This is an installment in The Posse Project, a 12-day series in which www.PHXmusic.com catches up with all 12 guys pictured on the cover of N.W.A's first album, N.W.A. and the Posse. Today, we start things off with Arabian Prince, a producer who was an original member of N.W.A. To read more about the purpose of The Posse Project, click here.
Also Known As: Mik Lezan, Professor X.
Before the Photo: Arabian Prince was a producer who worked with L.A. acts like Bobby Jimmy & the Critters, which featured Russ Parr, who is now a nationally syndicated morning show host. He was one of Ruthless Records house producers, also working on JJ Fad's hit single "Supersonic." (You've probably heard part of "Supersonic:" Fergie's "Fergalicious" samples the hook).
In the Photo: Arabian Prince is in the middle row, second from the right. He's making no pretense to wear "gangsta" clothing, instead favoring an unbuttoned shirt, tight jeans, and lots of jewelry. He's also got a Jerhi Curl and mustache, a look that always fit his style better than baggy jeans and a Raiders hat.
"I've always been a club cat," Prince tells me. "I want to make people hype, I want to make people party. And when we did the N.W.A thing, I was cool with it because I grew up in the hood as well, but I've never been gangsta. My uncles was gangsta, my cousins was gangsta, and I'm like, 'I'm not really gangsta.'"
After the Photo: Arabian was an actual member of N.W.A. He's pictured on the back of the record with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy E, the core of the group at the time. He left the group while Straight Outta Compton was being recorded, releasing a solo record called Brother Arab in 1989.
Like the others who later left the group — including Cube and Dre — Arabian cites financial improprieties as the main motivator behind his departure.
"I'm a businessman first and foremost, and I was a solo artist before, so I knew how much money we were making," he says. "And I'm like, 'Well, we just sold a million records,' I knew we were supposed to get X amount of money we weren't getting. And you know what, we've gotta split the money anyway, and we're still not getting paid what we're supposed to get paid. I'm going to go back and do my own thing, and I'll make more money than all ya'll, myself."
Arabian Prince also disliked having to deal with cops after the group drew fire with songs like "Fuck Tha Police."
"Everywhere we went, we had problems with the police, we had problems with other gang members. And it was like, 'It's cool, I'm cool with it, but let me get paid for it.' If I'm not going to get paid, and I'm out here just for the fame, I ain't with it. I need to get paid."
What He's Doing Now: Professor X is Prince's old/new identity. The Professor X stuff, which started before his time in N.W.A, has an electro-funk sound. Arabian Prince is also working on a cartoon/music project called Funky Lil Anime.
"It's gonna be pretty hot, man. It's kinda like an animated Black Eyed Peas kinda thing, where it's gonna be hip-hop and dance with just animated characters."
People Don't Know: A lot of guys in the picture weren't actually making music at the time they posed on the cover.
"A lot of them, they were just homies from the neighborhood and we were like, 'Hey, we taking a photo. Y'all wanna go?' And they were like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,'" he says. "It was just a random photo. None of the cats, at that time, were doing anything. And any of those guys who moved on to do music after that . . . It was probably a direct thing from being on that album cover."
In fact, these dudes were put together so randomly that Arabian can't even identify the guy standing on his right.
"The guy next to me, I don't even know."
People Don't Know: "Panic Zone" was N.W.A's first single only because the group was scared to go gangsta right off the bat.
"'Panic Zone' was the first single because me and Dre came from the electro background and we knew that there was no way in hell that we were going to get any of that gangsta stuff played on the radio, and we wanted to make sure we got it to the DJs and got some radio play just so people would know we were there. And so, we were like, 'Hey, let's do some dance records' because we knew we could get this played because that's what people knew us from before," he says. "So we did 'Panic Zone' and that's what got us on KDAY [AM 1580, Los Angeles]. And, after that, once the gangsta stuff blew up, KDAY was like, 'Eh, well I guess we gotta play it if you've got the clean versions.' So we had to go back and do clean versions, and that's how it got on the radio."
People Don't Know: N.W.A. and the Posse was pretty much a scam by the group's first record company, Macola.
"The first record we ever did was called N.W.A. — it wasn't called N.W.A and the Posse, it was just called N.W.A. — and it was an EP with four or five songs on it. Then we left Macola Records to go to Priority Records. Macola, they were thieves at the time; they ripped everybody off. So when we left, they went back and took our EP and put a bunch of other crap on there — that wasn't even us — and called it N.W.A. and the Posse and turned it into an album."
People Don't Know: N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton lineup didn't have much street cred.
"Eazy was the only one in the hood who was really a real gangsta — doing the drug thing, doing everything else. All the rest of us were just DJs. We were producers, we had done a lot of records, and that's how the whole thing came together. Cube wasn't actually doing anything. He was in school [in Phoenix] until we brought him back. Ren was just Eazy's boy; he lived down the street from him. And, I mean, Ren wasn't really banging, but he was probably the next closest thing to Eric (Eazy). If you had to go in order it would be Eric, Ren, then probably me and Dre because he grew up in Compton. So did I. It wasn't like we were pushovers, but we weren't no gangstas. Then I would go probably Ice Cube, then Yella. Yella was about as far from gangsta as you could possibly get. He was more close to freakin' Morris Day and the Time."
People Don't Know: Being famous is over-rated.
Arabian Prince is, was, and always will be a businessman. Unlike a lot of guys involved in the loose early days of the group — when everyone contributed what they could in the studio (often without getting a writing credit) — he filed lawsuits to collect his share of the group's royalties.
"I made so much money back then 'cuz I still got all my royalties off of everything. I had to sue them and do some other stuff, but I got it," he says. "I never was the cat that wanted the fame — I've been making records since I was in school — so I always wanted to behind the scenes. And so when I had the opportunity to kinda duck back behind the scenes, that's what I did."
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Prince says he has plenty of money as a result but also doesn't fear for his safety the way so many guys from the gangsta rap scene do.
"I have no enemies. I can go anywhere, walk down the street, play golf. I can go to the mall, I can go to these events with these cats. I DJ all around the world. I just have fun, man. I think that's the life, man. You've got to be able to enjoy your money and your success and not [have] TMZ is all up in your face every time you get out of your car. Or every time you go to the club, you've got to have a bodyguard because people are trying to get after you."
Check out the other installments in the Posse Project Here: