Longtime fans of Hip Hop embraced Fergie‘s “Fergalicious” not because of Stacy’s rhyming abilities, but because the 2006 hit was an almost textbook recreation of Ruthless Records‘ first hit single, J.J. Fad‘s “Supersonic.”
The man who concocted that track, and benefited greatly from Fergie royalties, is Arabian Prince. A pioneer of the Los Angeles that would go on to yield Ice-T, Toddy Tee and a group that Prince helped found – N.W.A. Having appeared on the first group album with Dre, Cube and Eazy alone, Arabian Prince‘s Electro-Funk endured in the party culture that happened against the backdrop of street politics. Releasing records since 1984, this Compton-born, Inglewood-raised legend hasn’t stopped since.
Stones Throw Records and Peanut Butter Wolf recognized this. A year after recognizing New York’s Percee P for a lifetime of quiet accomplishment, the L.A. label now celebrates Arabian Prince with Innovative Life: The Anthology (1984-1989), releasing this August 19th. The remastered album shows listeners old and young where it came from, and why Electro-Funk truly never left.
Just returned from Germany with longtime friend and name-sake Egyptian Lover, Arabian Prince walks HipHopDX as he readies his Gorillaz-comparable next project Funky Anime while steadily collecting checks off of ghostwriting and production. When he ends his deejay sets with the trademark Haddaway “What Is Love,” you might not realize it, but the Prince hasn’t lost his Raiders cap or his props.
HipHopDX: Firstly, why Stones Throw?
Arabian Prince: Oh man, it’s crazy. I’m an idiot when it comes to music, believe it or not. Like, there’s cats out there that are like music historians. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the baddest deejays on the planet, when it comes to vinyl, the collection and all of that, but I’m not the guy who’s really up on every little nook and cranny of Hip Hop and all the underground stuff. I’m just really into my own music. I figure the more I stay into myself, the better I have a chance of my music staying pure rather than picking up sounds from somewhere else.
So I had bumped into Peanut Butter Wolf, and man, I’d never heard that cat! I didn’t know who he was to save my life. What the hell is a Peanut Butter Wolf? He’s like, “Man, I really want to do something with you, maybe get some of your old stuff, and put out a greatest hits.” I’m like, “Who is this cat?” I did a little research and said, “Oh, that’s who that is!” So we became like best friends, and now we’re kind of inseparable in music and a lot of stuff we’re doing. So it was kind of a blessing to meet him, as somebody who really appreciates the music first. It kinda brought me back into the scene in the sense where I’m like, “You know what? I’m still in this thing.” Stones Throw has revitalized all that.
DX: This is all released material that is now re-catalogged, repackaged, correct?
AP: Right, right. And there’s two unreleased instrumentals on there as well.
DX: How do you think of the 1984-1989 era?
AP: It reminds me of the old days when there were no gangs in the clubs. [Laughs] We used to wake up, and all we was thinkin’ about was partying and deejaying and chasing women � every single day. That’s what it was, back in the ’80s, man, in the clubs � especially in L.A. It was all about partying. You had the factions. You had your New Wave people, you had your Punk Rockers, you had your Prince people, you had your Michael Jackson fiends � everybody had their little niche. Show me some dude that thought he was hardcore gangster back in the ’80s, and I’ll show you the dude wearin’ some spikes and a Michael Jackson jacket, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s what it was. Everything was cool back then.
DX: We all watched Colors. In 1984, when you started making regional and national noise, were the people buying your records part of the gang community?
AP: I’d say yes. The hood is the hood. I had uncles and stuff in gangs, growing up. The music was from the streets; I don’t care what kind of music it was, it originated on the streets. Electro-Funk on the west coast was a product of the streets, from hardcore to softcore people on the streets, everybody just partied to the same beat.
DX: How much of the sound of Electro-Funk was dictated by the equipment you guys were using, and how much was your own creativity?
AP: You know how it all started? When we deejayed back in the day, and even to my deejay sets to this day, I kind of read the crowd, but I’m gonna play what I’m gonna play, I don’t play the Top 40 hits. That’s how it was back in the ’80s. Top 40 radio was everything � Parliament Funkadelic, Cameo, Bootsy [Collins], there was also Cyndi Lauper, ABC, Depeche Mode, it was also Prince, Michael Jackson, this big gumbo pot of music. When we started doing music, it reflected all of that. We were really into Kraftwerk, we were really into Prince, we were really into Funk. So if you listen to Electro-Funk, it pulls the heavy basslines of old P-Funk and Zapp & Roger stuff – Funk, it pulls the sexy side � Prince and pulls the electronic side from Kraftwerk. It was just a blend of all of that. With the equipment, yeah. The first thing we fell in love with was the 808 drum machine. After we heard that, it just fell right into place.
DX: I gotta ask. Not just with you, but in general � were drugs at play?
AP: You know what’s funny? On the west coast, no! It was a crazy thing! I’ve never done drugs. I don’t drink or smoke or nothin’ like that, which is a surprise comin’ from N.W.A. [Laughs] Back then, I drank a lot, but not no more. But even back then, dude, nobody was really on that scene on the west coast. It was just this crazy party town. People smoked weed, and maybe drank, but nah, it was the furthest thing from the ’80s scene. You would think I would say, “Yeah, drugs were heavy.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody heavy on drugs back in the ’80s.
DX: You mentioned N.W.A. Sources say different things. Do you, or did you consider yourself a founding member or simply an affiliate of the group?
AP: You know what’s funny, man? I am a founding member. I was there for two albums � N.W.A. & The Posse and Straight Outta Compton. The people who don’t think I was there or in the group are the people that are younger or they’re the people who get the misinformation from around. If you look at the first album, and a lot of people think that N.W.A. & The Posse is the album, that wasn’t the album; that was a bootleg that Macola [Records] put out.
AP: Yeah. The actual, first ever N.W.A. album was just called N.W.A. There was no posse. There were just four or five songs, so you’d probably consider it an EP as opposed to an album. It had the same cover, with everybody in an alley. On the back, it was just two pictures of the four of us � me, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube [click to read] and Eazy-E.
DX: No Yella or Ren?
AP: No. No Yella, no Ren at that point. In one we’re sitting on Eazy‘s Jeep. In another, we’re standing on like a crate or something. That was it! It was very simple. Then we did the Straight Outta Compton album, and I left halfway between the release of that and when we were on tour ’cause we weren’t getting paid, but yeah, I was definitely in the group. I was more�I won’t say behind the scenes, but more in the studio with Dre, making beats and playing music and stuff as opposed to rappin’ on the cuts. I was definitely there.
DX: Were you out there in terms of selling cassettes out of Eazy’s trunk?
AP: Oh yeah. It was all done at Macola Records. When we pressed that stuff up, our weekly or daily routine was � this was our bread and butter, this was how we made money, this was how we put gas in the car, this was how we paid our bills. Go down to Macola, pick up a box or two, hit the swap meets or hit the stores. When we toured, we’d take them around, nobody had heard of us, and we’d go into a store, “Boom. Can we give you a couple of these? If they sell, here’s a phone number, call us.” That’s what it was. We had the old school cell-phones back in the day � the briefcases with the antenna on it. [Laughs] We were definitely going to be contacted. It just blew up because of word of mouth of gettin’ it around.
DX: You got a major production credit in J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic.” That being said, what did you think of Fergie’s “Fergalicious.” Quiet as kept, I bought my girl at the time the album and saw no sample listings in there�
AP: Right. [Will.i.am] [click to read] did the right thing and the good thing by actually saying, “Okay, yeah, I got this from ‘Supersonic,’ we’re gonna go ahead and get the publishing on this and pay royalties to me, whoever else and the girls.” So that was a good thing. Also, it actually helped to bring the sound back, because if you listen to Missy Elliott‘s “Lose Control,” which is [a remake] of Cybotron‘s “Clear,” or now you hear Flo Rida‘s new joint [“In The Ayer”] with Will.i.am, which is straight Electro Funk. That sounds like they stole it out my garage when I wasn’t lookin’, back in ’87. [Laughs] It’s come full circle; it’s back! Me and Egyptian Lover were in Germany last week, and we were on the airplane talkin’ like, “Man, it’s time. We need to go and do this thing one more time before the gray hairs start showing.” [Laughs]
DX: Looking at those three records you mentioned, are you in a position or does it interest you to produce again, for artists seeking this sound?
AP: Oh yeah, definitely, man! Quiet as kept, I ghostwrite for a lot of people, so I got hits on the radio right now. I’ve done it that way over the years, because when all the animosity has gone on in Hip Hop and the violence and stuff that’s gone on, I have no beef with no one. No beef with anybody in N.W.A., I’m still cool with everybody, still kick it with everybody, so I didn’t want to get that whole guilty by association thing. So when people ask me to produce stuff for ’em, man, unless it’s something that’s real mild, like a Stones Throw remix or something, I’m like, “Dude, whatever you want. Just put your name on it, and pay me. Give me the contract, make sure I get my royalties and my writers, and I’m cool. I don’t care what you do with it.” Yeah, most definitely. But recently, I’ve really been thinking about getting back into it 100%. I think I will be doing that this year. I just found a new girl � I really admire M.I.A. She just retired from what I hear [click to read], that’s crazy! So I just ran across some random girl, 20 years old, that does beats in her bedroom by herself, creative as I don’t know what, and has got that same sound. I’m about to produce her.
DX: If I walk into your studio right now, will I see that old equipment; do you still use it?
AP: It’s gonna hurt all the old school, analog geeks out there, but none. In my storage bin, I have 15 to 20 keyboards, eight or nine drum machines; I still have all my gear. But with technology these days dude, you can’t beat it. I travel so much that I had to go software because I’m always makin’ music in hotel room and airplanes. But what I did do, I spent a whole year with my gear, samplin’ all my analog stuff. I predominately use Reason right now and Ableton Live. You can’t tell the difference between a digital and analogy synth. I defy somebody to tell me. The last two releases I’ve done, you can’t tell. It sounds the same in the club, you’ve just got to know how to flip it.
DX: Did you remaster the anthology on Stones Throw?
AP: Oh yeah. It’s all remastered. It sounds good, man! I’m listening to some of that stuff like, “I wish it sounded this good back in the day.” But we didn’t have the technology.
DX: I’ve interviewed Rodney O & Joe Cooley too. They too, started in Funk and adapted to gangsta rap by the early ’90s. With yourself, how do you look at the “after ’89” and the turn your career and the art took?
AP: I did the same thing as [Rodney O & Joe Cooley] in a sense. After N.W.A., I put an album on EMI/Orpheus, the Brother Arab album, which had “She’s Got A Big Posse,” and stuff like that. It was more party music � still uptempo, more club uptempo, not Electro uptempo. Then, after that, I did another album for EMI, called The Underworld, which was more dark. My sound has always been a dark sound anyway. They were kinda scared of it. It got four or five stars, but they never released it, ’cause they were scared. It’s still sitting on DATs. One day I’m gonna drop that out. After that, I did Where’s My Bytches? which was all sexist stuff. I had been in this relationship, man, and this girl pissed me off right in the middle of my album. I was like, “Aw man, you gonna piss me off? Here, let me dedicate this to you!” [Laughs] but it was still good music though. I’ve got through the gambit of music, but a creative style, I don’t have one; I just do whatever. My first love was always the Electro-Funk, that’s why I’ve gone back to it.