Category Archives: 1988

A Few Words on Public Enemy, 30 Black History Months In

It’s almost too fitting that the anniversary of Public Enemy’s debut album should fall during Black History Month. For people like me–’90s kids from majority-white towns where “Black History” meant half a class period on George Washington Carver every February–Public Enemy was our connection to an invisible history of Black radical thought: from Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois to Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. Their music opened me up to ideas I didn’t even know existed; ideas that, in the wilderness of White (supremacist) America, were truly life-altering. Discovering P.E. as a teenager was an experience as radicalizing as discovering punk rock; more so, in fact, because they represented a threat to racial hegemony that even the likes of the Clash did not. They were insurrection in musical form, with a visceral cut-and-paste aesthetic that continues to sound cutting-edge to this day.

None of that, of course, was the point of Public Enemy. More than any other rap group of their era, P.E. was music by and for Black people; the radicalized white kids like me were collateral damage. But I can only speak from my experience, as someone for whom Fear of a Black Planet and, especially, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were an introduction to an entirely new kind of politics, a new way of seeing the world. If nothing else, I have Public Enemy to thank for introducing me to a rich canon of African American literature and art: to Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and for that matter to James Brown, John Coltrane, and Gil Scott-Heron. Without that initial spark of interest I felt the first time I heard “Bring the Noise,” I might have missed out on a whole universe of ideas that have made me a definitively better person.

Granted, not everything about the group has aged well. Public Enemy may have exposed millions of listeners like myself to Black Power and the Panthers, but they also regurgitated a lot of less progressive influences: the anti-Semitism and homophobia of Louis Farrakhan, most famously, along with a host of conspiracy theories and pseudo-history that contemporary listeners are likely to file away as Hotep bullshit. Their politics are more akin to a firebrand anarchist zine than a well-reasoned essay–which is probably why they appealed more to my teenage self than they do to me as an adult. But there will always be a place for firebrands, and P.E. were as incendiary as they came: it was what made us sit up and listen in the first place. And in early 2017–a time when racism in America is arguably the worst it’s been in my lifetime–their fire might just be needed more than ever.

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Filed under 1980's, 1987, 1988, conscious rap, James Brown, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Public Enemy, rap

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Graffiti Bridge Era

Graffiti Bridge

When Dystopian Dance Party recorded our Prince spinoff podcast earlier this summer, we talked about how the glory days of the Prince protégé were pretty much over after 1987. As we’ve seen in this series so far, the half-life for Prince’s side projects seemed to have been about three albums, max; after that, either he started to lose interest, or his charges began to bristle under their lack of creative control. There was also the practical matter of Prince’s commercial decline in the latter half of the decade. While 1987’s Sign “O” the Times and 1988‘s Lovesexy were both incredibly strong albums, they fell short of sales expectations; The Black Album, meanwhile, was infamously scrapped at the eleventh hour before release. Prince still recorded for other artists in the late 1980s, but not with the same svengali-like approach he’d taken in the earlier part of the decade; his few attempts at traditional “protégé” albums, such as the aforementioned follow-up records by Sheila E. and Jill Jones, the Time‘s Corporate World, and a solo debut for dancer Cat Glover, remained in the proverbial vault.

By 1990, however, Prince was ready to try his hand once again at the idolmaking game. The hit soundtrack for 1989’s Batman had returned him to a state of financial solvency, and his new film and soundtrack project, Graffiti Bridge, was an attempt to aim for the mainstream–a sequel to Purple Rain, at that! So, just as he had with his feature debut, Prince filled the film with a stable of peripheral talent: including the breakout stars from the previous movie, Morris Day and the Time. In addition, much like early configurations of Purple Rain‘s soundtrack, about half of the accompanying album was devoted to tracks from the film’s guest stars. The problem was that Graffiti Bridge wasn’t Purple Rain, and Prince’s 1990-era side projects were a far cry from their 1984 equivalents.

tevincampbell

Graffiti Bridge isn’t all bad, of course–or at least, the album isn’t. As mentioned before, the Time’s tracks are basically a less satisfying appetizer for their own Pandemonium; and the best of Prince’s tracks are, conspicuously, the ones he pilfered from earlier (and better) unreleased projects. But “Round and Round” by then-13-year-old Tevin Campbell was one of Prince’s most successful attempts at writing and producing in a New Jack Swing mode, not to mention one of his most radio-friendly songs in years: the second-biggest single on the album, in fact, placing at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Number 3 on the R&B charts. It is, admittedly, something of a stretch to call Tevin Campbell a Prince “protégé”–he was actually discovered by legendary producer Quincy Jones–but Prince did write and produce several songs for his 1993 sophomore album I’m Ready, including the original version of the classic Gold Experience ballad “Shhh.” Another track from these sessions, “The P,” thankfully didn’t make it to wax; bootleg versions are in circulation, however, for any masochists out there with a sick desire to hear Tevin Campbell rap about genitals.

