Why Prince Paul Refuses to Be “Old-School”

Rarely do we consider the fact that not all of hip-hop's historical icons get excited about reliving the past. Sure, New York-bred producer extraordinaire Prince Paul (a.k.a. Paul Huston) knows he's done a lot of stuff in his lifetime–creating the first live hip-hop band Stetsasonic, pioneering horrorcore with the Gravediggaz, working with De La Soul, being one of the most sought after producers in rap since '89. So it should seem natural that a man who prides himself on living ahead of his time, should be more concerned with staying at least current in hip-hop's ever-changing climate.

It's part of the reason he's become such a noticeable presence on various VH1 clip shows, documentaries and of course Scion's “The All Purpose Show” and “Paul vs. Paul” two webisode programs he hosts that focus on him keeping up with music news, interviewing of-the-minute rappers. He even co-hosts the latter with his 21 year-old son, DJ PForreal. It's all part expanding his knowledge of hip-hop world far beyond the Golden Age. Paul makes a trip to OC tonight for a guest DJ set at the Crosby alongside his cohorts Mr. Len and Rhettmatic. We got a chance to speak to him before the gig.


OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): You rarely tend to lecture at universities but you mentioned you just did one at Rider College in New Jersey before this interview. What was that like and what did you speak about?
Prince Paul: It was a music class that they had and I was talking about my career and sampling and stuff like that. I haven't done that in a while. I've gone to Columbia and Princeton. But this is the first time in a long time that I've spoken to students like that. Usually, in my kid's classes in grade school I'd come in sometimes, but it was cool.

Did you walk away with any impression as far as what college kids really know about the roots of hip-hop?
I think I get that more when I do this internet show with Scion, “The All Purpose Show”…I interview a lot of the younger rappers. When I mention stuff as a reference and people look at me all clueless, it's like, “Am I really that old?” [Laughs]. If I can't throw out a name without people going “huh?” then maybe I'm too far out of the loop or something. But kids seemed to know a lot in that class I was speaking to; mainly because the teacher was like a hardcore hip-hop fan. I guess last week he talked to them about Melle Mel and stuff and tests them on it.

As someone who was so instrumental to the early fabric of '80s and '90s hip-hop, does it surprise you that it's a subject that's taught in universities and colleges now?
I'm just amazed that it's respected enough to be taught in universities. When I went to college, I remember doing a paper on rap music and it was for a music appreciation class and I remember the teacher going “What?! What is this?” And all the kids in the class turned around and looked at me like I was wasting their time on this music that was considered a fad. It was so looked down on. So it's amazing that it's respected enough to have a place in any type of curriculum.

Do you think you're groundbreaking band Stetsasonic's live hip-hop instrumentation has influenced much of modern hip-hop these days?
When I see bands on stage, I never look at them and go “hey, we did that!” I feel like the way Stetsasonic did it was just different at the time. We had a drummer, keyboardist, a human beat box and me as the DJ. And the closes thing that kind of reminds me that is the Roots, because they had like the human beat box. So when I see bands now on stage, it's a different thing. People go out there with horns and and all that. But we were more like a ghetto band with like a keyboard from radio shack, pieces of a drum kit, turntables with my old school NuMark mixer. But now when I see it, it just seems more sophisticated.

As far as someone who is part of hip-hop's past, how important is it for guys like you to be present in pop culture?
I never really took into consideration the era I came from. Personally, I have a 21 year-old son and a daughter who is 10. So when things like VH1 clip shows or different opportunities like that come up, I ask my kids “yo, should I do this?” They're always like “Yeah, you should do! Are you crazy?!” So things like that keep me relevant. I refuse to be the old dude wearing a sweat suit and hard bottom shoes and be all out of whack. I like to be checked. I like to stay open minded about new music coming out. It may not be stuff that I like, but I at least want to understand it. It keeps me from being bitter like a lot of old school guys and it keeps me learning.


You even interviewed Riff Raff as part of Scion's “All Purpose Show.” Was that an eye-opener for you?
I wasn't super familiar with Riff Raff before. The only thing I knew him from was like the show “From G's to Gents” which was like a long time ago. And after looking him up, I'm like “This dude…” [Laughs]. I expected him to come out and be real flamboyant and stuff but he came out and he calmed down pretty early on. He was trying to be funny and wild, but he can't clown like we can clown. Then I realized, he's just a guy who is having fun. He seems like he could care less about how things sound, it's more like “Hey, I'm having a good time!” And people support him. And people are all mad about what he represents to them. But you can't be mad at him, if you're mad at anybody, by mad at people who support him. He's not making himself famous. You're making him famous.

You recently got interviewed for a documentary on the Syl Johnson alongside fellow DJ Peanut Butter Wolf. As a producer who helped popularize sampling, what was your role in the documentary?
Wolf and I explained [Syl Johnson's importance] from a sampling perspective. For the documentary they wanted to talk about that–for guys like that it's great because I learned he made a lot of money off of people sampling from him. Whether it was people coming to him and paying him, or through lawsuits or his career being resurrected–like listen to a Wu Tang song and learn that it's a Syl Johnson sample. For guys like that who seem to make more money now that they did at the height of their careers, it's a great thing. Especially musicians who have a hard time making ends meet when they get older. So he seems to be doing pretty well.

Your son is now focusing on a career in hip-hop as DJPForReal. As a father and a music icon, what kind of advice do you give him as far as his career?
The first bit of advice I gave him a long time ago was “don't do it.” I see he didn't listen to me. But that was just based on the fact that there's so much heart ache in the music business. It's a lot of work, especially now that so many people have the capability of doing it and being heard, of course whether they're good enough is one thing. It can be really hard to be heard amongst the sea of people. If you're gonna go for it, you have to go for it regardless of the ups and the downs. So if things don't work out, you can't give up, because there is always some id out there working day and night to push his songs. You just gotta work harder than the next person. People send me so much music, and so many links, to the point where you don't wanna hear any music.

As far as your set at Shift tonight at the Crosby, what's gonna happen with that?
Yeah, it's cool. Me, Mr. Len and Rhettmatic put together this little band. I'm gonna be out there rehearsing and Rhett came up with the offer to do this gig at Shift so I was down to do it. It's also our opportunity to play in front of people for the first time. It's not super representative of what we're getting ready to do in the near future, but it's an opportunity for people to see us together and get used to it. And those guys are so cool and nice. It's great to work with nice people who work hard. Especially in the music industry.

Prince Paul performs tonight for “Shift” at the Crosby in Santa Ana with Mr. Len and Rhettmatic. Full details here.

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