Category Archives: 2010’s

The Funky History Lesson of Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic

bruno-mars-24k-magic

I have a confession to make: I like the new Bruno Mars album, 24K Magic. I like it a lot, actually. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s maybe the most pure, uncomplicated fun I’ve had with a record all year.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, that isn’t such a controversial statement. A lot of people like 24K Magic: it debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 when it was released last month, and the accompanying world tour sold over a million tickets less than 24 hours after they went on sale. A lot of people like Bruno Mars, too: the dude’s already performed at the Super Bowl twice, and he’s barely over 30 years old. But in today’s hyper-segmented pop music market, there’s a kind of shame that comes with admitting you like an artist with such mass appeal. Bruno Mars is the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of music; by admitting I like him (or PSLs), I forfeit the air of aesthetic superiority that is the lifeblood of every hipster and amateur critic alike.

But hey, like all amateur critics and hipsters, I have a fragile ego, so let me try to explain myself. 24K Magic is a fun, hooky record, but it’s also a history lesson; and, as it turns out, making musical history lessons fun and hooky might just be Bruno Mars’ calling. Mars is a talented songwriter, singer, and (especially) performer, but his real brilliance is as a mimic: think back, for example, to his 2012 appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he became a human Pandora playlist with spot-on impersonations of everyone from Michael Jackson to Green Day. That skit was basically a microcosm for Mars’ whole schtick; his influences are as heterogeneous and easy to pick out as they come, from the Michael Jackson and James Brown moves he spent his early career pilfering to his more recent, post-“Uptown Funk” incarnation as a post-hip-hop Morris Day.

The beauty of 24K Magic is that its influences all sound fresh and contemporary, despite the fact that they’re of anywhere from 25 to 40 years vintage. The title track, for example, is pure Zapp, right down to the little synthesizer drop on the chorus (a direct quote from the beginning of 1982’s “I Can Make You Dance“). “Finesse” is straight out of the Bobby Brown/New Edition playbook. And the delightfully cheeky “Perm” is James Brown filtered through the aforementioned Morris Day and the Time. All of these sounds are perfectly viable for contemporary listeners; I should know, I listen to them pretty much exclusively every summer. But they’re all sorely missing from the current music landscape, and I for one am thrilled to see somebody bringing them back to the mainstream.

Of course, the typical critical backhand against this kind of “throwback” music is that it’s stultifying nostalgia, more interested in looking back at the past with misty eyes than in pushing things boldly forward. But I think the “history lesson” term I used earlier is more apropos. Bruno Mars’ take on ’80s and ’90s R&B never sounds stodgy or conservative; it lacks even the grumpy-young-man purism that is sometimes evident in Dam-Funk‘s work. Mars is clearly just having a blast, and making sure the listener does too; I guarantee that there’s a sizable segment of his audience that neither knows nor particularly cares that he isn’t doing anything Roger Troutman didn’t already do. Pop music is a young person’s game, and it is (for now, at least) inseparable from capitalism’s endless parade of novelty. There are, of course, plenty of obsessives out there willing to dig through its history–several of them either reading or writing for this very blog!–but the truth of the matter is, the only way to introduce most listeners to sounds from the past is to deliver them again in a shiny new package. 24K Magic is new, and it’s as shiny as the gold alloy from which it takes its name. And if it gets even a handful of millennials to do a little digging in their local record store’s R&B section, then that’s even better.

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Filed under 2010's, 2016

2016 is Anderson .Paak’s Year, We’re All Just Living in It

Sometime around the middle of this year, I realized that a surprisingly large proportion of the new music I loved was being made by one person: Southern Californian recording artist and producer Anderson .Paak. Paak isn’t a newcomer, per se; he’s been around since 2012, when he released his debut album under the moniker Breezy Lovejoy, and his 2014 album Venice generated some minor buzz among people who pay more attention to contemporary music than I do. But I first became aware of him right around the time a lot of other people seemed to: late 2015, when he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records and contributed to several tracks on his new label head’s comeback record Compton.

From that description, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Anderson .Paak is a rapper–and he is, at least under the expanded definition of what constitutes a “rapper” in 2016. He contributed a freestyle (above) as part of XXL magazine’s annual “Freshman Class,” alongside other such unconventional artists as Desiigner and Lil Dicky; he was also recognizably rapping on the first track I heard from him, “Unique” by yet another generically hybrid artist, Washington, DC’s GoldLink. But that’s not all he’s doing: even on his most conventionally hip-hop songs, Paak’s flow is like a more musical, less rhythmically complex version of Kendrick Lamar‘s rasp on To Pimp a Butterfly, with a little bit of Southern soul shouting and even a dash of Morris Day‘s cartoonish jive in the mix. On “Come Down” (below), the most recent single from his album Malibu, he certainly struts like a rapper, but the groove he’s tapping into comes from a tradition that far precedes hip-hop as a genre.

And that, I suppose, is the heart of Anderson .Paak’s appeal. Like the aforementioned Kendrick, he’s undeniably contemporary, but with a deep sense of musical history: he was, in fact, recently embroiled in a minor “beef” with viral trap mumbler Lil Yachty over the responsibility of artists to be “students of the game first.” Personally, I’m not all that interested in comparing the two; I think there’s room for Anderson .Paak and Lil Yachty. But Paak’s insistence that young artists know their history says a lot about where his own work is coming from. Malibu bounces from rap-influenced heaters like “Come Down” to soulful, jazz-inflected ballads like “The Bird” to the expansive alt-hip-hop suite “The Season/Carry Me” (below), and sounds equally convincing on all fronts. It’s the work of an artist who’s deeply invested in his influences, but not beholden to them. In concert, Paak is just as versatile: moving back and forth from the front of the stage to behind the drums as the situation–and his sense of showmanship–demands.

Malibu may very well be my favorite album of 2016 so far–which is saying something, since it came out way back in January. But even outside of that album, Paak has kept coming to my attention. There he was in May with a feature for electronic producer KAYTRANDA:

Then there he was again in August with rapper Mac Miller:

Most recently, Paak has released a second full-length, Yes Lawd!, with Stones Throw producer Knxledge as NxWorries. It’s also great: a glitchier, druggier, less organic incarnation of Paak’s laid-back hip-hop soul.

I’m not gonna lie: it’s been a while since I’ve been as excited about a new artist as I am about Anderson .Paak. His blend of vintage influences with contemporary sensibilities is pretty much tailor-made for my tastes, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. And when it comes time to put together my “Best of 2016” list for Dystopian Dance Party, the only question at this point is how many separate times Paak is going to show up.

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Filed under 2010's, 2016, Contemporary R&B, Hip-Hop, Uncategorized

Retro-Contemporary: Nite-Funk Gets Physical

nitefunk

I’m unofficially the ’80s funk guy here at Andresmusictalk, but occasionally I also like to post about new music that’s in my wheelhouse. And for almost the last decade, one of the more reliable purveyors of contemporary ’80s-style funk (i.e., a big ol’ part of my wheelhouse) has been the Los Angeles-based keyboardist, vocalist, and producer known as DāM-FunK. His latest project, Nite-Funk, is a collaboration with another retro-minded independent artist from L.A., Nite Jewel; and I think it’s safe to say that, if you’re a fan of either artist or their shared pool of musical influences–Prince, SOLAR Records, and the recently-departed Kashif, to name a few–it’s well worth a listen.

Nite-Funk’s self-titled EP has actually been streaming since early July, but the record really got my attention when I heard about the limited vinyl release that’s scheduled to come out later this month. I mean, look at this thing: it’s gorgeous, with some clever visual references to Prince’s debut album For You, from the font on the cover to the peach-on-black design motif to the fact that Side 2 is called “the Other Side.” It isn’t often that I can be persuaded to drop $18 on a record (an EP, no less!) that I can already listen to for free; Nite-Funk, however, pushes my physical-medium-fetishist buttons in just the right way. I’ve already preordered a copy.

Of course, even the nicest artwork can’t make a record worth buying if the music isn’t up to snuff, but Nite-Funk excels on that level, too. DāM-FunK’s synths are as sonically lush as ever, sounding for all the world like they’re being piped in direct from 1983; and Nite Jewel’s vocals and keyboards both add a layer of icy cool to tracks like “Don’t Play Games” and “U Can Make Me.” The best thing about both of these artists is that, while their aesthetic sensibilities (DāM’s in particular) are definably “retro,” they’re also timeless. Nite-Funk doesn’t play “’80s music” so much as they play contemporary music on ’80s-vintage equipment; and I don’t think you’d have to be at a “retro night” to pack the dancefloor with a song as hot as “Let Me Be Me.”

Nite-Funk releases in physical form on October 25; the pressing is limited to 500 copies, but at least as of this writing, there are still some available. If you like what you heard above, think about preordering a copy of your own. Music this good deserves to be on your turntable and on your smartphone.

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Filed under 2010's, 2016, 80's revival, Dam Funk, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Family

thefamily

Unlike Sheila E., the Time, or even Vanity/Apollonia 6, the Family aren’t exactly household names (unless, that is, your household still has a subscription to the NPG Music Club). Among those in the know, however, their self-titled 1985 album is a buried gem. It’s certainly of interest to fans of the group’s svengali, Prince: with its mix of post-psychedelic whimsy, sweeping Classical Hollywood glamour, and organic jazz-flavored funk, it’s effectively the missing link between His Purple Majesty’s 1985-1986 albums Around the World in a Day and Parade.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Family were born out of the Time‘s acrimonious mid-1984 split: Andre has aptly described them as the Led Zeppelin to the Time’s Yardbirds. With the majority of the band now fired or resigned, Prince retained drummer Jellybean Johnson and dancer/comedic foil Jerome Benton, promoting “St. Paul” Peterson, who had joined the group less than a year earlier on keyboards, to the role of co-lead singer. The other frontperson was none other than the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s then-fiancée), Susannah Melvoin. Finally, the lineup was rounded out with saxophonist Eric Leeds, with additional support by Sheila E.’s guitarist Miko Weaver.

Arguably the real star of the Family, however, was never actually part of the group–and, in fact, never even shared the same room with them. Prince had long been a fan of jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger Clare Fischer: specifically, his more pop-oriented work with Chaka Khan and Rufus from the mid-to-late 1970s. And though they would share a fruitful partnership of their own throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s, it was The Family that marked their first-ever collaboration. Fischer’s orchestrations add a layer of musical sophistication to the album, particularly on slower, dreamier tracks like first single “The Screams of Passion” and the Bobby Z.-penned “River Run Dry.”

Elsewhere, more conventional funk tracks like “High Fashion” and “Mutiny” betray the Family’s origins in the Time; while two instrumentals co-written by Eric Leeds, “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas,” prefigure Prince’s growing interest in jazz fusion, to be explored more thoroughly in side projects the Flesh and Madhouse. Today, probably the best-remembered track on the album is “Nothing Compares 2 U“: the original recording of the classic Prince ballad later made famous by Sinead O’Connor. I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but I can definitely say that the Family’s is the more “Prince-like”–and Fischer’s arrangement, of course, is gorgeous.

Even in the volatile world that was Paisley Park in the mid-’80s, the Family were especially short-lived. Sales for the album were weak compared to Prince’s other projects at the time–it reached only number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart, missing the “mainstream” charts entirely–and St. Paul chafed under Prince’s micro-management, opting to ditch the group for a solo career in late 1985. In the end, the original incarnation of the Family played only one live show, at Minneapolis‘ First Avenue in August of 1985. Perhaps that’s why, more than any of the other “spinoff” acts, the Family tends to be thought of more as an extension of Prince’s solo work than as a separate entity. Certainly, that’s a point of view Prince encouraged when he absorbed Susannah, Jerome, Eric, and Miko into an expanded version of the Revolution in 1986, even performing his own version of “Mutiny” onstage–not to mention reappropriating the group’s whole velvet-jacketed aesthetic for his film Under the Cherry Moon.

Still, like their evolutionary ancestors the Time, the Family would later return for a second act without Prince’s involvement. A one-off charity gig in late 2003 eventually blossomed into a full-blown reunion, as “fDeluxe,” in 2009; since then, they’ve released two studio albums, a disc of remixes, and a live recording from Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The fDeluxe records obviously aren’t up to quite the same standard as The Family, but still well worth listening to for anyone who wants to hear more of their uniquely baroque take on the Minneapolis Sound. Most recently, like Sheila E., the Family/fDeluxe have found new vitality in the wake of their onetime mentor’s death: on May 4, 2016–exactly seven hours and thirteen days after Prince passed away–they reunited once again to record a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Next week…well, to be honest I haven’t 100% made up my mind about what to tackle next week. It’s between Mazarati–more of a “Prince protégé protégé,” I suppose, but one with an interesting history–and Jill Jones. Any preferences out there? Let me know. And as always, you can see more of my writing on Prince at dance / music / sex / romance, and more of my writing in general at Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1986, 2010's, 2016, Eric Leeds, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Paisley Park, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Time, Uncategorized, Wendy Melvoin

Prince Summer: “Lavaux” (2010)

Prince’s album 20Ten is celebrating its sixth anniversary this summer. It was Prince’s final album before laying low in terms of full length album released until he resigned with Warner Bros in 2014. It’s available for streaming and download today through the Tidal service. However not too many years ago,it was among the many rare Prince studio albums that wound up having a quirky distribution in terms of physical media. Personally, it’s one of the favorite Prince albums of his last decade. My favorite of that time period  being Hitnrun Phase II-initially a Tidal exclusive until it’s CD release shortly after his death.

Always one to look to the futurism of his music,Prince seldom returned back to the stripped down,synth based Minneapolis sound he helped pioneer during his salad days. Wasn’t until well into the new millennium that he started to realize just how much the style of funk he’d spearheaded was effecting contemporary music. On the 20Ten album,he showcased this very successfully on a musical level. At the same time,these MPLS grooves were accompanied by his more matured lyrical content throughout a good majority of the album. One fine result of this is a song called “Lavaux”

A two beat drum machine pulse kicks off the song. A thick slap bass line comes in as part of the songs main section. This finds the thick sheets of analog synth brass accompanied by thick bass/guitar interaction and rhythm right in the pocket of the Afro-Latin clave. The rhythm guitar is very much out of the classic Prince school-chunky and played relatively high up on the neck of the instrument. Only on the choruses does the song break-changing melodic pitch with Prince’s vocals. After another few rounds of the songs main section,it very abruptly comes to a sudden stop.

In many ways,this song could’ve been something Prince had recorded during the 1999 sessions. Especially with it’s phat analog synths and the masterful drum programming. What makes this song stand out from Prince’s early 80’s sound is its thematic content. This isn’t a young man with seemingly conservative attitudes about fearing nuclear war and indulging in hedonism. This is a song from a middle ages artist who’s travelling across Europe because being back home is “another form of slavery” and that”the cost of freedom is anything but free”. Its therefore the MPLS sound most fully realized.

