How N.W.A’s Arabian Prince Continues to Innovate Post ‘Compton’ in Today’s Digital Age of Music

Published on March 3, 2020

When I was young growing up in Compton, you had a few choices. One was, be out in the streets doing dirt or whatever everyone else was doing, or if you had a mother that was very overprotective of me like she was, and a bunch of uncles and cousins who were the ones in the streets doing a lot of the bad stuff and didn’t want me out there either, you had that model where people were trying to figure out where you fit.”

Arabian Prince

For those who aren’t well versed with the GRAMMY-nominated producer and founding member of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted hip-hop group, N.W.A., you might be surprised to learn that Arabian has always been a futurist, innovator, and creator.

And Grit Daily learned that first hand from its attendance at the privately hosted Techfluence VIP Party with GetGeeked TV founder Barry Myers during CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Arabian, who has been attending CES since the 80s has been immersed in the technology space for over 37 years.

(L-R) Arabian Prince and Grit Daily’s Jordan French at Techfluencers CES 2020 in Las Vegas

“I haven’t missed CES in over 30 years,” Arabian shared with us.

Grit Daily’s Andrew Rossow with Flavor Flav at Techfluencers at CES 2020 in Las Vegas

Yet, even with a jam-packed room of private guests, including Arabian, Flavor Flav, and multi-platinum producer B. Howard, what caught our attention, was the Joué that Arabian and fellow artist, Flavor Flav were dropping beats on together throughout the night.

Joué, a France-based innovative music company, recently announced Prince joining the team as an advisor and lead brand ambassador.

The Joué is a modular MIDI controller or board that allows the user to play drums, guitar, keyboard, and more—in otherwise, you can literally ‘drop a beat’ on the go.

Arabian Prince playing Joué at Techfluencers at CES 2020

Prince recently attended NAMM where he jammed out on the Joué at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Grit Daily recently spoke with Arabian about how his upbringing as a young futurist and technologist, has helped keep him off the streets and thriving in a competitive music industry that is unfortunately filled with a lot of “noise.”

Grit Daily: We briefly had a chance to chat at Techfluencers, but not too much about CES. After 30-years of attending CES, what did you think of this year’s conference?

Arabian Prince: Interestingly enough, it has now started to get more interesting. For a while, it got kind of stagnant—everything was VR, 4K TVs, and drones. That’s all you saw. And now, you’re starting to see a switch into A.I., robotics, and very small foreign factor technologies that will change your everyday life. I’m starting to see CES get back to creativity.

The Joué Board

For Arabian, continuing his passion and love for tech has also allowed him to continue bridging the gap among DJs, electronic music artists, hip-hop producers, and the industry. And both Arabian and Joué share a vision for Joué as an instrument for everyone, from novices to experts—thanks to Arabian’s friend and reggae musician, Mishka.

“I started experimenting with Joué a year-ago at NAMM, when Mishka showed me the Joué and we ended up taking a deeper look into it,” Arabian explained.

“I’m a futurist guy, so I look at this stuff and go, ‘wait a minute, there’s something going on here—this is it; this is what I’ve been looking for. This is the tool that will change the game.’”

GD: Why do you believe this is the device to really spark things up in the industry?

AP: It’s something you can throw in you backpack and use anywhere you are—and play an instrument.

GD: But aren’t there similar MIDI controllers in the industry?

AP: Of course, and you can do the same with other controllers. However, most of them are bulky and don’t have as much functionality as this does. For me, it was more of an appreciation. I love this device, and however I can help spread the word, I’m in. After the show last year, the company came back to the U.S. and they wanted to sit down and talk. Ever since, I’ve been part of the team helping them launch this and take it to the next level.

GD: How “versed” does one need to be in music to be able to utilize the Joué? In other words, what’s the ease in transitioning to using tech like this?

AP: It’s an amazing starting point just for the simple point that it’s a guitar, keyboard, drum machine, and controller—it’s whatever you want to make it. They are building their own internal software for it as well for the beginner. We plan on building out some tutorials and starter things on how to learn how to just dive in and use the device and play. I think that is what sets it apart from everything else—and the fact that it’s very portable and you can switch it out on the fly in real-time.

GD: How do you envision Joué really impacting the average artist, producer, and other industry figure?

AP: Anybody who sees it who is a producer, wants it. Imagine being somewhere –where you’re out and about, and you get an idea and want to put something down. Now you have a tool that can do that. Whether you’re in an airport, plane, back of a car, or at the park—I don’t care where you are—as long as you have that and an iPad or computer, you can create.

I think that will change the game, both in-and-out of the studio. You can pretend to play the guitar on a regular keyboard controller, but you’re not really going to get that same pitch and resonance and plucking streams. This tool lets you do that. Like me, I’m not a guitar player, but I’m learning. I can pick out tunes on this, just as I would on a guitar.

GD: Think back to Guitar Center or those traditional “How to Play” guides for any given instrument. Does the age of online content creators, YouTube stars, TikTok stars, and now this technology behind Joué make those guides obsolete?

AP: No, you can definitely keep utilizing those. The Joué just makes it a lot easier. Back in the day, you had to buy your kid a piano or a guitar, or whatever tool to teach them. Now, you can buy a device with a bunch of pads and there you go. Not only can you teach guitar, but piano, keyboards, drums, and the list goes on. You can use it with any software or hardware—it’s very versatile. I call it an open-source tool.

An Entrepreneur, Innovator, and Futurist: Back to Compton

What was special about this conversation with Arabian is the opportunity to really go back in time, to the streets of Compton to get a better understanding into Arabian’s upbringing and immersion into the music-tech sector. To really get a sense of why Arabian loves to explore and tear apart the latest tech whenever it hits shelves.

