Filed under: Features,Interviews,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Having set new standards for heavy lyrical techniques during his time as a member of the influential Organized Konfusion crew, Prince Po has continued to drop his own brand of Southside science through his solo work, working with everyone from Raekwon and Large Pro to DOOM, J-Zone and Madlib. But even beyond records, Po has an extensive history in the game…
Robbie: So you grew up in South Jamaica, Queens?
Prince Po: I grew up in 40 Projects. I grew-up there, but when I was in my second, third year of high school we moved maybe a half a mile from the projects and got a house right across from a park. That’s where I actually was living once the Organized thing was…once we started getting our demos together. When I lived in the projects we was already a group and we already made demos and stuff – people knew that we was doing something with hip-hop. Soon as I finished high school, I was out the house, I was gone! When I moved out, that’s when everything started kicking in.
You guys released a Simply 2 Positive 12″ in 1989. What can you tell me about that?
That was just a smooth, jazzed-out down-tempo song that we did with the band member that played on Tom Brown’s ‘Funkin’ For Jamaica’. That was the eye-opener for us as far as how it’s done.
Did you get a good response from that?
We got like about six radio stations that played it, we was just happy to have a record out [chuckles]. When you lookin’ at other MC’s or groups on records…it didn’t matter if it was an independent or major – just to same our name on a record was what we was happy about! [laughs]
Good way to impress girls, too. What else was going on at that time?
I used to play ball a lot, man. Rap, basketball and work – that’s all I did.
What were you like as a baller?
If I wasn’t rappin’ then I definitely woulda probably did something. I probably woulda been a sixth man or seventh man off the bench, ‘cos I’m not that tall. I woulda been like an off guard, but I’m not tall like that, I’m only 6’2″. I was playin’ ball at BMCC at the summertime before I was supposed to enroll, just to get on the team and get my grades up so they’d give me a two year scholarship to go to college. I just decided to do hip-hop.
Did you have a crew back in high school?
I rhymed with dude’s from round my way, but we just called ourselves The 40 Crew – ‘cos we was from 40 Projects. We just was representing our neighborhood. But not like in the gang-typa sense – but just in the sense of we comin’ to the table with something different and original. But we was just makin’ little tapes back then, we really didn’t take it further than that.
What was the connection with Percee-P?
Percee went to school with us. Percee, Kwame, Fresh from 101, Prodigy, Havoc from Mobb Deep, [Mr.] Complex. At Art School, regardless of whether you was [studying] advertising or computer graphics, the way how that school was structured it was just always normal for kids to be multi-faceted, to have different things that they’re doing – that they’re creative. If somebody’s a advertiser they might play beats on the table, or if a person is a computer graphic artist he might be a graffiti writer, or if a person is a package designer they might be an up-and-coming DJ who’s using their big brother’s equipment. That school definitely had creative people in different ways and sorts.
It seemed to be a breeding ground for lyrical talent.
Percee shoulda been had a deal. Percee’s been nice since high school. We used to be rhyming in the lunchroom…he even had a battle with this dude – the dude beat him the first day, and he came back like two days later and just smashed the dude to pieces. How he smashed him was not only the rhyme was way better than dude – well the style was way better from the beginning, it’s just the dude, his flow wasn’t good it was just the metaphors he was using had captivated the crowd. But Percee came back two day later, captivated the crowd with not only the metaphors he was usin’, but the flow and he was playin’ the beat with own hands on the table! So he really had the crowd and he smashed it. That battle will never happen again. He’s always been nice. He used to write in class, we had a few classes together, he always used to write and share rhymes, we used to kick it. We was always cool since school.
That must have pushed you and Monch to write better.
Our influences go to Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel and a lotta MC’s that had flow way back, but even still, the game has a code and it forces you – you have to come to the table with originality. Me and Monch was just witty kids, we listened to gospel music and rock music. We was just witty, we didn’t have no great influence from nobody. We was intelligent kids that lived in the hood – people always get it confused because you from the ghetto then you ain’t smart. That was the exact opposite – we was very smart! The whole wordplay thing, the whole vocabulary thing…I was spelling bee twice in my elementary school and I came in good places as far as the borough-wide spelling bee, so that’s just us. When it’s time to step up to the bat and really show your skills, there was a lotta homework that had to be done that you don’t have to do now.
How did songs like ‘Hyponotical Gasses’ and ‘Extinction Agenda’ come about? They were pretty out-there.
We was just really following the order of the name of the group, which is Organized Konfusion, an oxymoron. Once we got a song like ‘Fudge Pudge’ done, which is funky to us, or once we got a song like ‘Black Sunday’ or ‘Maintain’ done, we felt like that was mellow or cool for maybe older people to like, but then we always felt like in order for us to maintain that name Organized Konfusion it has to be something that’s really far-fetched to the left. When you got groups like Tribe and De La and Black Sheep and Second II None and E-40…you got all these groups that have been making records for a long time, but they’re coming to the table with something totally different, so we was like, ‘We gotta step outside the box and really go extreme’. We all love the Rambo’s and the Terminator’s…you see this stuff on TV, and people always talk about it’s hip-hop and the violence – it’s just that when you get these ideas, and you got this access to these movies – and with your own intelligence and you have an imagination, being an artist. You have a more vivid imagination when you like to draw and create.
It was a blessing that people liked the songs, ‘cos it wasn’t nothing that was super-crazy to come up with, because we felt like we can’t go to the people in the streets with no garbage! You can’t sell them no garbage! You can’t do that to them, ‘cos that’s not right, and they’re gonna shut you down. You’re presentation has to be very neat, so we was like, ‘On two or three of these songs on the record, we gonna go way to the left and really try to hit ‘em with it hard.’ We knew that was takin’ a chance, ‘cos the record label was like, ‘Wow, that’s a different one…’ [chuckles] But they eventually loved it, because that’s what drew people in. It really helps to stand-out. Now, with the DOOM’s and the Quasimoto’s it’s fresh to step outside your skin and do something different, and for a little while it wasn’t fresh!
How long did a ‘Prisoners of War’ take to write?
It all depends on the mood we were in. We wrote our songs livin’ life regular. Come over early in the morning to Monch house, we have breakfast, sometimes we might go play ball, come back to the house, we write…cut the beat off, play Playstation, go back to writing again. Sometimes we sat for hours and wrote! What took more time was not the rhymes but actually putting the song together – having the break-down parts and trying to make the song different from just having a chorus and a rhyme and then a chorus and a rhyme and then it’s gone. So that’s where the helicopters sounds and all that stuff came in.
What about the singles you dropped on Hydra?
Jerry had a nice spot in Queens on the other side of Queensbridge. He dug the stuff from Organized and he gave me an outlet to put out singles and still be heard. Jerry was diggin’ the way it was still different but it was a little more down-to-earth that cats in the streets could get with. Times was changin’ in the industry to, as far as how people was rhymin’. The flows was changing and I’m definitely not gonna change-up what I do, but you also gotta cater to what’s gong on in a way, so you can pull them into your world.
Following that, you began to work with some producers from LA like Madlib. What was the connection there?
Once those singles was out, a few people was hearing those singles – it was cool. At that point I felt like I’d learnt enough about digital…that’s my whole thing – when people thought I was gone, I was teaching myself how to use Cakewalk and Sonic Foundry. Try to keep up with the Jones’ and educate myself on how to make beats and go into the new wave of how things is goin’ down, man. It takes time. People just jump on the machines now and thinkin’ they learn something in two days. I spent a whole entire year teaching myself the [SP] 1200 and [S] 950 and then came the MPC’s, and the ASR-10’s was before that. That was part of the game too, if you’re gonna be a producer you gotta put it in! I sat for maybe two years getting into the whole computer thing. Hydra allowed me to let people know that I was still around and make some money. It was a blessing. Going out west was more-so of like Percee had a deal and I felt like I had enough little stuff out that people still know I‘m around. So Percee had a deal and he said he wanted me to get on a record, and Madlib was sayin’ that he wanted me to get on something with him, so it was sorta like a 2 in 1 to come out to Cali. Just coming out, it was so much love being poured from people in the industry on all levels. It was just like, ‘OK, there’s a lotta opportunity out here. Maybe I oughta test the waters and see what was going on’. Madlib and them just embraced me, and when I learned how much they was big fans, it really just clicked good. Even with Danger Mouse, I was out there for a little while recording The Slickness album with him.