 

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Filed under 2010's, analog synthesizers, drum machine, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, synth funk, Tidal

Prince (Protegé) Summer: The Time

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As an avowed fan of His Royal Badness and the tradition of silky, wet 1980s R&B he inspired, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to guest blog during the holiday season that is Prince Summer. Since Andre is covering the mainline Prince projects, however, I thought it would be best for me to fill in with some material on Prince’s extensive stable of side projects, from the 1980s to his untimely death in 2016. And where better to start on the Prince spinoff tip than with the greatest band in the world: the muthafuckin’ Time.

The Time were formed in early 1981 as an outlet for Prince’s more conventionally R&B-oriented material, after 1980’s Dirty Mind took his own music further in the direction of New Wave. His connection with several of the individual band members, however, goes back much further. Frontman Morris Day actually got his start as the drummer for Prince’s first band, Grand Central, while the pair were still in high school; they used to play in battles of the bands around Minneapolis in the mid-1970s with a rival act called Flyte Tyme, whose lineup included drummer Jellybean Johnson, keyboardist Monte Moir, and of course, future Minneapolis Sound architects Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on keys and bass, respectively. The Time, then, started life as a combination of the two older groups, with Flyte Tyme singer Alexander O’Neal on lead vocals–that is, until clashes with Prince led to O’Neal’s removal and Day’s promotion from behind the drums to the front of the band. Finally, Prince rounded out the group with the addition of lead guitarist Jesse Johnson, a recent transplant from Rock Island, Illinois.

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It’s this lineup that would appear on the Time’s self-titled debut album–or at least, that’s what Prince wanted you to think. Production on the first Time album was credited to Morris Day and “Jamie Starr”: a mysterious figure who was, of course, none other than Prince himself. And he didn’t just produce the record, either: he largely wrote and performed it, using the same “one-man band” approach (with uncredited assists from his band members) as on his own solo records. His guide vocals are even clearly audible on songs like the opening track and lead single, “Get It Up.”

The Time was a commercial success for Prince (who, as the artist directly under contract with Warner Bros., pocketed the vast majority of the profits), and it helped to solidify Minneapolis’ standing as a new musical hotspot, even if it was still almost entirely through the efforts of one guy. For today’s listeners, though, it’s of interest mostly as a historical document. The aforementioned “Get It Up” is good: its lascivious lyrics, Oberheim OB-X synthesizer squeal, and borderline heavy metal guitar solos make it sound like the Controversy outtake it is. And other standout tracks, like followup single “Cool” and the Lisa Coleman-penned workout “The Stick,” laid the groundwork for Morris Day’s larger-than-life persona: a more cartoonish version of the gravel-voiced “pimp” character Prince would adopt while cutting up behind the scenes. But Morris’ singing voice was thin, especially on the slow numbers–“Girl,” inexplicably released as the third single, is just painful to listen to–and Prince still hadn’t hit on quite the right tone for his ghostwriting.

On stage, though, the Time were monsters–which of course resulted in tension when Prince took them on as the opening act for his Controversy tour in late 1981 and early 1982. By hiring some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities as a ghost band, then feeding them deliberately crowd-pleasing material, Prince effectively created his own competition; and by paying the band a pittance of a salary and severely limiting their creative control, he bred resentment and a desire for the puppets to upstage their puppetmaster. These tensions ultimately came to a head on the last date of the tour in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Prince and his band threw eggs at the Time during their opening set, then handcuffed Jesse to a coat rack and pelted him with Doritos. Later, after Prince left the stage, the Time retaliated, and a food fight raged all the way back to the hotel. All in good fun, I suppose–until Prince billed the damage to Morris, claiming that he’d started the whole thing.

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Shenanigans aside, Prince recorded another Time album, What Time Is It?, in early 1982, Morris once again replicating his guide vocals with exacting precision. Andre already posted about this one back in 2014, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but suffice to say that if you only listen to one Time record, this is the one to hear. The grooves are skin-tight, the comedy is on point–hell, Morris even figured out how to sing a ballad (see: “Gigolos Get Lonely Too“). But on the ensuing “Triple Threat” tour with Prince and Vanity 6, the rivalry from the previous jaunt continued unabated. This time, tensions flared after Jam and Lewis, who had been producing a few tracks for SOLAR Records on the side, missed a date in San Antonio after being grounded by a blizzard during sessions with the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band. Prince scrambled to cover for their absence, drafting Lisa to fill in for Jam on keyboards and having auxiliary Time member Jerome Benton mime on stage while he played Terry’s bass parts from behind the curtain. When the duo finally caught up with the rest of the tour, Prince docked their pay, then fired them entirely; Monte Moir also departed in their wake.

The result of all this turmoil was a strange irony: the Time were in shambles, at the very same moment that they were poised for their greatest success. 1984’s Ice Cream Castle, recorded to dovetail with the group’s appearance in Prince’s breakout feature film Purple Rain, was another middling record, but its breakout hits “Jungle Love” (see above) and “The Bird” introduced them to a massive crossover audience. Ultimately, however, it was too late: Morris took off for a solo career soon after the release of the film, leaving Prince to tour for Purple Rain accompanied only by the Revolution, his costar Apollonia, and his newest protegée, Sheila E.

Each of the former members of the Time stayed active in the ensuing years. Jerome, Jellybean, and St. Paul Peterson (Jimmy Jam’s replacement) formed the core of yet another short-lived Prince project, the Family (more on them later). Morris pursued music and acting, both to mixed results. Jesse released a few well-regarded solo albums, to modest commercial success. Jam and Lewis, who frequently retained Moir as a collaborator, had the best run of them all–their former mentor arguably included, as their production of Janet Jackson‘s Control managed to keep Prince and the Revolution‘s Parade off the top spot of the charts in 1986.

By the end of the decade, however, a reunion was brewing. Prince recorded a full “Time” album with just Morris and Jerome in 1989, to be released under the title Corporate World. Warner, however, wanted the full lineup involved; so the album was cancelled, and Morris, Jerome, Jam, Lewis, Jesse, Jellybean, and Moir all reunited to costar in Prince’s ill-fated 1990 sequel to Purple RainGraffiti Bridge (see above). In other words, W.B., be careful what you wish for.

Thankfully, 1990 also saw the release of the band’s much-better album Pandemonium, which combined re-recorded leftovers from Corporate World with resurrected ’80s outtakes like “Chocolate” and “Jerk Out” (see above). The record is a little overstuffed–at 11 tracks not including skits, it’s almost twice the length of any previous Time album–but it’s probably their most satisfying since What Time Is It? Unfortunately, the bonhomie didn’t last, and the group disbanded again shortly after.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the Time’s official recorded tenure; the group has had an impressive afterlife, however, with Morris, Jerome, Moir, and Jellybean still touring as “Morris Day and the Time” to this day. The original lineup also reunited again in 2011–albeit billed as “the Original 7ven,” due to Prince’s strict control over the “Time” name–for a fun, well-received album called Condensate. Some of the material is unquestionably hokey (was anyone really clamoring for a Time song with a hashtag in the title?), but it’s nevertheless a strong argument that after 30-plus years in the game, the Time’s irrepressible charm remains intact.

There’s a deeper reason, too, why the Time remain arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects. Their rivalry with Prince, both in real life and as dramatized in Purple Rain (we won’t speak any more of Graffiti Bridge), stands as a potent symbol of one of the defining tensions of the Purple One’s career, between humble generosity and iron-fisted tyranny. Prince was more than happy to help his brothers out with a slice of his success–just as long as it was on his terms and they didn’t step on his toes. But the group Prince once described as “the only band that I was afraid of” stepped on his toes with aplomb, all while looking sharp in their Stacy Adams. So let’s hear it for the Time: the original seven lunatics who ended up running the asylum. Like a great man once said: “The Wright Brothers can’t fuck with that.”

I’ll be back next Saturday with a post on the second big project from “Jamie Starr”: the delightfully campy Vanity 6. In the meantime, for more of me blathering about Prince protegés, check out the podcast I recorded for my blog Dystopian Dance Party last month. And of course, come back during the week as Andre resumes his regularly-scheduled programming.

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Apollonia, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Solar Records, The Time, Vanity, Warner Bros.

Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

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Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

Prince & The Corperate World: The Emptying Of The Royal Purple Music Box

Prince artwork

Today I was going to bring you an article about Prince’s hip-hop oriented period-focusing on brief explanations of songs with video links attached. Unfortunately,many of them were not to be found. Since Andresmusictalk got started,I’ve only dropped hints about how deeply affected writing about Prince has been by the late musician’s contentious relationship with the worldwide web. In an effort not to focus too much on negativity,not to mention the mans tragic passing,I’ve avoided going into depth about it. But it seems the time has come to try and set the record straight about this matter.

Without doubt,this blog would not be possible if YouTube did not exist. It allows for the music discussed in it to come to life to the ears of readers. And many contemporary writers with a musical focus likely have similar views. Much as with David Bowie,Prince had a very early advocacy of the internet during it’s rudimentary,trial and error days of the mid to late 1990’s. He even developed separate websites for individual albums and songs,which wasn’t typical and still isn’t.  He even developed interactive CD-ROM content during that allowed interaction with his music in a very futurist manner.

In 1993,Prince also began a legal battle with his label Warner Bros. The purpose of this was not only to secure rights to his own music catalog. But also to release his swelling amount of recorded content as he saw fit. Warner’s had long worried Prince’s enormous wealth of recorded material would glut the market with one man’s music. This resulted in Prince changing his name to a symbol that couldn’t be pronounced in order to gain his creative autonomy. This helped secure him a position as a champion for artists rights. And doing the unconventional in order to allow this precedence to be set.

Then towards the end of the early aughts,something went terribly wrong. During a 2010 interview with the UK’s Daily Mirror,Prince declared that the internet was completely over. That computers and gadgets were no good. While (likely) shyness on his part often resulted in random hostility towards his admirers throughout his career,it came to a fevered pitch in the 2010’s. He sued fans for $22 million dollars for what he saw as bootlegging live shows he never officially released on physical media. He also began yanking any and all content related to him off YouTube and most major streaming sites.

Prince would’ve seemed to have become,according to music and law educated friends I’ve spoken to,what is officially referred to as a vexatious litigant. This means a party that sues not so much to resolve a legitimate legal matter,but rather to to subdue and/or harass subjective enemies. While the subject matter of Prince’s problems with the internet is explored in major online and offline articles,it’s seldom brought out that Prince sullied the legitimacy of his own agenda by acting in a hostile manner towards people helping to project his art onto a medium that was the future of music distribution.

Now the man is gone. And the reasons for his anger at his music being online is still mired in speculation. Was he being paid unfairly? Was seeing himself in the past reminding him of the physical pain he lived with in the present? Was he selfish? Out of touch with reality and the future of recorded music? Well during this time, his Paisley Park organization became increasingly cultish even from where it had been for some time. And still with fans trying to do tributes to his music by posting on YouTube,even an official Vevo channel for his music videos. This content is still often yanked down.

By alienating the internet, Prince missed out on one of the most tremendous opportunities of his professional career. Official Prince YouTube and other streaming channels could have focused on musician related content such as a Prince guitar camp,or tutorials on music production. He could have put exclusive musical content from his vault up as well. Now as physical media’s fate in the music world remains unclear,will Prince’s music meet the same fate? With record labels paying artists for content on YouTube via the channels known as Artist-Topic? Prince’s concerns over profit do seem to have been baseless.

The vast musical catalog of Prince’s recordings and concert footage has inspired at least two generations of music lovers. Not just to sing and dance but to pick up instruments, start bands and stand up for sexual and political liberation. Whatever Prince’s reason for cutting himself off from the internet,his artistic vision should not be allowed to die with him. I wanted to end this by encouraging you,the reader to create hashtags and Tweets focusing on finding an honorable way to get Prince’s music back online through YouTube,Spotify and iTunes again. Thank you!

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, activism, Blogging, internet, online streaming, Prince, Vevo, vexatious litigants, Warner Bros., YouTube

Prince: I Rock Therefore I Am

prince-symbol-guitar

Prince’s music enviably would end up being the Minneapolis sound. It turned out to be a rather variable form where soul,synth pop,blues,rock ‘n roll and even jazz would all combine through a particular sonic framework. Personally speaking,the basis of Prince’s sound was always funk. He did however grow up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix,Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell too. Whether it be on electric or acoustic guitar,Prince also enjoyed rocking out. Be it on a possible hit single or to let his virtuosity on guitar have it’s way. So here are my personal favorite rock oriented numbers from ”

“I’m Yours” from For You (1978)

Prince always insisted that Carlos Santana was a major influence on him as a guitarist. Mainly because “Santana played prettier” to quote the man on the subject. With his use of sustains and Latin style melodies,this powerfully produced number from his debut album (with it’s heavy reverb and echo) is the earliest released example of his lead guitar chops.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” from Prince (1979)

It was Prince’s childhood friend and fellow band mate in his earlier touring group The Rebels, Andre Cymone, who played bass and sang backup on this tune. This is where Prince really showcased his ability to write and perform radio friendly,hook filled rockers. With this one having that sleek West Coast production flair of his late 70’s albums.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

Warner Bros executives have been said to have commented that “we signed the new Stevie Wonder,and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek” upon hearing Prince’s third album for the first time. And it likely has a lot to do with his song. Prince’s brittle,low rhythm guitar pump and melodic keyboards have The Cars’s musical flavor written all over it. With it’s hook filled singability and classic new wave guitar riff (not to mention becoming a hit agai with Cyndi Lauper covering it four years later),this might be one of Prince’s very finest rockers ever.

“Private Joy” from Controversy (1981)

While not a guitar rocker,this song really showcased Prince and his band the Revolution evolving into itself with synth pop/new wave based dance music. It has a simple rock style melody performed on the Linn drum machine plus a few layers of synthesizers. So it showcased Prince’s ability to rock even without guitar soloing.

“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain (1984)

With it’s gospel style theatrics,fast tempo,brittle guitar and keyboard? This song might just be the moment when Prince’s rock side fully matured musically. With rock ‘n roll really being divided along racial lines after the late 60’s,this song finds Prince “bringing it back to church” by joining Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix in re-introducing rock ‘n roll with a very heavy black American musical subtext.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” from Sign O The Times (1987)

Prince really bought out the hand clap powered,orchestral melodic guitar sound of Phil Spector via Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band in this extraordinarily catchy heartland style pop/rock number. This is one of Prince’s catchiest rock songs since the days of “When You Were Mine”.

