Category Archives: NPG Records

4 Paisley Park’s Consideration: The NPG Era Needs Its Own “4Ever”

In my guest post last week, I made the case for a more definitive compilation of Prince‘s Warner-era material, combining the best qualities of the new set 4Ever (and yes, contrary to some of the Prince fans who have been yelling at me on Facebook, I do think 4Ever has some good qualities) with the best of earlier collections like The Hits/The B-Sides and Ultimate. But I also promised I’d take a slightly different tack this week and pitch another compilation analogous to 4Ever, this one covering the years after his departure from W.B. As I noted last time, such a collection is arguably even more needed than a deeper dive into the already well-covered territory of 1978-1993. The last two-plus decades of Prince’s career were certainly more vexing and uneven than the first decade-and-a-half, but they were very nearly as prolific; and somewhere amidst all that for-hardcore-fans-only chaff is a killer “Best-of” just waiting to be discovered.

So where to start? Well, that’s easy…

mostbeautiful

Step 1: The Singles

One thing about my previous post that I probably deserved to be yelled at about was the obvious fact I glossed over: that 4Ever is, at its heart, a singles collection. Even less-frequently-compiled tracks like “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About),” “Mountains,” and “Batdance” were released as singles in the ’80s. Now, in some ways, this actually hurts the argument in support of 4Ever: if Prince/NPG/Warner wanted it to be strictly singles only, they should have gone all-in and released all the damn singles from the period in question (B-sides, too!). But a singles-first approach is, frankly, a better idea for the years 1994-2016 anyway: Prince released a ton of singles as an independent artist (some of them even hits!), and shockingly, none of them have ever been collected in a “Greatest Hits”-style compilation. Hell, I probably hear 1994’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–one of his biggest hit singles ever–on the radio more frequently than any other Prince song, and the damn thing is out of print: the only place you can buy it at the moment is digitally on TIDAL, or as some vinyl picture disc of questionable provenance.

So our imaginary NPG-era comp would absolutely have to include “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–hell, make it disc one, track one. But there were plenty of other singles from the ’90s and 2000s that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. Come had “Letitgo”; The Gold Experience had “I Hate U”; hell, even Chaos and Disorder had “Dinner with Delores.” Granted, Prince struggled commercially during the “Symbol” era, which means many of the songs released as singles during the time aren’t going to be greeted with the same level of nostalgia as, say, “Little Red Corvette”: I’m pretty sure no one in 2017 will be clamoring to hear his 1996 version of “Betcha by Golly Wow!” But some of his post-name change, pre-comeback singles absolutely deserve another chance: like the bluesy title track for 1997’s acoustic album The Truth, which failed to chart but presented a totally different side of “the Artist” to the public; or “The Work, Pt. 1” from 2001’s The Rainbow Children, which very clearly signposted the 21st-century James Brown revivalism of 2004’s much more successful Musicology. Part of the reason why compilations exist (other than to line record executives’ pockets, of course) is to offer fresh context for previously-issued material; and few catalogues are more in need of fresh context than the singles Prince released after his departure from Warner Bros.

emancipation

 

Step 2: The Landmarks

But the singles aren’t the only “late”-period releases that could benefit from recontextualization; as I tried to argue in my post last week, even in his most dependable years as a hitmaker, Prince’s singles only ever told part of the story. So why not use this opportunity to put 1994-era live favorite “Days of Wild” next to The Gold Experience tracks where it belongs–or, for that matter, to highlight some of the gems that got buried in the three-disc excess of Emancipation in 1996? Another reason for a compilation to exist is to tell the story of an artist’s development over time–something that 4Ever probably does better than any of Prince’s earlier collections, simply by virtue of it being (mostly) chronological. But we also mostly know the first arc of Prince’s story; an “NPG era” compilation would provide an excellent opportunity to tell a story that a lot less listeners know, one that Prince himself seemed at times to delight in obscuring. Hell, there are whole swathes of Prince fans who have never even heard important late-period highlights like 2014’s self-eulogizing “My Way Home” or 2015’s “June,” either because they’d given up on buying every new Prince album when it comes out or because they couldn’t be bothered to subscribe to TIDAL. A comp like this would be a great opportunity to bring them back in the fold.

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Step 3: ???

Look, I’ll be the first to admit: this period of Prince’s music isn’t my wheelhouse, which is one reason why I really want to see it collected–unlike 4Ever, which I bought pretty much as an act of charity to support the estate, a selection of the highlights from 1994-2016 would directly benefit my musical education. I know a few tracks from the period that I would consider hidden gems–“Shy” from The Gold Experience, “The Human Body” from Emancipation,  the aforementioned highlights from Art Official Age and HITnRUN Phase Two–but I would much rather hear other people’s recommendations. So what do you say? Aside from the obvious singles, what songs from the “NPG Era” do you deem worthy of compilation? Let me know in the comments, or just yell at me on Facebook. And if you want to read my writing about Prince from an era that is at least somewhat more in my wheelhouse, check out my song-by-song chronological blog dance / music / sex / romance. I’m hoping to finish 1978 by the end of the year.

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, 2001, 2004, 2014, 2015, NPG Records, Prince, Prince 4ever, Uncategorized

After 4Ever: Why We’re Still Waiting for a Definitive Prince Compilation

4ever

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. and NPG Records released the first of what will surely be many posthumous releases by PrincePrince 4Ever, a 40-track compilation of hit singles and a smattering of deep cuts from the most universally well-regarded 15 years of his career. For most longtime fans, this wouldn’t have been big news–except that 4Ever also included the first official release of music from Prince’s legendary “Vault” since his sudden passing in April: a long-bootlegged outtake from the 1999 sessions called “Moonbeam Levels.” I already wrote extensively on “Moonbeam Levels” and its place on 4Ever for my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; you can also read Andre’s take on the release in this post from last month. What I’m interested in talking about today is 4Ever itself: its function in Prince’s discography, and the gap that still remains to be filled by a truly definitive compilation for one of the most significant pop artists of our time.

Prince The Hits-B-Sides

For an artist as prolific and popular as he was, there have been surprisingly few compilations of Prince’s work. The first–and, for my money, still the best–was 1993’s The Hits, released both as two separate single-disc volumes and as a package including a third bonus disc, titled The B-SidesThe Hits/The B-Sides is a somewhat idiosyncratic collection: produced with, at best, reluctant cooperation from the artist (he supplied background notes for many of the tracks, which were incorporated into the official liner notes by his former tour manager and R&B music historian, Alan Leeds), the discs are presented thematically rather than chronologically.

The Hits 1 is the poppier disc: opening with Prince’s most recognizable hit, 1984‘s “When Doves Cry,” followed immediately by “Pop Life” from 1985‘s Around the World in a Daythen backtracking for a run through the more radio-friendly tracks from 1978’s For You all the way to 1992’s Love Symbol Album,” his most recent release at the time. The Hits 2, meanwhile, was composed of raunchier cuts: opening with the respective title tracks from 1981’s Controversy and 1980’s Dirty Mind, followed by a roughly chronological trip through the seedier back alleys of his greatest hits, from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to “Gett Off”–though the final track is the elegiac “Purple Rain,” presumably because it’s required by law to be the closing track on every Prince compilation.

Though some might quibble with the lack of strict chronology–and I certainly quibble with the use of inferior single edits for most of the songs–The Hits is a solid listen from beginning to end. But the real reason why it remains the O.G. is the aforementioned third disc: a generous sampling of B-sides, non-album singles, and rarities, the majority of which still aren’t available anywhere else on digital formats. For most artists, such a collection would be a mere curio; but any dyed-in-the-wool Prince fan knows that some of his most indispensable music came out on the flip sides of his singles, including bona fide standards like “Erotic City” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The B-Sides isn’t perfect–nobody actually wants to listen to the 7″ mix of “Erotic City”–but it’s all we have, even almost 25 years later.

verybestofprince

At the time of its release, The Hits also held the dubious distinction of being something of a swan song for “Prince”: the collection was released shortly after he’d changed his name to the same unpronounceable symbol that had adorned his previous album, marking the beginning of an all-out war with Warner over the ownership of his music. In 2000, however, long after he’d departed to become an independent artist, Prince’s publishing contract with W.B. expired; this, presumably, left the label in need of alternative means to leverage his back catalogue, which they still technically controlled. There isn’t really much to say about the resulting compilation, 2001’s The Very Best of Prince: it’s a bog-standard “greatest hits,” a single-disc collection of Prince’s biggest singles from 1979 to 1991. The only real surprise is the inclusion of 1991’s low-key, proto-neo-soul “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which hadn’t made the cut on the much more expansive Hits set. That being said, it does what it’s supposed to do: this is the single-disc sampler you buy if you like “1999” and for some reason don’t particularly care to dig much deeper. You weirdo.

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Warner had other ulterior motives for their next compilation, Ultimate Prince, released in 2006: simply put, for the first time in at least a decade, Prince was finally a hot commercial ticket again, thanks to his twin “comeback albums” Musicology and 3121. A two-disc set, Ultimate feels like an attempt to replace The Hits; the result is a noble effort, but ultimately a failed one. The hook this time around is certainly compelling: everybody knows Prince’s extended cuts trump his single edits 9 times out of 10, so Ultimate uses the extra running length to give us full-length versions of tracks like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” and even the little-heard (and awesome) “dance remix” of “Little Red Corvette.” The trouble is, it’s inconsistent: many of the tracks are still the lame single edits, and the presence of some extended mixes just ensures the absence of the others is felt more keenly. Perhaps worst of all, Ultimate is the only compilation to date to actually suffer from Prince’s involvement: the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince had final approval over the track listing, and deemed some of the selections–including the 12″ mix of “Erotic City”–too ribald for his (and our) delicate ears. If you can’t tell, I’m still not over it.

4ever-inner

Which brings us to 4Ever. It’s tempting to look at this latest compilation and see nothing but a cold-blooded cash-in on a beloved, recently-deceased artist–though, it’s worth noting, the set is actually the only one to be produced with Prince’s full cooperation. As a sampler of Prince’s W.B.-era peak, I’d rank it above Ultimate and The Very Best of, but below The Hits, simply because of the lack of a disc like The B-Sides; the track listing, however, is arguably the most balanced yet, with fan favorites like 1981’s “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” and 1986’s “Mountains” appearing alongside the usual suspects. There are also some unadvertised benefits for completionists: the version of “Gett Off” included, for example, is the U.K. single edit, which for some reason bleeps out the word “ass,” but includes an additional verse from the extended version; the 7″ mix of “Alphabet St.” is also included, which is great for longtime haters of the album version’s “rap” by dancer Cat Glover (c’est moi). I don’t necessarily recommend 4Ever for hardcore Prince fans–though I bought it, because I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and pay the estate for a high-quality version of “Moonbeam Levels.” As a holiday gift for the Prince-curious in your life, however, it’s hard to criticize.

But the release of 4Ever still serves to underline something that I hope the preceding rundown made plain: simply put, Prince still needs a truly definitive compilation to his name. 4Ever is a good start, particularly as a replacement for Ultimate: it provides an extra layer beneath the surface for potential fans willing to dig deeper than The Very Best‘s single disc, whetting the appetite for his 1980s albums (all of which, with the exception of Batman, are essential purchases on their own). But what Prince really needs is a four-disc box set; he needs his version of the classic 1991 James Brown compilation Star Time. I want to see a fully chronological overview of the Warner years, integrating B-sides and extended mixes and maybe even a few judiciously-selected outtakes like “Moonbeam Levels,” that gives a full picture of his artistic development from 1978 to 1993. This is the kind of treatment Prince deserves, simply for the sake of his legacy: he’s not just a hitmaker for ’80s nostalgists, he’s an important artist for every serious listener of 20th century popular music, and he deserves to be treated as such. And yes, NPG, if you’re reading this, I will buy such a set, even though I already own all of his albums–if nothing else, as a gift to introduce someone else to his music.

But that’s not all. There’s an even more glaring hole in the compilations listed above: simply put, while “Prince” in his original public-facing incarnation might have died in 1993, Prince Rogers Nelson lived on for almost another quarter century, releasing over 20 albums that have never been officially collected in any form. And while not all of that material would be of interest to casual listeners, that if anything just means that his post-Warner material is even more due for a compilation to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are even genuine hits, from “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” in 1994 to “Black Sweat” in 2006, that have never appeared on a “Best-of.” This is all the more staggering now that Prince has passed, and many of us (myself included) have started to take a more judicious look at his much-misunderstood tenure as an independent artist. I hope NPG Records already has plans to remedy this hole in his discography with a follow-up compilation to 4Ever collecting material from 1994 to 2015; but just in case they need some ideas, next week, I’ll take a stab at putting together my own track list, and we can all have an argument discussion about it. I’ll see you then!

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, 1990s, Alan Leeds, NPG Records, Prince, Prince 4ever, Warner Bros.

‘Emancipation’@20: An Artist Free To Do What He Wants To

Emancipation

Prince’s 1996 triple CD set Emancipation is turning 20 today. I’ve read here and there that a lot of people consider this to album to be the  Sign O The Times for the 90’s in Prince’s catalog. In a lot of ways that’s true. Personally,these songs all sound as if they were recorded to go together from the outset,whereas Sign O The Times  was culled from three aborted album sessions. Whatever the case may have been, Emancipation was the ultimate flower of Prince’s 90’s sound. In the end,that’s not so much a matter of deciding if that’s a good or bad thing. But more looking at what Prince’s musical priorities were in the 90’s.

As one of my blogging partners Zach Hoskins pointed out on his own blog Dystopian Dance Party,Prince defined “Jheri curl music” in the 1980’s with the Minneapolis sound. By the mid 80’s many newcomers and funk veterans were embracing some variation of Prince’s stripped down electro grooves. As Prince’s music grew  into a more live band sound,it also grew somewhat more experimental. This resulted in a series of albums in the late 80’s that weren’t so commercially successful. With the major success of his 1989 soundtrack for Batman,Prince saw that his musical future may not lay in setting trends.

For his 1991 album Diamonds & Pearls,Prince heavily embraced the hip-hop sound. He had been weary and somewhat mocking of this genre in the late 80’s-almost behaving as if it was musically beneath his abilities.  Yet Diamonds & Pearls was his biggest commercial success in many years.  And he also found that,on album tracks that could be future hits,Prince could still exercise his eclectic musical outlook as he always had. Then came the battle with Warner Bros. By 1993-1994,Prince became very angry and frustrated at the music industry for what he saw as the financial enslavement of artists.

This anger and frustration began to become a key element of his songs. Interestingly enough,contemporary alternative rock and hip-hop became his primary musical focus. It all came down to Prince not using his own name anymore. I personally remember Prince appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show at the time (with then wife Mayte Garcia),and actually discussing how on a psychological level,he felt very distant from “Prince” as a personal identity. That was the framework I had to work with at the time the Emancipation album came out. This was Prince,a man freed from creative shackles.

When I actually heard the album,the most interesting part for me was that Prince’s “liberated” music actually made heavy creative concessions to smooth jazz and still hip-hop. And the frustrated lyrics remained intact. On the other hand,it was a broader mixture overall. It gave up the funk many times. And the 2nd disc of it was basically an elongated love ballad (in separate parts) to Mayte. So to me,Emancipation is one part the sound of freedom and another the sound of musical concessions.  Still a now unpublished Amazon review of mine on the album went into more depth than even that.


Probably the most significant aspect of this album was that it was the very first brand new Prince album I purchased after becoming a huge admirer of his work. There was a lot of publicity about this album when it came out. The people who I talked to in record stores at the time would often says things to the affect of “this is going to be the crowning achievement of Prince’s career” and so on. At the time? I wasn’t aware of the intense level of idolatry of Prince’s musical abilities that might’ve been behind a lot of this.

All I did know is that Prince was leaving behind Warner Bros. and launching his NPG Records.beginning his unshackling from the record company burdens he’d been dealing with for the past several years. I also wasn’t aware that any and all musical expectations were simply not part of the game when understanding Prince. And while I had mine? This,my second actual full listening to this since it came out,has really helped to resolve my views on his era of his creative output.

“Jam Of The Year” opens with a strong jazz/funk/hip-hop number-full of muted trumpet and piano. “Right Back Here In My Arms”,the Ice Cube collaboration of “Mr.Happy”,”Joint 2 Joint”,”Da Da Da” and in particular “Email” all follow that hip-hop style sound. On the other hand “Get Your Groove On”,the JB horn styled “We Gets Up”,the synth bass driven groove of “Sex In The Summer”-with it’s percussion effect from he and then wife Mayte’s baby’s ultrasound and the stomping,bass heavy title track represent the strongest funk element of the album.

The hip-hop oriented “Slave” and “Face Down” as well as the bumping bass/acoustic guitar driven pop/rock ballad “White Mansion” all discuss the consequences of his liberation from his recording contract. “Betcha By Golly Wow”,”I Can’t Make You Love Me”,”One Kiss At A Time”,Soul Sanctuary”,Curious Child”,”Dreamin’ Bout You”,”Let’s Have A Baby”,Savior”,”The Plain”,”Friend,Lover,Sister,Mother/Wife”,”La La Means I Love You”,”One Of Us” and “The Love We Make” are all powerful,often epic soul ballads.

“New World” marks something a return to his original Minneapolis sound with it’s brittle,stripped down synth driven dance/funk groove. The one man band rhythm section of “Courtin’ Time” and my favorite number here “Sleep Around” are both highly kinetic big band jazz oriented pieces-the latter what I’d describe as “horn house” I suppose.

“Style” is the best of the jazz/hip-hop numbers here-with it’s descriptions of different (often humorous,always clever) actions Prince equates with “style being the second cousin to class”. “The Human Body” has a Hi NRG industrial dance sound while “My Computer” is a gurgling synth jazzy/funk/fusion mid tempo piece. The acoustic folk based “The Holy River” and the uptempo guitar driven “D***ed If Eye Do” are both the rockier numbers here.

36 songs over a 3 CD set that clocks in at exactly 3 hours makes this a lot of music. There were and still are many mysteries regarding the origins of what’s on this album. For me? It’s surprisingly ballad heavy. Functioning as something of a love ballad to his then wife. The uptempo songs here also tend to follow the angry hip-hop/funk approach of a lot of his early/mid 90’s work. Not only is it clear the man was still very angry at record companies.

But the lyrics also showcase a burgeoning paranoia. With numerous references to mid 90’s period conspiracy theories such as the anti vaccination and “cows are for calves” anti diary movements. When he turns up the funk however? The groove is often heavy and horn filled. Even with his likable embrace of the jazz/hop hybrid here as well. That gives him and the ever expanding NPG to really stretch their instrumental muscles with phat bass lines,horn charts and rhythms. Certainly some areas of this album are very dated and stereotypical for it’s era. Yet it’s still likely Prince’s strongest overall release of the 1990’s.


A little healthy self criticism reveals that I have no great love for musicians who embrace negative ideas (or even musical styles that happen to be trendy at the moment) simply to maintain their popularity. And do actually think Prince did that to a tiny degree on Emancipation.  But Prince never was a particularly commercial minded artist either. As a musician,his first concern seemed to generally be about how new ideas would fit into his creative ethic. At the end of the day,its an album with many songs that maintain their strong grooves. And others that are simply indelibly linked to its time.

Perhaps one reason for why this and much of Prince’s 90’s output didn’t age as well was the general musical atmosphere of the day. When Prince first emerged as a major star in the 80’s,he was essentially spicing up a 60’s/70’s style funk-rock framework with newer instruments. But with that expansive musical period as his base,there was stronger room for flight. By the early/mid 90’s,Prince was starting to pre program more and more of his rhythms. So that left some of his music of the day having little base at all. Still, Emancipation showcased Prince on a strong path to even bigger and better musical things.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, classic albums, Emancipation, hip-hop funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, NPG Records, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Billy Jack Bitch” by Prince

Prince recorded so much music in his lifetime,there were going to be moments that would be left neglected by some people. The Gold Experience was such an album. It was recorded in 1993 during the most bitter stages of his legal battles with Warner Bros. The end result is that it was the very first album released under the name of O(+>,itself actually functioning as the title for his 1992 album a year before this was recorded.  The album was released on Warner’s yet distributed by Prince’s own NPG Records on September 26th,1995. Because of all the hype surrounding Prince’s name change,this album seemed to be a big deal.