Another decent protégé from the Graffiti Bridge era, if not an especially remarkable one, was Elisa Fiorillo: a former Star Search contestant who can be heard on the Time’s track “Love Machine” (though, confusingly, in the movie her part is lip-synced by Ingrid Chavez). Fiorillo’s own Paisley Park debut, I Am, was released the day before Graffiti Bridge, with production handled mostly by Prince’s longtime engineer David “Z.” Rivkin. Prince contributed several songs, however, as well as production and instrumental duties for the gauzy, sensual single “Oooh This I Need.” After parting ways with Prince, Fiorillo worked through the ’90s primarily as a backing singer, and later joined the New Power Generation full-time in 2009; earlier this year, she appeared alongside numerous other former Prince associates for Sheila E.’s tribute at the BET Awards.

Less auspiciously, Graffiti Bridge also saw the first and last appearance on a Prince project by Robin Power. Having made appearances on Soul Train and in several early hip-hop videos, here she raps–if that’s what you want to call it–on her singularly grating feature “Number One,” which ended up in the film but (mercifully) not on the album. Prince gets a lot of flak for his early NPG rappers T.C. Ellis and (especially) Tony M.; trust me, though, next to Robin Power, they’re basically Biggie and Pac. But we also can’t place all the blame on her: the beat, which aims for Public Enemy‘s Bomb Squad but comes closer to nails on a chalkboard, is all Prince.

MCDGRBR EC001

GRAFFITI BRIDGE, Ingrid Chavez, 1990, (c) Warner Brothers

In the end, though, probably the most significant Graffiti Bridge protégé was another one who made the film but not the album: none other than the movie’s co-star, Ingrid Chavez. Chavez is a fascinating figure, if only for her important role in the Prince mythos; it was, by all accounts, a spiritually- and sexually-charged encounter with her in late 1987 that led to Prince scrapping The Black Album in favor of the more beatific Lovesexy, where she appears on a few spoken-word interludes. Indeed, Chavez seems to have lived her life in the late ’80s not unlike Aura, the character she played in the Graffiti Bridge film: wandering wherever the wind took her, causing spiritual epiphanies in every man who crossed her path (or, in the case of an earlier encounter with Lenny Kravitz, co-writing “Justify My Love” for Madonna). Though she doesn’t appear on the album, she clearly inspired the Graffiti Bridge project as a whole; the movie often feels like a thinly-veiled allegory for her and Prince’s brief but intense relationship, with an extra layer of Christ metaphors for good measure.

Prince worked with Chavez on her own album, May 19, 1992, from late 1987 until early 1991, with Prince providing musical accompaniments to Chavez’s spoken-word poetry. A conflict with parent label Warner Bros. eventually caused Prince to leave the project; his contributions remained on the record, however, notably the single “Heaven Must Be Near.” Chavez then presumably turned into a white feather and blew away in the wind (nah, just kidding, she collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto and former Japan vocalist David Sylvian, then retired quietly from the music business to have a family).

Released 26 years ago this weekend, the Graffiti Bridge album is basically the definition of a a mixed bag: its songs range from great to embarrassing, from catchy and commercial to boundary-pushing and experimental. The same can also be said of Prince’s supporting artists from this period (though, again, the less said about Robin Power, the better). One thing that can’t be denied, however, is that the quality of Prince’s side projects in 1990 had taken a distinct step down from that of their mid-’80s predecessors. Unfortunately, however, we haven’t come close to reaching rock bottom: next Saturday–deep breath–we’re talking about Carmen Electra.

I guess I’ll see you then. In the meantime, keep checking out Andre’s work throughout the week, and come see more of my stuff on Dystopian Dance Party and dance / music / sex / romance.

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Filed under 1980's, 1987, 1988, 1990s, Paisley Park, Prince, Uncategorized

Grooves On Wax: 1988 Albums,1987 12″ Inch Singles

Siedda Garret

She was the songwriter who bought us Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror”,and was also his duet partner on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. One year after all this,Siedah Garrett released her very first solo album. It featured the majority of Quincy Jones’ Westlake studio crew on board. Along with one heavily re-worked Thriller era Rod Temperton  composed MJ outtake “Got The Hots” on the ultra funkified “Baby’s Got It Bad”.

Key Jams: “Kiss Of Life”,”Groove Of Midnight”,”The Legend Of Ruby Diamond” and “Baby’s Got It Bad”

Brown Mark

The reason this didn’t wind up listed with the Prince alumni article I did was because this album has nothing at all to do with Prince,or Paisley Park. Former Revolution guitarist Mark Brown (rechristened Brownmark by Prince) released this album for Motown. As with Prince,Brown plays most of the instruments. His approach as a multi instrumentalist is closer to the harder kick of a Teddy Riley, however. And this is not an album that compromises on the funky uptempo material at all.

Key Jams: “Next Time”,”She Don’t Care” and “Stakeout”

Clyde Criner

Clyde Criner is a fairly obscure figure. The reason I picked up this album was because of how much it flaunted its personnel. Mainly MY MAIN BASS MAN Marcus Miller. His slap bass soloing is all over this album,right along with Criner’s melodic block chords on different electric pianos and synthesizers. This album is a potent combination of synth funk and electronic jazz fusion licks.

Key Jams: “Just Might Be That Way”,”Spider” and “Kinesis”

Henrique and myself have a constant conversational theme about how 1987 in particular showcased a time period where heavier funk again became the main basis for dance oriented pop records of the era. And that year was a MAJOR year for 12″ mixes. I don’t have a all of them yet. But this was the first year that brand new music really made a significant impact on me at 6-7 years old. So its a good place to speak for early firsthand experience.

It was Henrique who turned me onto Barry White’s 1987 comeback single “Sho You Right”. This song mixes the synthesized Freestyle dance sound of that era with the strong Latin samba funk attitude White used to get with his Love Unlimited Orchestra. This 8+ minute extended 12″ mix really brings out the sauntering rhythm of it all by emphasizing the drums. The instrumental B-side focuses on the Santana-like Latin rock guitar solo.

The history behind the Alexander O’Neal song “Fake” is amazing in Minneapolis funk circles. It was written by AND for alumni’s of The Time. Jam & Lewis really bumped out the percussive,bass heavy funk for this number. The best part of these 12″ inch mixes is how they thoroughly explore the song. You’ve got an extended mix,a vocal remix-the “patty mix”,an a cappella mix featuring O’Neal,percussion and light synths only PLUS an instrumental with an amazing electric piano walk down. Amazing exploration of the groove and therefore one of the strongest 12″ inch funk singles I’ve heard this far.

Ray Parker Jr. is one of the most underrated guitarist/multi instrumentalists I know of. After a string of funky pop hits in the early 80’s as a solo artist,Parker emerged in 1987 with the single “I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone”. That,along with the guitar solo oriented instrumental “After Midnight” (title song of his album that year) showcase the urban contemporary jazzy funk side of his nature from his earlier session work with Herbie Hancock and Rufus. This 12″ mix of the song really showcases that.

Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam really brought the new jack swing pioneers Full Force into the limelight. Their Latin freestyle/dance club hits of the late 80’s were not only ultra catchy,but ultra funky as well. with Full Force being there to re-cut and remix  their hits “Head To Toe” and “You’ll Never Change” showcased just how deeply these songs grooves.

M/A/R/R/S’s “Pump Up The Volume” was my first exposure to both House music and sampling,though I didn’t know what either were at the time of hearing it. This is an awesomely funky house/scratch/hip-hop number out of the UK. When I heard the Bar Kays “Holy Ghost” a decade or so later,it created a flashback to the “put the needle on the record” segment of this song. Another group member AR Kane provided the B-side “Anitina”,a brittle,Bill Laswell like funk rocker that I always enjoyed.  Wanted to say a quick RIP to M/A/R/S member Steve Young,who passed away last month.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1987, 1988, Alexander O'Neal, Barry White, Brownmark, Clyde Criner, Full Force, House Music, Jam & Lewis, Latin Freestyle, Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam, M/A/R/R/S, Marcus Miller, Pump Up The Volume, Ray Parker Jr., Sampling, scratching, Siadah Garrett, Vinyl