I mean, how often do you have the opportunity to speak with an artist as respectable and reputable as Arabian, who literally helped shape the rap/hip-hop industry as we know it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a very real departure from that infrastructure where it seems almost “whiney” these days.

GD: For someone like you Arabian, whose helped shaped the music industry since the beginning, with your time with N.W.A. and post-N.W.A., how does your musical background help empower you as an entrepreneur in 2020?

AP: I’ve always been a futurist, technologist, and innovator. One of my first songs I ever did was called “Innovator”, because I’m always looking to innovate and create—or at least be part of the future. I buy the latest technology when it comes out, every single year. I’m crazy with it. I build new PCs every year.

I’m looking to push it with music, entertainment tech, computer tech, or anything else. For me, to see something like that, you kind of go—‘oh yeah’, this is something that if you get it out to enough people, it can go viral.’

GD: Growing up in Compton, what made you turn to music rather than a life of drugs and crime? What was your inspiration?

AP: When I was young growing up in Compton, you had a few choices. One was, be out in the streets doing dirt or whatever everyone else was doing, or two, if you had a mother that was very overprotective of me like she was, and a bunch of uncles and cousins who were the ones in the streets doing a lot of the bad stuff and didn’t want me out there either, you had that model where people were trying to figure out where you fit.

I was an athlete and very smart as a kid. They kept pushing electronics on me at an early age. My mother was a classical pianist and a piano teacher—she tried her hardest to teach me piano, and I really didn’t want to learn. But I learned inadvertently. I wanted to play football. I learned enough to get myself in trouble and be creative.

My father wrote books—so I had all of this knowledge around me and it was one of those things, eventually, my crazy uncles and cousins all got sent away to the military to do better and they would come home from overseas in the 70s with electronics—they’d come back with synthesizers and Ham Radios, and all of these things a normal little kid probably wouldn’t have access to.

But because they didn’t want me out in the streets, I got to play with all that stuff. That’s why I have the voice that I have now, because I’ve been talking on a radio and Ham Radio since I was 7. My uncle came home with an Arp 2600 synthesizer when I was young, and for people who don’t what that is—that’s the mad -scientist synthesizer that had all the plugs—you couldn’t get sound out of it unless you knew how to patch it. I learned all of this as a little kid, and my love for it just grew and grew. I became a DJ and went on from there to make records.

‘Taking Care of Your Business’: How We Can Monetize Music Again

GD: At 30 years old, I grew up with the digitization of music and P2P sharing. What’s your take on the music industry today since the time you helped shape it?

AP:  I think it is fragmented; I also look at it this way. As technology moves and goes forward, everything changes from how we ingest all types of media to what we play them on. The cassette was obsolete, then vinyl records became obsolete unless you were a DJ, or audio files, CD players, DVD players—but now, guess what’s back? Vinyl is back.

And now, the younger generation is buying vinyl, and I never would have seen it coming. Everything has uptick again and I think as we go forward, it’s going to change again. I’m waiting for the new format that people will buy into. I remember when LaserDisc came—this big disc that played high-quality video.

And then, DVDs came out and made it obsolete. Even with audio, as people’s appreciation for audio gets bigger again, people will be looking to play higher-quality audio. I think we will then be able to monetize it again—you won’t be able to just download crappy audio. Right now, people don’t care. But as our systems get better, we can hopefully monetize it again.

GD: If you could implement one thing in the music industry, what change would you like to see?

AP: I would like to see artists be more in control of their brand and their own destiny. You’re starting to see it now because of online media influences on YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat. What we’re seeing now is understanding that I can be a brand and make money directly, as opposed to dealing with large corporate companies.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as these companies are willing to play fair. This traditional framework of ‘oh you’re the artist but you’re not making the money’—that’s got to stop because without the artist, these big companies won’t make the money. But they make it seem without them, you can’t make money.

But hey, you’re starting to see now that people are figuring it out on their own—they create on their own, they put it out there, and their fan base comes to them. I’d like to see more of that.

GD: To your fans who grew up listening to you, what advice do you have for the millennial and Gen X generation coming into this industry and re-appreciating tech like vinyl?

AP:  I say this over and over—remember what you’re getting into. You’re getting into the music business, the entertainment business. It’s a business. Don’t focus always on the music or on the creative, without taking care of your business. I see a lot of up-and-coming artists throwing their music on SoundCloud for free—and their stuff gets stolen, ripped off, or even signing contracts without knowing what they are doing.

Take care of your business and you will have a very lucrative career.

GD: What artists have inspired you growing up and into today? The industry you helped build and craft isn’t what it is today—very difficult to transition from that age to today’s age and maintain that same sense of appreciation.

AP: Growing up, I was influenced by three artists—Kraftwerk, Prince, and Parliament Funkadelic. As far as a modern influence, not really, because that’s always been where I get my creativity from.

GD: Have you come across online trolling over the years?

AP: I see it happening to a lot of other artists. For me, nothing really bothers me too much. Every now and then you run across it in posts, especially by people who don’t understand where you come from. You know, for example, since I left N.W.A right during Straight Outta Compton, some people don’t know I was there, even though I’m right on the album cover.

And you get some people who are like ‘who is that fool?’ If you don’t know, you don’t know. Everyone is going to have their opinion and say what they want to say, especially behind a veil of the internet. I tell up and coming artists—don’t let anyone influence what you are doing. Be you, be creative, and do what you do. That’s what’s going to make you successful. I can only imagine the Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Aerosmith’s of the world and what they have to endure daily—and they don’t even see it.

Arabian will be speaking at Grit Daily House on March 19 at SXSW 2020 in Austin, Texas. Don’t miss out on hearing him speak!

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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