Category Archives: hip-hop jazz

Prince Summer: “Style” (1996)

Prince’s 1996 three CD set Emancipation is going to be celebrating its 20th anniversary shortly. Usually very shy about publicity,Prince was extremely proud of this album. And he seemed to go all out,by his promotional standards,to get the word of this album out to the people. He even appeared with his wife of the time Mayte Garcia in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her show. Just as I was first getting into his classic catalog,the “new” Prince of the era,in his O(+> persona,was showcasing a more personally revealing identity than his more enigmatic public approach had been a decade earlier.

Emancipation is an interesting conceptualization musically. As usual,Prince is instrumentally exploratory in terms of trying different genres. What’s most striking is that he goes for genres of the era that didn’t always require heavy instrumental acumen- such as house and his hip-hop interests of the era. What he did on this album was “Princify” them with his own musical touches. When I played this for my mother,whose extremely choosy in both the Prince and hip-hop she likes,one song stuck out for her and I that was both of those things. And the song was called “Style”.

A slyly rolling synth bass line begins the song-along with some muted horn lines and some percussive drumming. Then that drum rhythm starts in with a slow hip-hop friendly funk shuffle-along with some jazzy and melodic horn charts including (along with the NGP horns) Madhouse/Family era veteran Eric Leeds. On Prince’s slow,spoken word raps on the refrains,that bass/drum/horn/vocal re-sample combination really gets going before a sung falsetto bridge and Leeds sax solo. After that the song goes into a new synth line (similar to the horn line) before the song outro’s on the original refrain before fading out.

Instrumentally this song has a flavor very similar to a mid 90’s version of James’s Brown’s “The Payback”-with it’s bursts of wah wah guitar and jazzy funk/hip-hop attitude. Lyrically the song is more a conscious poem than a rap per se-with Prince giving many examples of what he feels “style” is. My personal favorite is “style’s not a logo that sticks to the roof of one’s ass/style is like a second cousin to class. In the end someone (maybe Prince in a slowed voice) slurs “I ain’t got no job,but I got style. So both musically and lyrically,this song has a strong level of musical and conceptual longevity to it.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, conscious rap, drums, Emancipation, Eric Leeds, Funk, hip-hop funk, hip-hop jazz, horns, O(+>, Prince, synth bass, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, wah wah guitar

‘Come’ At 22: If Prince Had A Chance To See The Future,Would He Try?

Come

Prince’s 1994 release Come is,in actuality,part of a series of records released to fulfill his contract with Warner Bros. 1993 was a very prolific year for Prince in much the same way that 1986 had been. Much of this material saw release throughout the middle of the 90’s. Come  is a dark album,often dealing with uncomfortable topics such as racism and child abuse. Even if some of the compositions had a gloomy atmosphere,Prince actually brought out some strong jazz,industrial and hip-hop hybrids into his funky grooves on this album. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did on this album five years ago:


It would likely be hard pressed to find any part of Prince’s career more enigmatic and provocative as the mid 1990’s. The man was dealing with not only a battle for creative autonomy from Warner Brothers because apparently,he didn’t have as much control over the financial aspects of his music than we actually thought. At the same time there was a personal change occurring within him and these two factors came together in a name change to an unpronounceable symbol that would begin his liberation from the excesses of the recording industry.

This decision earned him a lot of negative attention in the press. And commercially? Well it was almost the musical equivalent of “jumping the shark”. But Prince was on a mission,away from his name and himself and this album,clocked in artwork resembling a gravestone reflected this mission. Musically however,it’s a whole other story. There’s been so much time passed since I fully absorbed this that I forgot what a funky album this actually was.

Likely recorded during his 1993 battle with Warner’s from the production values of it,the title song features a 10 minute JB type horn funk send up with some production nods to the jazz-hip-hop fusion of the day. Really a very musically incredible tune. “Pheromone” and “Papa” are every bit as funky,while both taking on very dark and serious issues such as (what sounds like) cocaine in the former and (definitely) child abuse,very explicitly in the latter,with Prince stating at the end “Don’t beat your kids or they’ll end up like me”. “Space” is rather a melodic 90’s variation on funky-soul,not outside the spectrum of what TLC were doing at this particular time.

“Loose!” is one of the most musically aggressive songs Prince has ever done with it’s mixture of industrial house and speed metal. “Race” again finds Prince in his hip-hop/funk places with another strong number,this time taking on the issue of race in a more direct manner than before,even taking on the whole “our blood is the same” racial universalism concept head on. “Letitgo” explores similar territory only with a tad bit more of a deeper bottom. “Dark” is an excellent contrast,a warm and melodic retro-southern soul ballad with lyrics that couldn’t be more opposite.

“Solo” finds Prince poetically musing in near a cappella cries and growls over a harp like sound while the ending “Orgasm” is…well too descriptive in it’s graphic depiction of voyeurism. But that’s nothing new for Prince is it? I’ve heard this album be accused many times of being derivative, boring and an album released only to fulfill a contract and embark on his own creative pursuits . Honestly I’m not sure how Prince could do that. It’s just not part of his musical oeuvre.

And he doesn’t do it here one bit. It’s no accident that he at last decided to release his shelved 1987 recording Black Album‘ this same year. On the crawl up into middle age at this point,aside from the personal changes he was dealing with Prince was in a position to put his music back in the harder funk direction he began his career with. Not only that but again he was playing up the somewhat darker side of his emotional and carnal fantasies much the same as he had in the late 80’s. And that’s what he did with this album as well.


One interesting fact about this album is that,from the cover/jacket artwork to the lyrical progression these songs tend to have,its almost a eulogy of Prince’s life up to that point. Considering the man is not with us anymore,this album finds him staging his own fictive funereal as his O(+> persona was about to emerge. During the time I was just getting into Prince on album based terms,this was one of his (then) newer albums that really interested me. And considering that the 90’s would be such an on and off decade for Prince,this album stands the test of time in some surprising and unique ways.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, hip-hop funk, hip-hop jazz, Industrial funk, Music Reviewing, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Prince Day 2016: Prince In The 1990’s

Prince In The 90's

Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.

When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially  to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.

Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.

Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.

Graffiti Bridge/1990

This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”

The Love Symbol Album/1992

Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”.  “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.

Come/1994

When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.

The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale/1999

According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.

One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.

While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle.  When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, drum machines, Funk, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, Prince, psychedelic soul, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Time, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I’m Leaving You” by Robert Glasper w/ Miles Davis,Ledisi And John Scofield

Robert Glasper shares a lot in common with another musical free spirit in the late Miles Davis. The Texas native got an early start in dealing with the jazz hip-hop style which of course Miles was beginning to embrace during his final years. While in high school,he met neo soul singer Bilal. This led to gigs with other jazz informed hip-hoppers such as Q-Tip,Talib Kweli and the late J Dilla. He made his debut album in 2004,and his major label debut for Blue Note a year later. On his album Double Booked,he began moving towards a more electric sound. But that was only the beginning as it turned out.

In 2012 he released the first in what’s been two separate volumes of his Black Radio series. The subtext for this,which I read in interviews Glasper gave to a music magazine of my fathers, went for the Miles Davis angle that the jazz genre needed to improvise over new standards. Both volumes of this album contain covers of songs such as Sade’s “Cherish The Day” alongside his own material. This year,Glasper appeared with surviving members of Miles’ 60’s quintet in the Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. And one of the grooves on his upcoming Miles tribute album Everything’s Beautiful is called “I’m Leaving You”.

Drums playing at a five beat pattern with a break between each rhythm lay the bedrock for this song. The bass comes out as a round,ascending bottom while the very scratchy guitar samples play as a purely percussive element. Also on that groove,Miles’ trademark horse speaking voice is re-sampled saying “wait a minute,wait a minute” throughout the song. A reedy whistle,a wah wah guitar and Scofield’s bluesy guitar assist Ledisi’s soulful vocals. On the bridge,Scofield takes a full guitar solo after which Ledisi responds to her own backup vocals while the bass line and drum fade the song out in a silent way.

Having not heard a lot of Robert Glasper, this is by far the funkiest song I’ve ever heard him do. The musical bedrock of John Scofield,who of course played with Miles Davis, is held down by a core rhythm section. As well as what sound like metallic rhythm guitar looped from Miles’ 1972 song “On The Corner”. During his lifetime,Miles tended to deal with funk as rhythm vamps to solo over. Here Glasper takes samples of Miles’ music,voice and puts them into a more structured hard funk context. I have a feeling the late trumpet player would’ve found this groove one that came at people with plenty of attitude.

 

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Filed under 2016, Don Cheadle, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, John Scofield, lead guitar, Ledisi, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Nu Funk, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Sampling, wah wah guitar

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Sensuous Whisper” by Stevie Wonder (1996)

Stevie Wonder seemed to have suffered a little writers blocks following his (subjectively) wonderful 1987 album Characters. Aside from performing the soundtrack to the Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever in 1991,it seemed as if Wonder would continue his infrequency of releases in the 90’s as he had in the 80’s. When President Jerry John Rawlings invited Wonder to spend his weeks in the African nation of Ghana,Wonder wrote 40 new songs. He also stated the artist formerly know as Prince “helped him to see music again” in the liner notes to the 1995 album that came out of Wonder’s African visit: Conversation Peace.

Personally I have a vivid memory of hearing a new reggae styled song by Stevie Wonder called “Take The Time Out” used during the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to encouraging people to give food to the needy. It was a comforting reminder of Wonder’s ever present humanitarianism.And his new album finally came out in January of the following year. Took me a year or so to really give it a good listen. And a decade or so more to begin singling out my personal favorites songs from the last Stevie Wonder album of the 20th century. One of the strongest for me is a song called “Sensuous Whisper”.

Wonder gets the song rolling with a hi hat heavy drum swing and a shuffling bass with an Arabic type tone. Then he kicks into a funky chromatic walkdown on piano. This consists of the basic body of the song. Stephanie Andrew’s sexually charged grunts provide a vital percussive element as the sax of Branford Marsalis and trumpet of Terrence Blanchard provide unison horn breaks on the vocal changes. Wonder swings and scats the lyrics on the refrain,while Anita Baker sings the song title chorus as the back-round with Wonder’s call and response vocal lead.

The bridge of the song features Wonder singing a harmonically complex set of notes that I personally couldn’t begin to describe-scaling up and down between each phrase. He backs himself up with the same instrumentation as the rest of the song that,along with the horn charts,improvise strongly on the chordal changes he’s making throughout. After this,the song returns to the drum/bass intro before seguing back into the chorus of the song. This chorus repeats itself over and over again-with Wonder scatting the vocals more and more until the song itself just comes to an abrupt stop.

Stevie Wonder was always someone my family and I recognized as having a strong jazz influence-from his 1963 instrumental debut album to his 1991 song “Make Sure Your Sure”. This song not only found him collaborating up front with jazzy players and jazz derived singers,but also embracing the funkified jazz/hip-hop hybrid that the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and even Miles Davis himself had started to embrace. So Wonder was not only heavily embracing jazz here,but showcasing it’s possibilities for the newer hip-hop informed style of funky soul.

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Filed under 'Conversation Peace', 1990s, Anita Baker, bass guitar, Branford Marsalis, chromatic walkdown, drums, funky soul, hip-hop jazz, horns, piano, Saxophone, soul jazz, Stephanie Andrews, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, Terrence Blanchard, trumpet