January 23, 2021 – Before he funded the birth of Death Row Records, former L.A. drug lord Michael (Harry O) Harris provided the seed money for Houston hip-hop impresario James (Lil’ J) Prince to start the groundbreaking Rap-A-Lot Records that went on to launch the Southern Rap sound, per DEA informants and exclusive GR sources.
For the first time since the late 1980s, Harry O is a finally a free man again. According to what he has told the BOP in recent sentence reduction requests, he plans on moving to Texas and working as a prison rights activist with a ministry he has ownership of in San Antonio.
Harris, one of the most infamous West Coast crime bosses of the past half-century, was released from prison earlier this week after 32 years behind bars on drug trafficking, racketeering and attempted murder convictions on a commutation from departing U.S. President Donald Trump. The 59-year Harry O is a legend in the L.A. dope game and produced a Broadway play in New York starring Denzel Washington (Checkmates) before he was locked up.
Lil’ J Prince founded Rap-A-Lot Records in 1987. Per DEA records, less than a year earlier in October 1986, informants told the government that Harry O gave Prince $200,000 in startup capital for a rap label. Harry O admitted to the L.A. Times that he gave Prince cash on a handshake deal and didn’t expect Prince to have the success he did with Rap-A-Lot Records.
The number he’s alleged to have given to a business-minded L.A. gangbanger named Marion (Suge) Knight in 1991 to start transformational Death Row Records, clears the million-dollar mark. Death Row was based around NWA castoff Dr. Dre and a protégé of Dr. Dre’s they called Snoop Doggy Dog. Add in a little Tupac in the years to come and the rest was history.
Death Row defined the Gangster Rap era in hip hop and merged hardcore rap and mainstream music for the first time. Snoop Dogg reportedly lobbied aggressively with the Trump White House for Harris’ commutation.
Per DEA documents, Harry O “called shots” in the early days of Death Row, choosing the name of the label, commissioning the designing of the iconic electric-chair logo and giving notes and advice in the production of the Dr. Dre all-time classic album The Chronic that put Death Row Records on the map. DEA agents followed Knight on visits to Harry O in prison on two dozen different occasions between February 1991 and November 1992.
On February 22, 1992, at the lavish Death Row Records launch party hosted at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg performed and Suge Knight toasted Harry O, per an FBI report. Harry O footed the bill for the party through his Godfather Entertainment company. The FBI and DEA were on hand as well, snapping photos and taking video of the event.
Harris could only oversee so much from his prison cell. Knight soon cut Harry O out of the business and left Harris’ Godfather Entertainment for splashier Interscope Records. Death Row generated more than $300,000,000 in sales revenue in its 15-year existence.
Harry O ran a cocaine empire that stretched from California all the way east to Michigan, Maryland and Massachusetts. In the 2000s, Harris and his ex-wife successfully sued Knight for back payment of royalties and effectively shut down the label with their lawsuit. Knight, famous for his thuggish tactics in the music industry, is currently in prison for killing a man with his car over a dispute related to the money Knight felt he was entitled to for being portrayed in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton.
Lil’ J Prince, 56, denies ever taking any money from Harry O in his founding of Rap-A-Lot Records. Prince called Harry O a “lying snitch” to the L.A. Times in 1998 when the allegation first surfaced as part of an FBI and DEA investigation into Death Row Records in the wake of Tupac’s murder in Las Vegas. Harry O told the times that he and Prince had fallen out in the mid-1990s over the management of New York rapper Dana Dane.
Rap-A-Lot Records came out of the box with The Geto Boys as its signature act. The group became known as the “Godfathers of Southern Rap.” Geto boy “frontman” Scarface is considered a Hip-Hop legend and rap genius by his peers. The 1991 song My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me went to No. 1 on the hip-hop chart and finally crossed Southern Rap over to the mainstream.