as supreme teams up with rap-a-lot, we celebrate the seminal hip-hop label

We toast Rap-A-Lot, one of rap’s most rebellious and progressive labels that first put the South on the map.

by Hattie Collins
|
06 April 2017, 2:15pm

It's hard to imagine how hip-hop might look in 2017 without the South's sizzurp-soaked stain stamped across its back. Currently dominating the genre sonically and culturally, Southern rap's stars of now — such as Atlanta's Young Thug and Future — have not only changed hip-hop, but pop music at large. Future's last four albums all reached number one in the Billboard charts.

The South's sonic dominance doesn't begin in Atlanta, but rather 800 miles away in Houston, Texas — specifically the 5th Ward, the home of J. Prince. The CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records established the label in the mid-80s, when hip-hop was dominated by East Coast and West Coast acts. The South, scoffed the rap world, had nothing to offer. Then Rap-A-Lot was born, the Geto Boys made Car Freak, and slowly things began to change. A seminal part of hip-hop history since its very first release, Rap-A-Lot went on to discover Scarface and Devin The Dude, while the South itself bore everyone from UGK to Outkast, Lil Wayne to Lil Jon, T.I. to Ludacris, Young Thug to Travi$ Scott, Lil Yachty to 21 Savage. The South's imprint on hip-hop culture is indelible, emanating from the church and the stripclub, from candy-colored Cadillacs cranking out crunk and trap, screw and snap.

It's no surprise then that the street culture connoisseurs at Supreme have decided to focus their latest collaboration with the profoundly influential Rap-A-Lot. Featuring a 5-panel hat, beanies, sweatshirts, a club jacket and — our favorite — a pillow, the collection is available at 11 am today. In celebration of the collaboration, we salute Rap-A-Lot, one of hip-hop's most pioneering labels and the home of the self-made music mogul.

Shop Supreme x Rap-A-Lot

1. J. Prince set the label up to stop his mates skipping school
Prince's brother, Sir-Rap-A-Lot, was trying to make music and, as Prince observed younger talent like Raheem and Jukebox skipping school, he decided to cut a deal with them all. "Y'all go to school, I'll support you in rap," he told Complex back in 2012. This was in 1986; less than a decade later, Prince had made millions and millions.

2. Rap-A-Lot became the blueprint for Southern rap
Although the West Coast is widely acknowledged for wrestling rap from the clutches of New York in the mid-to-late 80s via Ice T, Toddy Tee, and Dr. Dre's World Class Wreckin' Cru, down South in Houston, hip-hop was quietly finding its feet. If L.A. created G-Funk gangsterism, then the South was all about Horrorcore — violence, drugs, and death. Bodies being dismembered and disrespected. Thuggery celebrated. Gore and guts. Psychotic behavior washed down with psychotics. It was dark. Very, very dark. Coated in paranoia and a sense of devil-may-care dystopia, Rap-A-Lot's roster was unapologetically bleak. And, by dint, unapologetically successful. Beginning with Raheem and the Geto Boys, the label put out Scarface, Big Mike, Ghetto Twiinz, Do Or Die, and Devin The Dude — and later, solo offerings from Pimp C and Bun B.

3. Rap-A-Lot was the also the blueprint for the Southern rap label
In Rap-A-Lot's wake came Master P's New Orleans-based No Limit, Birdman and Slim's Cash Money, and Suave House, founded by then 16-year-old Tony Draper. Cutting deals via major labels such as Universal and A&M, indie owners such as Prince and Master P made millions in the late 80s and 90s. Local popularity was propelled nationwide and even overseas with records selling hundreds of thousands of copies and rappers charging thousands to perform and collaborate. Using the major label system more as distributor meant most of the cash went straight to the CEO rather than the major labels. Where an act like Madonna might make 25% on an album, J.Prince and Master P were netting up to 75%. Hence the Gucci customized cars and wall-to-wall Versace wallpaper. Got to spend those millions on something!

4. Rap-A-Lot not only put the South on the rap map, but specifically Houston
Which means that ace books like Peter Best's Houston Rap now exist. The 272-page tome profiles everyone from Bun B to Willie D to local community leaders and business people, providing a fully immersive experience of what it is to be Houston and rap — from screw to sizzurp and everything in-between. Atlanta might house the most multi-million selling rappers by the square mile, but Houston's cultural offerings have been key. Wood Grain Grippin', chopped 'n' screwed, grills, sizzurp, DJ Screw and Paul Wall — all of it originates in H-Town.

5. The label also brought us the Geto Boys
The Destiny's Child of rap, the Geto Boys went through a lot of lineup changes. A lot. Raheem, Sir Rap-A-Lot, Prince Johnny D, and DJ Ready Red comprised the original roster. The more defining lineup of Willie D, Scarface, and Bushwick Bill released the Geto Boys's now classic album We Can't Be Stopped (the album cover of which features on much of the Supreme collab).

6. Rap-A-Lot also hipped us to Devin The Dude, Raheem, and Scarface
Key Houston MC's passed through the label. In later years, Prince snapped up the solo albums of UGK — both Pimp C and Bun B released their own records through Rap-A-Lot. Although the label's last release was from New Orleans rhymer Juvenile, perhaps now is the time for Prince to reinvigorate Rap-A-Lot.

7. Rap-A-Lot's founder J. Prince was an OG CEO
It's hard to imagine a hip-hop honcho keeping a low profile. From Russell Simmons to Damon Dash, Master P to P.Diddy, the hip-hop CEO is rarely known for being meek and mild. James Prince, though, has led a relatively quiet existence, rarely giving interviews and never — take note Suge — popping up in the videos of his acts or turning up at awards shows. And when Prince did speak, it carried weight. In 2015, he released a diss track directed at everyone from Puff Daddy to Lil Wayne after they, variously, beat up or screwed over Prince's pal, Drake. Like Suge Knight, death threats and investigations by the DEA populate Prince's past, yet unlike Knight, Prince hasn't used them as pillars of self-promotion. As well as Rap-A-Lot, Prince is also a boxing promoter and the original manager of Floyd Mayweather.

8. J. Prince's son discovered Drake
True story. Jas Prince first heard Drake on Myspace back in 2006. Impressed, he tracked Drizzy down, bringing the-then unknown to the attention of his dad as well as Lil Wayne, playing him Drake's remix of "A Milli." Drake went on to sign to Young Money/ Cash Money but as relations between Baby and Wayne and Drake have soured, Prince Jr. has filed various lawsuits to try and claw back some of the money he is owed. If the father and son's part in creating the legend of Drake is doubted, check production credits on Thank Me Later and Nothing Was The Same — J.Prince serves as executive producer on both.

Supreme x Rap-A-Lot drops at 11 am EST today, April 6.

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Text Hattie Collins

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