler