Category Archives: O(+>

‘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

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.

Chaos & Disorder At 20: Prince Righting The Wrong

Chaos & Disorder

Chaos And Disorder is a Prince album born out of frustration. Feeling stifled despite the creative freedoms the Warner Bros label had given him over the year,the transition from Prince to his O(+> identity has him controversially writing ‘slave” across his right cheek in black makeup pen.  He also released a series of albums on his own and leading the New Power Generation whose lyrics functioned as angry tirades at his own label-including this one. Of course since the mid 1990’s was a very angry period in popular music anyhow,it all mirrored the times too. Yet on a strictly musical level,O(+> was having other ideas.

It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago today that Chaos And Disorder hit the record stores. Personally,I remember it being a bit of an afterthought in record stores. Not prioritized in terms of promotion,and getting mixed reviews. Upon first listening to it upon picking up a cassette of it a few years later,I kind of liked it. The first five songs are very catchy and instrumentally dense rockers with a pop twist,while the last half of the album were hyperactive funk/rock fusions mixed with psychedelic style ballads. Several years ago,I got a hold of a the CD pre-owned. And started listening to it a bit more often.

Looking at it more recently,it could be described at representing for Prince in the mid 90’s what Around The World In A Day represented for him in the mid 80’s. Prince & The NPG’s first albums of the 90’s were generally hip-hop and techno house based. So on Chaos And Disorder,Prince returned under his then new name with an album that got back strong into his hard funk and catchy pop/rock roots. Only again,the thematic mood was on the dark side. I wrote an Amazon.com review almost a decade about the album. This goes into this album song by song a bit more. So enjoy this part of my breakdown of Chaos And Disorder:


It wasn’t long after Prince exited Warner Bros,changed his name to O(-> and released     The Gold Experience did he begin to collect some of his “private music vault” for this album in 1996.Considering how well the same idea worked 15 years earlier with Dirty Mind he didn’t see how it wouldn’t work on ‘Chaos And Disorder’, and musically it did. Both albums have the one similarity of being Prince’s more rock oriented music. Prince’s style on the rock guitar is showcased throughout the uptempo songs on this album.The title track,”I Like It There”,”Into The Light” and “I Will” are extraordinary rockers.

For those who enjoy more pop/rock the easy going “Dinner With Delores”,with it’s 70’s soft rock feel will fit the bill nicely and it is actually one of his best songs of the period. The loud blues rock of “Zannalee” is not exactly typical of Prince but it challenges him as a musician.Don’t think that just because this is often hyped as Prince “rock” album (which in many ways it is) Prince is his always eclectic self on the zesty funk-rock hybrids of “Right The Wrong”,”I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Dig You Better Dead”-all three of which are also some of his strongest songs.

‘Chaos And Disorder’ is Prince’s final “official” Warner Bros. album and presents some his most direct songs;most of these tunes are less then 3 and 4 minutes and have a very refreshing directness.One thing that anyone considering purchasing this should know is this was released during a very trying time for Prince-he was fighting with Warners,had the “SLAVE” tattoo on his face and the lyrics here are filled with a lot of bitterness and edginess.As with many of Prince’s mid 1990’s music it will certainly get your attention.But even I found myself revisiting it after all these years of thinking of this as one of Prince’s weakest albums and maybe more people should do that.


Unsure if Prince ever conceptualized it,but the music on Chaos And Disorder  is of a sort that could function very well as a live performance setup-with different costumes and sets. Despite the music’s theatrical potential,Prince never toured for this album. Maybe that was a good thing in hindsight because Prince’s studio albums always created their own type of theatrical (and mostly extremely funkified) musical world. As controversial as Prince’s stance on his rights as an artist during the 1990’s was,Chaos And Disorder might very well be the best examples of how that era translated onto an album for him.

 

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Filed under 1990s, funk rock, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Powe Generation, O(+>, pop rock, Prince, Psychedelia, rock guitar, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Warner Bros.

Prince 1958-2016: Literary Musings On The Late Master Of Purple Funk

Prince Rogers Nelson’s public persona was defined by the irony of him not being a particularly public person. So as opposed to artists such as Michael Jackson,George Clinton and Stevie Wonder whose histories was more of an open book? Prince was someone who required some outsider figure to try to understand him. So literature on the man was paramount as I was getting into his music. Authors  such as Per Nilsen,Jason Draper and the Daily Mail’s somewhat controversial Liz Jones were helpful in terms of writing the Prince literature that I’ve personally been exposed to.

With the reference material from my Amazon.com reviews on these Prince related publications,this article will attempt to provide an insight into the information I was taking in about Prince while just digging into his music. Most of you fellow Prince admirers out there probably had similar experiences. And I’d enjoy hearing about them in the comment section of this article.  They three books are being illustrated here in order of release in order to point out the progression of what impact their content had on my interest in Prince. So please enjoy this literary musical experience!

Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones (April 1998)

Purple Reign

Prince is a notoriously difficult biographical subject. Most things said about him are second hand accounts of one sort or another and what does come from the source tends to be cryptic and open to much interpretation. He makes himself into such a mystery and as much as she tries writer Liz Jones isn’t able to go much further than that in writing this. There are some obvious contradictions that do get played up here,the most obvious being that Prince didn’t listen to R&B growing up: he most certainly did by most accounts.

Basically we start after Prince and than wife Mayte Garcia lost their only child to a birth defect,goes back to Prince’s beginnings and right back to square one again. There are plenty of interesting musical analyzations along the way and they make up the best part of this particular book. One thing almost every account tends to point out is Prince being a workaholic control freak,often obsessed with perfecting his musical art and often recording mounds of music only to can most of it in his massive vaults.

There’s also some troubling notes regarding his extreme rudeness to fans on occasion and even outright hostility towards others,notably musicians he seems to feel threatened by. His moodiness would seem to indicate he wheres his astrological sign of Gemini on his sleeve as his attitude seems to know little predictability. Again though these don’t come from Prince himself. What you do get here from his own mouth paint the picture of another character.

It’s that of an aloof,complex and reflective man who has yet to discover who he is personally and developed his persona largely as a method of coping with sensitivity over mistreatment in his life. It’s a similar psychological makeup to another talented musical icon Prince greatly admired;Miles Davis. The book doesn’t go too in depth to Prince’s somewhat baffling name change to O(-> during the mid 90’s and his confusing record company hassles. Again most of this comes from different outside accounts.

There’s a lot of healthy discussion here regarding the long gestating making of his debut motion picture Purple Rain and all the twists and turns,cast and script changes it went through during it’s conception. This helps to explain why 1983 was the one single year of the 1980’s that Prince didn’t release an album of his own. Even though a lot of the book tries to make some sense of his life it actually ends up asking more questions than it answers and that’s what makes this book so interesting. Even so there has yet to be a definitive and thoroughly truthful biography of Prince.

Prince-A Documentary by Per Nilsen (Published on July 1st,1998)

Prince A Documentary

After reading Michael Jackson: Visual Documentary the sight of this similarly themed, large format paperback led me to immediately snag it up. Not only are different writers involved here but the style of the books couldn’t differ more. Adrian Grant presented MJ’s life in a detailed textbook like context based on names,places and events on a fairly strict timeline. Considering the public persona of his subject that was really the only approach Adrian could take in that regard. Prince was always a more complex figure.

As a man possessed of a very elaborate personality and who is still something of a one man music industry a half an inch thick book like this covering his life and career up until 1992 even would seem highly intimidating for any writer. This book has a lot of pictures but is a more analytical and scholarly approach to it’s writing. This book has far more literary content as not only does it present reviews of Prince’s albums but those he was involved in-not to mention reviewing all his feature films.

There’s also a great deal of his known biography involved in the story. The book starts off with a description of the twin cities as Prince grew up in them,even down to a small map of the area along with,as in the rest of the book direct quotations from the man himself taken from various interviews about his life and career. This actually has one of the best presentations of Prince’s pre-recording music career than much before it as it describes a lot of his school life and how he became interested in music-along with insight into the possible nature of his sometimes explicit lyrics.

There is also extensive information on Prince’s many concert tours,often describing the experiences of each one to the extent you might believe you’ve been to one. If your not aware of all the music he produced outside himself from lesser known spin-off acts such as Mazaratti,The Family and Prince’s legendary Madhouse projects. I suppose some of the musical criticism is,as criticism is by some definition slightly bias but is generally fair and I agree with a great deal of it mainly because it sticks  to obvious facts rather than blanket judgment calls.

It would be wonderful if this volume would be re-written today with updates about his 90’s career and 21’st century commercial comeback-along with the newer spin off acts he continues to create. But as it stands this book has always impressed me and I find myself going back to it again and again.

Prince: Life & Times by Jason Draper (September 1st,2008)

Prince life and times

Well it’s certainly true that Prince is one of the most enigmatic subjects for biography. The trouble is he’s also one of the most elusive. Truths about his life seem to contradict each other as much as the lies and with all the books written about him in the past he genuinely does seem like one of the worlds most unknowable celebrities,both musical and personally. This enormous coffee table book is a wonderfully presented volume,featuring a colorfully present volume containing hundreds of rare and unseen photos,both in black & white and color of Prince,his proteges and almost everyone else in his circle.

For the more casual reader this book surpasses both Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince in terms of a more fully balanced viewpoint and Prince: A Documentary in terms of not presenting too many musical technicalities and surpasses both in terms of it’s scope. Both of those overall wonderful books were written in the mid 90’s and before many of the events in Prince’s life and career. This album ends roughly during the 21 Nights period and therefore extends all the way up to the circumstances revolving around the release of his Planet Earth album.

In this volume there’s a lot of biographic facts most of us are already familiar with along with an in depth discography presented including,happily a lot of Prince’s somewhat obscure online only releases such as ‘Xpectation’,’C-Note’,’Slaugterhouse’ and ‘The Chocolate Invasion’. One of the big selling points of this book is also how is very casually looks to reconcile Prince’s sometimes obscure career choices with his personal life and how they often wind up joining around the middle.

His spiritual journey and now well known legal battle with Warner Bros in the mid 90’s are explained well and in frank and honest enough terms for most readers to understand as well as also being analytical enough to appeal to those who enjoy digging deep. The writers present very personalized reviews of each of his albums,no matter how obscure. And while their self assurances about their opinions is not my personal cup of tea the reviews make a lot of valid points on all ends,even if people won’t always agree with them.

This book is especially detailed on the period between 1993 and around 2004 which,even for people such as myself who happily put up with Prince’s publicity moves,started to totally lose his intentions. Considering that “the internet is over” for Prince, to coin his own phrase this book would be interesting to revisit a decade from now with an addendum since I believe the game is certainly not over for The Artist Always Known As Complex.

Now that Prince is no longer with us,there exists the possibility of his life becoming literarily unraveled. Perhaps in a way he’d have found totally undesirable in life. Currently there awaits Prince’s personal memoirs,set to be released this fall. Suppose there’s one key question when it comes to any Prince related literature. Just how important is knowing the man and his motivations in terms of appreciating his musical art?  I don’t personally have the answer. That leaves it up to each and every one of us to make that choice for ourselves-based on our experiences with the late master of Purple Funk.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, biographies, book reviews, Jason Draper, Liz Jones, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, music literature, O(+>, Per Nilsen, Purple Rain, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Warner Bros.