Prince Paul, the innovative hip-hop producer, doesn't seem sure if his recently released
album, A Prince Among Thieves, is the libretto and music to an unproduced movie
or an unproduced movie in musical form.
Either way, a feature film based on the album -- which he said existed in his head for 10
years before he released it in February -- is being made.
"I wrote A Prince Among Thieves as a screenplay," Prince Paul (born Paul
Huston), 32, said, "but it was hard trying to convince the label [Tommy Boy] to do it as a
movie. Back when I told them about it [in 1989], they were like 'Yeah, right.' So I made
the album first."
However, Prince Paul -- a former member of pioneering New York rap crew Stetsasonic -
- said he watched in frustration as a series of low-budget "guerrilla" hip-hop films by
rappers, including Master P, Jay-Z and Mack 10, cashed in on an idea that was ahead of
Sure enough, the sprawling, 35-cut A Prince Among Thieves unfolds like a crazy-
quilt amalgam of B-grade gangster movies, ghetto comedies and blaxploitation flicks.
And such tracks as "Weapon World" and "Mr. Large"
(RealAudio excerpt) are packed with cameos by hip-hop stars including
Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, Everlast and the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA.
"I was just spoofing every movie I've ever seen," Prince Paul said of the album. "It's got
the cop being bad ... the big gangsta, Mafioso-type characters, Mr. Large and the pimp. I
just made everything extreme. I was watching 'Juice' and 'Grease,' ... 'Sleeper' by
Woody Allen. Then I saw Master P's 'I'm 'Bout It.' I thought 'Oh, this is funny.' I squished
that together with my personal experience"
(RealAudio excerpt of interview).
The story centers on Tariq, a character played by one of Prince Paul's young
discoveries, rapper Breeze. Tariq faces the eternal hip-hop dilemma: how much of
himself is he willing to sell out in order to get a record deal?
Along the way, Tariq goes up against a group of crackheads played by comedian Chris
Rock and long-time Prince Paul associates De La Soul. He also contends with the hard-
ass Officer Omaley Bitchkowski, played by former House of Pain leader Everlast, and a
devious bad guy named Count Mackula, portrayed by hip-hop legend Big Daddy Kane.
"I tried to make it a really basic story of cops, inner conflict and resolution," Prince Paul
said. With the help of Rock, who worked on assembling the script and honing the
characters, the project developed as what Prince Paul imagined would be both a film
and soundtrack. But he couldn't get Tommy Boy interested in producing the movie
version, so he settled on recording the script as an album and shooting scenes
whenever and wherever he could.
One of the scenes from the movie-in-progress was shot last year with fellow hip-hop
producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (Dr. Octagon), who appears on the album and
who partners with Prince Paul in the side projects Handsome Modeling School and The
Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
"We filmed this crazy scene with me and [rappers] Sadat X and Xzibit in jail, beating up
this kid," Nakamura said. The lo-fi clip was filmed in a Brooklyn, N.Y., TV studio last year.
"[Prince Paul] told me it was part of bits and pieces of a trailer he was putting together,"
Nakamura said. "Who knows what he'll come up with?"
Prince Paul began his career in 1986 by joining the hip-hop act Stetsasonic and quickly
becoming a producer for the group's recordings. It wasn't until 1989, when he hooked up
with thoughtful, whimsical rappers De La Soul and recorded their groundbreaking debut,
3 Feet High and Rising, that the diminutive producer crafted what would become
his signature sound.
De La Soul's album, interspersed with comedic sketches and interludes, would forever
set Prince Paul apart from his fellow producers. In its wake, rap albums began to
routinely include spoken-word intros and bits.
In addition to working on two albums by the Gravediggaz, featuring RZA, Prince Paul has
produced albums by MC Lyte, 3rd Bass and Boogie Down Productions as well as a
Grammy-Award-winning comedy album by Rock.
A Prince Among Thieves is rife with dark, grinding tracks and laced with soulful
piano and horns and Prince Paul's notorious interludes. It was also a life lesson,
according to the budding filmmaker.
"I always learn stuff about myself when I make my records," said Prince Paul, who
released his disturbingly dark solo debut, Psychoanalysis, in 1996. "When I
listened to it, I realized what was on my subconscious. It's basically saying ... you can't
trust anybody and people have a tendency to make actions without thinking about the
(RealAudio excerpt of interview). "[The album is] almost like an abstract painting. Everyone gets
something different from it."
Although he said he's grown tired of trying to convince his label that a film of A Prince
Among Thieves is a viable project, Prince Paul said he will continue to try to make it a
reality. "Worse comes to worst," he said, "I'll go around Manhattan with three camcorders
and a giant light, filming scenes."