Arabian Prince was one of the first DJs in Los Angeles and worked on N.W.A.’s dance tracks before returning to his solo career (and giving J.J. Fad their start.) Stones Throw releases an anthology of his early music today. He speaks now the day before a golf tournament.
Who was the first person who ever said the words ‘hip-hop’ to you?
I’m so damn old—ain’t like nobody ever said it to me! I was there before it started—totally honest. My father had a radio show at KACE, and I’d go while he was doing his talk show and sit in the control room with carts and cassettes—do mixes. No rap—just funk, soul, pop and new wave. And the first turntables—there was no such thing as Technics 1200s. I had turntables with the tone arm on the track—linear tracking. I learned mixes on those first! The first time I ever heard hip-hop was probably one of the early cats from New York. I wanna say Spoonie G or something? I was at KACE and it was a promo but they didn’t play rap, so they’d just give it to me—‘What the hell is this stuff?’ And we started rapping at school and battling each other—we didn’t know it was something groundbreaking. ‘This is better than just hanging out!’
What was the first battle you won?
On the bleachers at my school—all my influences were from Parliament Funkadelic, so I was rapping about parties and girls and P Funk and he was just rapping about crazy stuff. I blew him away. You listen to P Funk at 12 or 13 years old and your brain is just messed up!
What was L.A. like then?
If you can imagine—growing up in a city where there’s no such thing as DJ. Nothing like that til we made the scene happen. We had Uncle Jamm’s Army here, World Class Wreckin’ Cru here, Z Cars—everybody doing parties and dances in L.A. and poster battles! You’d press up 5,000 posters and post them all over, and the next crew would come tear them down! We went from school parties to skating rinks to convention centers for 5,000 people and the sports arena for 10,000 people. When I first started DJing, I went to Radio Shack and built my own speakers! Me and my homeboy DJ Termite. Bought some wood and went to Radio Shack and got speakers and made a coffin and just put the speakers in the box, and it sounded like crap! We didn’t know airholes or any kind of insulation! So we bought more speakers from Radio Shack and opened them up and looked inside—like, ‘Ohhhhhh.’ Then sealed them up and took them back! With the DJ stuff, it was surprisingly more advanced that it is today! There was a company that would do big concerts and they were really getting into the mobile DJ thing—when they weren’t doing big concerts, the speakers would just sit around. So we could rent 100 speakers for Uncle Jamm’s Army. 30 speakers on one side, 30 on the other—that’s 60—and then 10 and 10 in the middle—that’s 70 and 80—and 10 in back and 10 in front. I wish we had documented it. If you walked up from the parking lot, you could just hear a low hum—it was crazy! There’s nothing like it today. I’ve never been anywhere in the past 15 years that even came close.
How nasty were the clubs then?
There was a cubbyhole behind the speakers and it got buckwild! People literally having sex on the floor—it was that nasty! The time of freaky mad soul hippie sex! So hot in there—there’d be like 5,000 or 10,000 people with the humidity at 100 percent and so much sweat the walls and floor would have two or three inches of sweat! Ask anyone who was there—it was nasty! And the girls back then were nasty and freaks! And we didn’t help—all we talked about was women and partying and freaks.
‘Freak City’—just like the song?
That’s what it was back then! Everywhere we went were like sold-out packed-out parties. Everybody was into that stuff back then—uptempo music—especially like down south Texas and Miami where parties were off the chain! Never gang problems or fights—but when the ‘90s rolled around it died off because the violence. There was no such thing like, ‘Oh, I’m going to a party.’ ‘What kind of music?’ “They play house.’ Or ‘They play hip-hop.’ ‘They play electro.’ No such thing—top 40 was top 40 and you played whatever it was. New wavers, punk rockers, hip-hop heads, soul heads, funk heads—everybody in the same club partying to the same music. It was beautiful! My early stuff was influenced by a lot of that—new wave and Prince and funk and Kraftwerk. So many different styles—I still got ghost-produced hits on the radio!
Yeah, go ahead and get me sued! Expose all those people who don’t do their own stuff!