When Nas did ‘I Gave You Power’ did you take that as a compliment to ‘Stray Bullet’, or were you like, ‘Hang on a sec…’?
I take it as a compliment because anytime somebody gets an idea from something that you did, it’s an honor. Nas has been putting in so much work in the game and coming at people with so much jewels…I never heard him give us props for it, but that’s not what I’m in the game for. I’m not in the game looking for props. I know he was influenced by the song, and just to hear his song was just an honor in itself. I don’t get wrapped–up in ‘Why he ain’t shout us out?’ That’s stupid. We got bigger things to do, we got much more goals to reach.
Do you speak to Monch at all? It must be hard to connect between your schedules.
Yeah. We always talk, he always gives me calls and tells me what’s going on. We talk like brothers – that came first. I did the business half of the situation as well, man. We both put a lot of effort into the creative part of the record, but when you go on the road and you’re trying to take care of business…you’ve got a road manager, but the road manager still has to communicate with one of the group members to keep everything with protocol and in order. That’s what makes better business and what keeps friends who are doing business together…then when it can’t be done, then either one of them two gotta end – you gotta stop being friends or you gotta stop doing business, and you know you rather stop doing business. We had a understanding, but I did most of the business, I was tired and he was just like really let-down from all the work we did on that Equinox record and for the label not to play they part…I was too, but I understood the problem was out of my power. That was a part of me growing-up, ‘cos I was a young hot-head, so when I would be calm, Monch would be breaking something up, and then when Monch was calm and cool – which is most of the times – I’d be ready to break something up! So we fit well together. Monch is the type of dude that like, ‘Yo, chill!’ And I could chill and listen to him, because he is a knowledgeable dude. That’s what everybody gotta do – develop that understanding ‘Each one, teach one’. We talk constantly, at least once a week. So everything is wonderful, man.
Did you have a big stash of songs that you did as O.K. that never came out?
I’m pretty sure if we got the reels back from Disney, I think we got like two or three songs.
Was The Extinction Agenda a difficult album to make?
Nope! With the stuff that was going on – Yuesuf Hawkins getting killed in New York, racial overtones and the cops was actin’ up…it was relatively easy to make that record! [laughs] There was times we came out of clubs, we wanna get a cab to Queens – they don’t wanna go all the way to Queens, yet and still they want a long cab fare. They don’t wanna take two young Black dudes to Queens. We offered to pay up front – they got dividers in the cabs and everything. To go through that stuff and actually have money and a deal and trying to live good and take care of your family and still don’t get a break…things have changed since then, but it was easy to make ‘cos there’s so much stuff you go through everyday, just dealing with people.
Did you learn a lot about making beats from Paul C?
We learnt a lot from Paul C. What was cool about it was he was real cool with how we brought him samples of stuff we wanted to use. The way he chopped and put stuff together, it was meant to be – almost celestial – because me and Monch used to chop off of cassette tapes. We used to make beats off cassette tapes by having two recorders and recording and catching it at the right beat to make it flip. We used to call ‘em beat tapes.
Like pause tapes?
Yeah! The pause tapes! That’s when we was making beats, so when we used to bring samples to Paul, he was like, ‘Y’all know what you’re doin’. We used to kill them tapes! But that wasn’t the way to do it. Now the new thing was to be going to the studio.
He was the master of chopping things up as far as drums and samples.
Yeah, he was nasty at it. He was definitely good with it, and had every James Brown record ever made, up until the time of his demise.
Organized Konfusion - ‘Releasing Hypnotical Gases’
Organized Konfusion - ‘The Extinction Agenda’
Prince Poetry - ‘Shine’
Prince Poetry feat. Boku Rule of Ill Rhalos - ‘Hot Syrup’
Prince Po - ‘Pretty Black’
TomC3 & Prince Po – ‘Choose’
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