It was a man named Andy,who worked behind the counter of the local branch Strawberries Music chain,who first bought this album to my attention. He asked me if I was a Prince fan. Said I hadn’t heard a lot of his music,which was not a lie at the time. It was that conversation that actually got me interested in revisiting Prince’s music and learning about his history-which was then a bit more recent than it is today. I picked up a pre-owned CD of The Gold Experience a year later. I still seldom listen to it all the way through. One song that I just happily revisited on it was “Billy Jack Bitch”.

Prince starts off the song singing the songs title,accented by a vocal sample from Fishbone’s song “Lying Ass Bitch” over a fast funky drums of Michael Bland-along with a higher and lower toned synthesizer squiggle. A snare kickoff brings in the thick,pulsing bass line of Sonny T. along with the pumping organ of  Tommy Barbarella. This rhythm keeps the same flow through several verse/chorus exchanges before Barbarella takes a steamy organ solo on the bridge-just around the same time Prince accents his melody with sheets of rock guitar. The NPG horns fanfare away just as the song begins to fade out.

Prince and the New Power Generation really do their stuff so well on this song. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me very recently,this is a pretty straight up P-Funk style jam out of the “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” school. Rhythmically it’s a wonderful blend of the NPG’s band interplay with Prince’s instrumental and production touches-not to mention the harmony vocals of Lenny Kravitz-which brings the two contemporary funk/rockers together. That along with the tightly chorded horn voicing’s that come in at the songs concluding segment.

Lyrically this song has similar content to Michael Jackson’s Tabloid Junkie” from the same vintage. The focus is more personal-as Prince accuses the songs antagonist of “calling him silly names” as well as not being willing to confront him face to face. The song was recently confirmed  to have in fact been a direct statement about Minneapolis Star Tribute gossip columnist CJ,whom Prince saw as an enemy of his within the press. Even though it did have it’s place in the rather paranoid anti tabloid sentiment of it’s day,Prince and the NPG endowed it with some strong Minneapolis style P-Funk power.

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Filed under 1990s, Billy Jack Bitch, diss songs, drums, Fishbone, Funk Bass, horns, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Bland, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, organ, P-Funk, Prince, rock guitar, Sampling, Sonny T, synthesizers, Tommy Barbarella, 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.

Purple Funk: The Wonderful World Of Prince’s Spin-Off Acts

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Prince had a very strong influence and popular acclaim in advancing the Minneapolis sound before the 1980’s even came in. At the same time,it was actually a very collaborative effort from the get go. From mid 70’s bands such as Flyte Tyme,Champagne and Pepe Willie’s 94 East onward,there were plenty of musicians in the twin cities hungry to lay down a new kind of funky groove. When Prince began lining up his roaster of acts first under the Starr Company then on his custom label Paisley Park,this ethic took on a whole other dimension.

There were many spin off acts from the Minneapolis music scene of the early/mid 1980’s. They stemmed from the Revolution,The Time and other people who had been involved with the concert scene at the major twin city hot spot First Avenue. Now there are a number of these spin offs I don’t yet have access to. So this may be a multi part concept. For now however,here’s a list of some of the key acts outside of Prince’s own recorded repertoire who played an important part in advancing the “purple funk” sound of Minneapolis as it was at it’s most active point.

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Prince’s first recordings in the mid 70’s with his cousin’s ex husband Pepe Willie. While this was a full band effort with only a small level of participation by Prince,it was remixed and released in 1985 on vinyl (and CD two years later) to fit in more with the synth brass heavy Minneapolis sound these rough jams grew into. Highlights are the live band grooves of “If You Feel Like Dancin”,the ultra funky breakdown of “Games” and the catchy “Just Another Sucker”. It really showcased an artist not yet ready to emerge on his own as a major musical power,but rather acting as a band member of some note.

Vanity 6

Prince turned the classic girl group image on it’s head with the Vanity 6. Featuring three vampish ladies in ex musician Brenda Bennett,his girlfriend Susan Moonsie and the provocative Vanity herself, this album showcased a stripped down,new wave based sound. The musical highlights are the Afro-Latin electro rhythms of “Nasty Girl”,key to the production style of Pharrell Williams today as well as the ultra funky “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”.