What was it like DJing school dances?
Elementary school dances! I went to Catholic school—rougher than public, don’t let ‘em fool you! I’d do all-girls schools, and the nuns would walk around with signs saying ‘NO FREAKING ON THE DANCE FLOOR.’ And we couldn’t play certain songs, but I’d sneak them in because I knew the nuns didn’t know anyway. One time I played ‘I Need A Freak’ and they clamped down real quick—I had been trying to lower the volume on the word ‘freak’ but all the kids were singing it! I was like, ‘No! I’m trying to help you out!’
Did you ever see Kraftwerk?
Not when I was younger, but in the past ten years. Last week me and Egyptian Lover got back from shows in Germany—we were mad tourists there! In Nuremberg, they had a train museum with the actual Trans-Europe Express. We were hanging off that train like little kids!
How much creativity did you inherit from your dad?
My mother says I’m just like him—crazy like him! My mother is an actual classical pianist and music teacher. She tried to drill music in my head but I never wanted to learn, and now I’m kicking myself. But in a way I’m glad—I could know too much. Instead of, ‘Oh, you mean to tell me I can’t play those two notes together? Well, I just did and it sounds good!’ My father had written over fifty books—I think I followed the same suit.
He did Black Exorcist, right?
And Black Gestapo and the Iceman series—a lot of stuff on Holloway House. And he had tons of comic books—that’s all he was into! And my grandfather worked at Disney, so there was that influence. He knew Walt and Roy Disney. My father met him—and I wanted to kick my father when he was alive—my grandfather took him to meet Walt and Roy and they’d send him stuff they’d drawn. Like hand-drawn with their name on it. And send him the first Mickey Mouse watch. And I asked him—‘Ah, I don’t know what I did with it.’
What’s something you used to play that was always a no-fail hit?
Definitely a song I produced—‘Supersonic’—anytime! I’m surprised at the longevity of that song. It cost me $400 to produce. In fact, I did two songs for $400. The first single was supposed to be ‘Another Ho Bites The Dust,’ but I did ‘Supersonic’ as a B-side for the girls because they needed a dance song. Me and Dre used to mess with two of them in the group. One girl was a professional skater and the other girls did nothing and none of them rapped at all. But they decided they wanted to because they knew us. I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t think so.’ But we went in the studio—see what happens, have some fun. $400. And the rest is history!
Didn’t you get a Grammy for that?
Nominated. I never did get a Grammy, dammit! I did get an American Music Award for ‘Fergalicious’ because it was a remake of ‘Supersonic.’ I got an award twenty years later!
You said the early N.W.A. records you did are 75% live music—who was doing the sessions? How did that work?
Me and Dre personally were really into not sampling. We’d throw in effects or scratches or sirens or whatever, but if it came to a guitar sound or something, we’d rather play it. So we’d get someone to come in—try to recreate it before we ripped it. That’s why N.W.A. sonically sounded better than a lot of other records. It’d be Stan the Guitar Man, a homie from the hood—or another guy—what’s his name? We just had some people we’d hire to come in and play. Live we’d put everything on a DAT and play to that—or like a drum machine and stuff. I don’t think we ever had a live drummer—there were too many people in the group?
Where did you do the cover for N.W.A. And The Posse?
Around the corner from Macola—we had to do a photo shoot and found the alley somewhere. We didn’t tag it up—it was already there! And we invited a bunch of buddies to come hang with us. Straight Outta Compton was a more professional shoot. We ended up in an alley running to do different photos. ‘Why are you guys always in the alley?’ But it turned out to be classic.
What was N.W.A. like when you left? What did you think it was and what did you think it would be?
I knew it was gonna be big. But what I tell people is this. Two things—I was a solo artist before the group. The only solo artist. Dre and Yella were in a group and Cube, Ren and Eazy hadn’t done anything before. I was the only one doing it solo and getting money, and I knew how much we were supposed to be getting. I made it known how much we were supposed to be getting paid. I made more money solo! What about fame? Well, I was there for Straight Outta Compton, and after that there wasn’t much anyway. If it’s fame and no money or money and no fame—I’d rather take the money. I’m a businessman. A lot of people think I wasn’t in the group—I’m on the album cover! And if you look at the first N.W.A.—the EP. N.W.A. And The Posse is a bootleg by Macola after they left for Priority. The first N.W.A.—there’s pictures on the back of only four people. Me, Dre, Eazy and Ice Cube. That’s it. There you go.
