Prince Paul can't recall the last time he was in San Antonio, but after 30 years in the music industry you really can't blame him. Regarded as one of the most influential producers in hip-hop, Paul Huston started collecting records when he was 5-years-old and was spinning wax by age 10. His skills on the deck landed him a DJ gig with Stetsasonic, who released their first album in 1986, opening the door to production.
"I've been collecting since I was so little and I've been analyzing records since I was so young that by the time it came for me to sit in the studio, I already knew what I wanted to do," says Prince Paul from New York City via telephone. "It was just figuring out technically how to do it. Especially the early days which was strictly looping and programming."
Paul's critical breakthrough arrived three years later with De La Soul's seminal 3 Feet High and Rising. Along with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, the De La Soul debut represents the gold standard of hip-hop sampling. Paul toured with Public Enemy as a member of Stetsasonic, so the group's influence comes as no surprise.
"The Bomb Squad was a serious inspiration for me when I was making 3 Feet High and Rising," recalls Paul. "It Takes a Nation of Millions, Public Enemy. License to Ill, Beastie Boys. Eazy Duz It. To me the production on those records was just phenomenal. I was like 'If I'm gonna make a record I need to make it on this caliber, if I can.'"
A sprawling sound collage blending elements of James Brown, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson — among others — 3 Feet High and Rising was a game changer in the industry creating the blueprint for how samples could be used and compensated for in recordings. According to Paul, the album was made for $25,000, which was split between Paul, De La Soul and studio costs. The LP is also credited with introducing the hip-hop skit and was dubbed the "Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop" by the Village Voice.
"I think the key that we had for De La Soul is we would put our samples in key," Paul says. "If were gonna multi-sample something and make a record with layers of music, we're not gonna just throw music on top of each other. We're gonna make it fit. It's gonna sound like it belongs together."
With Paul at the helm, the group continued constructing vibrant aural soundscapes on their follow up album, De La Soul Is Dead, receiving a coveted five-mic rating in The Source for their efforts. After parting ways with De La Soul following their slept-on Buhloone Mindstate, Paul went on to focus on his own work, including the ambitious A Prince Among Thieves, and other collaborations. As the founder of Gravediggaz, he taught The RZA how to program an SP-12, and went head to head with Dan the Automator on a couple of MPC drum machines as one half of Handsome Boy Modeling School.
More recently, Paul joined forces with his son P Forreal to create Negroes on Ice, a quirky concept piece that showcases his trademark humor. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a collaboration with Sacha Jenkins and J-Zone called Super Black, and is particularly proud of a forthcoming hip-hop Brazilian fusion project featuring Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets fame. When he's not channeling his inner Kanye, Paul marvels at how far the culture has come.
"I'm just surprised that we made it out of the '80s," admits Paul. "Being in hip-hop, especially an artist in the '80s, was like being in the civil rights movement because you had to fight for the music so it could exist. I think a lot of kids today take that fight for granted. How rock and roll was in the '50s, it was the same thing."