“Thieves In The Temple” from Graffiti Bridge (1990) 

Prince actually did something rather unique with this song. It has a mysterious,late 80’s arena rock flavor about it’s production and guitar sound during the main choruses. But the melodic construction has a theme similar to the type that a mid 60’s jazz musician might improvise off of. That probably has a lot to do with why Herbie Hancock did an acoustic jazz version of it on his The New Standard album seven years later.

“Cream” from Diamonds And Pearls (1991)

With it’s rhythmic mix of Southern soul and countrified blues rock, this Prince hit actually hits on a very similar musical vibe to Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Talk About” from the same era. Prince also takes the instrumental sound he gets with the NPG and allows the melody to just drip with that rascally,old school blues sexuality.

“Cinnamon Girl” from Musicology (2004)

Been listening to this song lately. Since the turn of the millennium,Prince began writing hook filled protest rockers more than he ever had. This one has a similar acoustic texture to his more recent song “Baltimore”. This one tells a very significant story America is still dealing with today: post 9/11 racial profiling and discrimination against those with a Muslim back-round. Prince did himself a lot of good by being one of the view high profile musical voices taking a bold lyrical stance against America’s dog whistle heavy “war on terror” of the early aughts.

“Rock And Roll Love Affair” from Hitnrun Phase 2 (2015)

Actually a couple of years old at the time of it’s album release, this song has a similar vibe to “Cream” from a quarter century ago-in terms of it’s country/blues-rock approach. Prince adds dramatic Minneapolis style synth brass to this one though. Since there’s a good possibility this might’ve been among the very last rock numbers Prince recorded,it finds this element of his sound seeming to come full circle.

As with many of the list style Prince articles I’ve written o Andresmusictalk,the erratic presence of Prince’s music via YouTube is still a factor. Songs such as “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Fury” are not present here for that very reason. While they will be dealt with on this blog later,and in different ways? This is really about how Prince was able to evolve as a guitar soloist and pop songwriter through the rock oriented side of his artistry. Now that the man isn’t with us anymore,the seeds he planted as a guitarist from Lenny Kravitz to Gary Clark Jr. have strong potential to carry on this particular side of his legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Blues, funk/rock, guitar, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, protest songs, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized, YouTube

Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016: The Musical Legacy Of The Purple One

Prince 1980's

Now that a day had passed since Prince’s rather sudden death,there’s been some time to absorb everything a bit better. Henrique Hopkins and myself have been discussing Prince’s music in a funk context for years now. Everything from the strong influence of Curtis Mayfield on his falsetto voice and high on the neck guitar playing,down to his bass playing being influenced by his guitar style. Earlier I ran down some of Prince’s most influential albums throughout the years. As the man himself said last year,,albums matter.

Also on that last article,mention was made about a good deal of Prince’s most creatively satisfying works having not been mentioned in favor of the highlights. So in this article I plan to remedy some of this. As my friend Calvin Lincoln had implied,Prince’s music has been overdressed by some. And in all truth,his album’s after the early 90’s could be extremely uneven in quality. But the key element of his musical ethic was the element of surprise. When one thought he was out of steam,couldn’t rock and had lost the funk,he came back with vigor. So here are some albums that reflected this for me anyway.

Prince 1979

Prince’s sophomore album provided him with his first major pop hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. Songs such as “I Feel For You”,later done by the Pointer Sisters and most famously by Chaka Khan as well as the churning funk of “Sexy Dancer” are stand out funky grooves on an album that leans heavily towards west coast style pop/rock and mildly country influenced ballads. As Prince himself said it,the album was for the radio more than for him. But in the end it balanced his musical approach and sense of pop craft very well.

I’m listing these albums together because Prince’s third album Dirty Mind  from 1980 and and fourth Controversy from 1981 could almost be part one and part two. The former album has a rougher demo like musical quality-with “Partyup”,”Head” and “Uptown” having an anti authoritarian punk funk vibe about them. The latter album was a bit sleeker musically. And an interesting attempt for Prince to address socio political concerns as they were developing. “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian” address everything from censorship to gun violence while the title song deals with his sexually and musical free outlook. He also pulls out some heavy funk on “Let’s Work” as well. These are two albums that really lend themselves well to be heard together.

Purple Rain

Prince knew this 1984 album was going to be his commercial breakthrough album. In hindsight it’s also the album that still has a lot of radio oriented music lovers convinced (incorrectly,really) that Prince was primarily a rock based artist. And probably on purpose. That’s because this album doesn’t have much funk/soul content on it. At the same time,it could best be described as progressive new wave/synth rock at the cutting edge instrumentally-with the bass-less classic “When Does Cry”,the brittle “I Would Die 4 U” and “Computer Blue” leading the way. That plus the fierce gospel hard rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and the arena anthem title cut really gave Prince the huge audience he has today. And it served to musically illustrate the semi autobiographical feature film of the same name.