You seem like you’re barely in Jerry Heller’s Ruthless book.
Yeah—because I was the first one to leave and to blow the whistle in general! But I’m cool with Jerry now. I don’t think he knew much about me. I’ve been a private person anyway. I’m a producer first—a DJ—a studio whore! I’d rather produce and be creative than be out in the limelight. Maybe that’s why my name hasn’t got out as big as everybody else’s.
What do you think of people saying you’re the Pete Best of N.W.A.?
If they wanna call it that, it’s all good. But the difference between me and Pete Best is I’m still grinding!
You said N.W.A. killed electro. Since you helped invent electro, what was it like to be there at both ends?
It was crazy. But me and Dre had talked about it. That’s why ‘Panic Zone’ and ‘Something 2 Dance 2’ are on the record—we needed a song for radio and the club. But the sound had to change. It was just—growing up, in a sense. And now that I’m getting older, electro has come full circle. All you hear on the radio is uptempo electro beats!
What do you think is your own place in L.A. music history?
How can I put it? I worked with a lot of different people on the west coast—I think I’m one of the only people had a big hand in things early on. And I think the album cover we’re recreating—Maggot Brain—is perfect. With the anthology coming out and me still doing music and traveling—it’s almost like the waking of the dead! I’m back 100% now—y’all never should have brought me back! I know where all the skeletons in the closets on everybody is. I know the formula for making hits! Should have left me over with my videogame company and special effects. I’m about to change the game again! It’s crazy—for me, I got four in a row this year. The twentieth anniversary of N.W.A. this year, twentieth of ‘Supersonic,’ I got my anthology and on top of that—besides the whole different style of music I did after ‘89—I got Professor X. I’ll be doing the first-ever album I’ve done as that in two months.
So just what was going on in 1988?
It was just the vibe! Even though there were like little battles with DJs and that—the party was family! I was friends with everybody—Egyptian, Ice T, Dre—we were all family. East coast was all different hoods and battling—if you were from Brooklyn, you weren’t down with fools from Queens. On the west coast it was all love.
Are the 65 interviews you’re doing now more than you’ve ever done?
Back in the day I used to do a lot—but not all at once like this! I’m loving it. I always said—I do a lot of shows with a lot of different artists, and it disheartens me to see a recording artist with ego and attitude problems. Dude, you just got a job—if somebody hires you and they’re paying you to have fun, you’re disrespecting everybody out there! If you see me at any concert, after I’m off stage I’m out there partying with people and cheering the other groups on! I used to live in Brentwood—really upper high class!—and at two in the morning, I’m at Ralph’s buying—I don’t know. And some random girl comes up to me—‘Excuse me, are you Arabian Prince?’ I signed something—I really don’t care about the fame but I just wanna see people partying down. All the stuff I’ve done in my life—music to video games and now I’m trying to be a pro golfer! I got a golf tournament tomorrow. If I ever have kids, they’ll be like, ‘This fool—my pops was crazy!’
ARABIAN PRINCE’S INNOVATIVE LIFE: THE ANTHOLOGY 1984-1989 IS OUT TUE., AUG. 19, ON STONES THROW. ARABIAN PRINCE ON TUE., AUG. 19, AT AMOEBA RECORDS, 6400 SUNSET BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 7 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. AND WITH PEANUT BUTTER WOLF, J. ROCC, DAM FUNK AND HAIRCUT ON SUN., AUG. 25, AT THE SUNSET JUNCTION AFTERPARTY AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 10 PM / FREE IF 21+ / $10 IF UNDER / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. VISIT ARABIAN PRINCE AT STONESTHROW.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/ARABIANPRINCE.