What Time Is It

The Time’s sophomore album showcased how much the band lead by Prince’s old school chum (and one time drummer) Morris Day had the strong potential to step right up front alongside Prince as Minneapolis funk royalty. Actually one of the most powerful new funk albums of it’s era,”777-9311″ showcased just how strongly percussive the Linn Drum could be in Prince’s hand while “Wild and Loose” and “The Walk” showcased the “original 7’s” groove power actually is in terms of driving the one right home!apollonia-6-album-cover

Vanity  6 were rechristened Apollonia 6 when Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero ended up replacing Vanity as Prince’s leading lady in the film Purple Rain. The album basically copies the formula of it’s predecessor. And Apollonia sounds like a literal Vanity stand in on most of her vocal leads-including the major hit in the hyper-kinetic single “Sex Shooter”. My personal two favorite number are sung by Brenda in the pounding “Blue Limousine” and the ultra groove bluesy funk thump of “Some Kind Of Lover”.

Sheila Escovedo had gone from George Duke’s late 70’s band to playing with Narada Michael Walden just before this Bay Area percussion veteran bought her heavily timbale based sound to the Minneapolis sound in 1984 on her Prince collaboration on the amazing Latin-funk of “The Glamorous Life”. Highlights of her debut solo album in addition to that are the funky instrumental “Strawberry Shortcake” and the slinky “Oliver’s House”. Her followup Romance 1600 was a jazzier big band flavor with swinging numbers like “Yellow”. The major funk highlight of that album is the phat Prince penned groove of “A Love Bizarre”.

The Family

The Family were a short lived spin off of The Time. Featuring Jerome Benton and introducing sax player Eric Leads,the lead singers were The Time’s Paul Peterson and Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister (and then Prince’s girlfriend” Susannah.  The album introduces the jazzier and more cinematic sound Prince was going for during the mid 80’s. It contained two huge funk monsters in the thick “High Fashion” and “Mutiny”. Not to mention the cinematic soul masterpiece of “The Screams Of Passion”.

Mazarati

Produced by the Revolution’s Brown Mark,Mazarati were the band who also got Prince’s massive hit “Kiss” until he realized it’s potential and decided to take it back. He did gift Mazarati the ultra funky “100 MPH”. Considering this album threw down thick jams such as “Players Ball”,”Stroke”and “Suzy”, this 1986 debut for the band is one that should’ve catapulted this talented,funky band a lot higher than it did.

These very obscure 1987 releases showcase Prince leading a jazz-funk fusion group featuring Eric Leeds and Sheila E’s band of the time. The titles of the two albums songs are sequential. The first of the albums is the jazzier of the two,while the second is built around gurgling instrumental funk including Prince’s early use of sampling-with parts from the first two Godfather films added to the mix.

Gold Nigga

Perhaps anticipating the demise of Paisley Park later in 1993,Prince did for his band the New Power Generation what he didn’t manage to accomplish with the Revolution: record an entire album on them with himself as producer. And on their own self named record label no less.  Due to his infamous battle with Warner Bros. during this time,the lyrics follow a concept of the NPG making mock phone calls to the label about regarding more creative freedom. And with hardcore JB’s style funk jams such as “Deuce A Quarter”,”Johnny” and “Call The Law”,this reflects a new type of “people music” as it were that stands with Prince’s railing against creative oppression.

Hey Man Smell My Finger

This second George Clinton release for the Paisley Park label from October of 1993 featured a production update that showcased how much of an impact P-Funk’s “video game” synthesizer style was having on the G-Funk end of hip-hop at the time. Prince himself contributed the house style dance number “The Big Pump” to the album. Even though it was released just before Paisley Park folded,it showcased Prince’s deep respect for the music icons that inspired what he had been doing.

An artists impact is usually felt most fully by their influence upon others. Even during the period where Prince’s peak years were starting to wane,new distribution projects such as the 1-800-NEW-FUNK number and his early websites allowed for more spin off’s from Paisley Park to be made available for the people. Due to the come and go nature of some of these mediums,a lot of these side projects are very rare now. But they were worth seeking out in order to understand just how broad reaching Prince and his protege’s musical vision actually was.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, 94 East, Apollonia, Brenda Bennett, cinematic soul, electro funk, Eric Leeds, George Clinton, jazz funk, Jerome Benton, Linn Drum, Madhouse, Mazarati, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, P-Funk, Pepe Willie, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Sheila E., Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Vanity