Legendary NYC Hip Hop producer DJ Prince Paul is in Los Angeles for a few short days. His schedule is a full one, starting with an induction dinner for the Scion iQ Project Museum, followed by a headlining throwback DJ set celebrating the Golden Age of Hip Hop at the Thursday night event "56" presented by Stones Throw, L.A. Record and Dublab, and hosted by Black Shakespeare. The venue for "56" is Mr. T's Bowl, a large, converted multi-lane bowling alley in Highland Park, with superior live sound. The crowd ranges in age from early twenties to late forties, and the house is a packed one. Paul sports a crisp black t-shirt in support of his latest project, Negroes On Ice, a live stage show in which he spins and mixes the effects, music and soundtrack/score behind his 20-year-old son, emerging DJ/MC/actor P.ForReal, who drops his own rhymes about the young male urban experience.
"I felt like a king for a night!" says Prince Paul the next day of the Scion induction dinner the previous evening. The Scion iQ Project Museum is a digital archive of under-recognized, influential and groundbreaking artists. But this is not the first time Paul has been noted as an historical cultural figure. Last year, the Library Of Congress added De La Soul's highly influential 1989 Hip Hop classic 3 Feet High and Rising to their permanent archives, which Paul produced. His career has spanned almost 30 years (27 to be exact), and he is truly one of the most prolific and collab-friendly producers in all of Hip Hop history, as well as the progenitor of the Hip Hop Comedy Skit (his full discography is available at Discogs).
During our drive from his hotel to our lunch interview location in Hollywood, he shares some stories of the dark side of the Golden Age of Hip Hop. They are true and cautionary tales of chart-topping NYC Hip Hop artists from the 80's and 90's who lost touch with reality after being handed too much money, too many drugs, and too much time in the spotlight. One infamous 90's MC, repeatedly totaled his own luxury auto-mobiles, always leaving the vehicle at the crash scene and then purchasing the same model the next day. He was just too high and/or hungover to remember where he left his demolished ride the day before. Sadly, this talented yet troubled artist also ended up dead before he reached the age of 40.
Prince Paul himself has been living a low-key existence for greater part of the past two decades. A divorced father of two (P.ForReal and a nine-year-old daughter), he resides in suburban Long Island. Recently, VH1 snagged him as guest VJ and host for some of their 90's countown specials. In person, Paul exudes humble intelligence, genuine politeness, a sharp wit and a focused sensibility. Over lunch at Melgard Public House (he orders a large green salad and ice water with lemon), he waxes nostalgic about NYC in the 1980's. "All we had was each other," he says, referring to all of the different and distinct musical sub-cultures of the time, his large brown eyes twinkling. Post-Punkers, New-Wavers, House-loving Club Kids, and Hip Hop crews from all the burroughs co-existed in relative harmony within the NYC scene. He then goes on to theorize about the current state of Hip Hop, citing an over-reliance on pre-programmed sounds and Auto-Tune as joint foes contibuting to the overall lack of inspiration and creativity in today's market.
We continue talking after lunch as we stroll down the heart of Melrose Ave. and wander into a local record store with a sign ouside boasting that they carry the latest cutting edge sounds from the streets - all on vinyl. A very young, early twenty-something is at the decks, and is completely oblivious as to who has just walked into the shop. The owner, who is considerably older, glances knowingly - but scratches his head as he cannot place exactly who has just entered his establishment. Paul pulls up a random album from the closest bin - Chris Brown's "Yo" - but he does not say a word. A simple sardonic smile and a point at the glossy cover image say more than enough on the subject. He places the record back, then adds, "I've got no problem with an artist whose primary stage show is centered around dance moves. But when you're dancing so hard that you're losing your breath and can't lip-sync properly… Well, that is simply unacceptable!"
Be sure to take the guided tour of Prince Paul's exhibit at the Scion iQ Project Museum.
Photos: Copyright © 2012 Anjeli Jana