Parade

Parade was Prince’s second soundtrack for his second film in 1986 called Under The Cherry Moon marked the ethos of a massive change in musical priorities for Prince. The electronic orchestrations of the Minneapolis sound are replaced by the sweeping strings of Claire Fischer and the sax of newcomer Eric Leeds. These shows up on the cinematic “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”Life Can Be So Nice” and “Mountains”. Still Prince throws down some of his most powerful funk with “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholeinyohead” and the iconic hit “Kiss”-with it’s Curtis Mayfield style falsetto and that high up on the neck guitar.

Sign O The Times

Perhaps this is Prince’s most personally defining album in his career. The history of this 1987 album is enough for at least one whole article. Started as a whole other type of project during a massive period of recording the year before,it eventually became a double album. It has the uneven quality of a greatest hits album,with songs sounding as if they come from totally different sessions. But the strength of all the material make it all work.

It has it all-from soul ballads like “Slow Love”,pop/rockers such as “Play In The Sunshine” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” to the proto alternative/grunge sound of “The Cross”. The funk comes in many varieties from the full on JB groove of “Housequake”,the slow grinding “If I Was Your Girlfriend” to the danceable hit “U Got The Look”. There’s also two more distinctive numbers in the jazzy funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” and the dreamy melodic piano pop of “Starfish And Coffee”.

The Black Album

Prince apparently recorded this album in 1987 to be played at a birthday party for drummer Sheila E,who was playing in his band Madhouse at the time. From “Le Grind” to “Rockhard In A Funky Place” at the end,this album is almost a non stop hard funk stomp. Save for the sweet ballad “When 2 R In Love”. Prince is basically playing up one big sexual orgy on all these lyrics-allegedly to showcase he hadn’t sold out. He abruptly shelved this album and didn’t put it out until 1994. But it’s a great party funk album if one is in a particularly rascally mood.

Graffiti Bridge

Prince’s third soundtrack to his final and least successful motion picture isn’t a full Prince album per se. It features many productions of his from Paisley Park signed artists such as George Clinton,Mavis Staples and the revived lineup of The Time. As for Prince’s contributions,he has some mutant funk/rockers here such as “Elephants & Flowers”,”Tick Tack Bang” and the epic,jazzy arena rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,his first hit of the 1990’s.

Love Symbol Album

This very elusive concept album from 1992 actually focuses a great deal on the funk side of things with another JB sendup with “Sexy MF” leading the way. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” keeps the funk stripped down in classic Prince style as he waxes nostalgic on the Civil Rights movement. With the psychedelic soul/gospel of “7” leading the way,this largely hip-hop inflected album finds Prince as a bandleader for the NPG “taking it back to Church” as they say in fully rediscovering his black American musical roots.

Emancipation

This 1996 triple CD set was the newest Prince album to come out when I was first getting into exploring his albums. From “We Gets Up”,”Get Your Groove On”,”Sex In The Summer” and the big band sounding “Sleep Around” represent some of his most massive funk of the 90’s decade-along with the synth heavy Minneapolis groove of “New World” and the jazzy opener “Jam Of The Year” and the witty hip-hop of “Style”. Some of the music on this album,as with much of Prince’s output at the time,hasn’t musically aged well. But when the grooves cooks,it cooks up a storm!

Musicology

Prince made a huge statement towards his music being based in funk with the title track of this 2004 album-another James Brown influenced number in the vein of “Housequake” and “Sexy MF”. This is an album of mostly pop/rockers and 60’s style soul ballads generally. Of the rockers Prince does provide a powerful message song in “Cinnamon Girl”,in which he discusses how the post 9/11 events are leading to discrimination of Muslim Americans.

MPLsound

Prince packaged this 2009 album with another of his entitled Lotusflow3r and female protege Bria Valente’s debut Elixer-exclusively at Target stores at the time. With songs such as “Chocolate Box” and “Dance 4 Me”,Prince began the reboots the 80’s Minneapolis sound this album is named for with it’s use of the Linn drum machine and synth brass. While the album itself represent Prince making his music harder to find by seeking new distribution methods,it paved the way for it’s harder to find follow up 20Ten and represents him re-embracing a sound he was in on the ground floor with.

Art Official Age

This 2014 albums turned out to be one of Prince’s final studio albums. Released after a five year hiatus from releasing any new material publicly,it also found him back on Warner Bros. after years of fighting them over artists rights. It’s something of a ground zero for Prince-donning an Afro as he did at the very start of his career and working with a younger producer Joshua Welton. The album is home to two major funk blowouts in “The Gold Standard” and the jazzy “Breakfast Can Wait”-along with some sincere efforts to embrace modern pop and rock production techniques.

I am sure there are many people who’d have very different content in such a list. As much as Prince effected me in terms of his championing of creative freedom for artists? It’s hard to get away from the fact that he died having not effectively been able to embrace online streaming and video (such as YouTube and Vimeo),and became a hostile litigant against anyone who shared his music online in lieu of him doing it. The history of the physical music media he embraced is unknown. But as long as his music exists in some form,it’s important for young people (especially aspiring musicians) to listen to and learn from his grooves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Funk, Joshua Welton, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Purple Rain, rock 'n' roll, Uncategorized, YouTube