Somewhere not far from his Marina del Rey condo or Playa del Rey alma mater St. Bernard High School, Arabian Prince wants to create a space where kids from neighborhoods like Compton — where he grew up and became part of the foundational rap group N.W.A. — can learn to code, find a mentor, and interact with the latest technological innovations. Think of it as a co-working space, R&D lab, startup accelerator and tech education center all in one.
Arabian calls it “Open Labs,” and he’s hoping to find this initiative of his Inov8 Next product innovation incubator a home by 2019 because, well, the tech world needs a place like this. Too often, he says, tech companies push products to market that aren’t really designed with the consumer in mind. They’re built by and for tech insiders, like the guys you meet at conventions.
But what if you reversed the equation? What if companies built technologies inspired and engineered by the diverse consumer base that uses their products? What if ordinary people could walk off the street and into a hotbed of technological innovation?
You might have a tech world that looks radically different from the one we have now — one that’s cutting-edge because it’s diverse and accessible. That’s the tech industry Arabian wants to build, drawing on the untapped potential of people who grew up in places like he did.
Arabian attributes much of his success in the music world to interacting with media and technology at a young age. He recalls learning to program a synthesizer his cousin had brought home after a stint in the military.
“It was just a bunch of wires plugging into holes with a keyboard. You would get no sound out of this thing unless you knew how to plug the wires into the LFOs and the VCAs. So I’m a little kid playing with this stuff going, ‘Dude, this is dope,’” says Arabian. “Fast-forward to when I made my first record, I got my first royalty check and I’m like, ‘Oh, I have a little money now.’ First thing I ran out and did was buy a computer.”
From there, he taught himself how to code and make animations. He applied electronic music tricks he had picked up from making girl group J.J. Fad’s hit song “Supersonic” (which really involved engineering back then, he says) to his collaboration with Dr. Dre (who’d been involved with the electro-pop rap group World Class Wreckin’ Cru) on N.W.A.’s famed first album “Straight Outta Compton.”
“It literally uses the same sounds that we used on ‘Supersonic’ and on The Wreckin’ Cru stuff, because that’s what we knew, and we just made it more hardcore and hip-hop,” he says.
After Arabian walked from the group (a pure “business decision,” he says), he got into working on video games for places like Saban Entertainment and Fox Interactive, which taught him how to build technology from the ground up. That’s the kind of experience he wants to pass on and pay forward with Open Labs.
“Yeah, I made records. I made music. I got a chance, I got a shot. Yeah, I made some money. But what really sparked me and put me over was technology. I want to kind of just open that door for people,” he says. “That’s what I want to give to this new generation of kids growing up.”
— Christina Campodonico