Tag Archives: 1990s

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Drives Me Wild” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s passing is still being felt seven years on. With him not being with us anymore,its getting easier to see beyond the idolatry (which both helped and hindered him) to the essence of his musical and performance artistry. This artistry was very much defined by MJ’s performance ability. This included his distinctive variety of rangy vocal hiccup. And it was also defined by his aggressive,brittle mixture of Broadway show dancing and the James Brown moves with which he began on as a child at Motown. By the early 1990’s,Jackson’s persona was becoming  more defined by his personal eccentricities.

Now this brings MJ up to his fourth post Motown solo album Dangerous. Quincy Jones was jettisoned as a producer,for among other reasons that Jackson wanted to update his sound in a different ways than perhaps Quincy did. One of the biggest success in the soul/funk world in the late 80’s/early 90’s was Teddy Riley. He’d helped pioneer the new jack swing variant of danceable funk music. Jackson was recording this fourth album during this time,and enlisted Riley to help out. Teddy Riley would up producing seven songs on the album,including the first six. My personal favorite of which is “She Drives Me Wild”.

Traffic sounds begin the song. Then a car horn effect playing an actual horn chart introduces the refrain. The refrain consists of a shuffling uptempo new jack drum machine,with each second beat seemingly played backwards. Synthesized MIDI effects are used to create digitized sounds of bells,clocks,more car horns,the sound of walking along with other effects one would expect to hear on the urban street in mid day. On the chorus,the growling vocals of Jacksons throughout the song return to his whispery falsetto as the drums and keyboards play it straighter. Its on such a note that the song fades out.

Personally,I tend to see new jack swing as being (which was also the case with some types of disco) as having potential to be somewhat cookie cutter and generic. In the hands of talents such as Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson,that brought out the very best the genre had to offer. These industrial electronics on this song sound much like an early 90’s extension of James Brown’s concept: turning digital MIDI sound effects and synthesizer layers into a drum. Wreckz-N-Effects perform an equally rhythm rap that appears on the instrumental bridge of the song

Henrique Hopkins and myself have had many discussions about how,while a strong album on a musical level,1987’s Bad  album wasn’t particularly innovative for its time. Susan Fast discussed in her excellent 33 1/3 volume on Dangerous that this was an album that actually found MJ very much on the cutting edge musically-along with keeping his strong sense of pop craft and funky dancibility. Listening to it today, its not an album that’s short on exciting and strong songs-especially the uptempo material. But this song really goes to another level for me.

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Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects

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 Summer: “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (1991)

Prince was undergoing a major change during the early 1990’s. Following the release of his final motion picture Graffiti Bridge,he began putting together a whole new band. He named them the New Power Generation. They were as much a concept as they were a unified band. That’s because even during their first decade together,the NPG had its share of lineup changes. But the idea was an instrumental framework through which Prince could channel the talents of different musicians into his eclectic embracing of styles. This was especially true on his debut with them on 1991’s Diamonds & Pearls. 

On many tracks,this album showcased Prince embracing then contemporary elements of hip-hop and techno/house genres. As always,he had other ideas up his sleeve as well. During this time,Prince began a professional report with film director Spike Lee. They eventually decided to do a collaborative project together. What ended up happening was that Prince asked Spike to pick any song from the Diamonds & Pearls  album to direct as a music video. Spike’s selection was a song that has been speaking to me a lot in recent times entitled “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”.

A drum kickoff gets the song going-the main beat being a steady funky/soul one that contains a slowed down break on every chorus of the song. Prince,singing the song in his lower voice,is accompanied melodically by bell like electric keyboard chords playing off his vocal changes. The guitar of the song is predominantly a soul jazz hiccup with a bass line,as was often typical of Prince,staying right along with it throughout rather than playing any counter chords. On some parts,the guitar hugs the melody completely. After a brief burst of string synthesizer,the guitar break brings the song to an abrupt end.

Musically speaking,this song is a bit different for Prince. With it’s relaxed jazzy pop flavor,the production has more in common with the natural style of instrumentation found in the neo soul genre a decade later. Lyrically,its clear why Spike Lee saw it as so imagistic. The song paints a series of pictures emphasizing the need to “look after ones soul” rather than pursuing financial gain-including then contemporary social commentary about the greed laying behind the Gulf War. Its one of my favorite Prince message songs. And certainly one of his most melodic and easy going in its sound.

 

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Filed under 1990s, bass guitar, drums, funk pop, keyboards, message songs, Neo Soul, Prince, rhythm guitar, Spike Lee

Grooves On Wax: 12″ inch Singles On The One!

Upon starting this new feature on Andresmusictalk, the subject of 12″ inch singles was something that was always intending to be covered. With their extended,often remixed versions of the original album versions,the 12″ inch single is a format that derived from the disco era. And actually started in it with DJ’s playing the records for dancers as opposed to live bands. It was about a year or so ago that I started collecting these 12″ inch extended/remix singles again. So here is the first ones of this semi regular aspect of this feature. And it actually starts out just as the disco era had peaked.


On Your Knees (1979) is a very funky Eurodisco number,whose single featured  eye catching cover art by Bronx born art/fashion photographer Richard Bernstein. The B-side “Don’t Mes With The Messer” deals more with the Broadway musical style of theatrical disco Grace was so known for in her 70’s era music. So you hear two sides of Tom Moulton’s late 70’s disco productions for Grace.

Listening to Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein 84 remixes from…1984,it becomes clear just how much this early 70’s glam rock classic makes a lot more sense in a mid 80’s electro funk setting. With the used of sequencers and Vocorders,Winter creates a break beat/hip-hop friendly variation on himself. Especially when his very strong,often outright growling,rap comes in on the “Monster Rap” mix.

1987’s Characters  album is my favorite Stevie Wonder album of the 1980’s. On his 12″ inch single for “Get It”,his duet with Michael Jackson from that album,the drums shuffle more than on the album. And the break beats are re-sampled heavier. This gives it a flavor closer to the then emerging new jack swing variety of funk coming out of people such as Teddy Riley and Chuckii Booker.

The 12″ inch single for “Skeletons” from the same Stevie Wonder album is it’s own matter entirely. The DX-7 synthesizer on the intro is replaced with a thick,funky rhythm guitar for one. Also on the drum and synth bass interludes,Stevie’s call and responses of “hmm hmm hmm” and “oh wow” are set to samples of Ronald Reagan speeches. It really showcases what Stevie means singing”somebody done snitched on the news crew/it’s gettin’ ready to break”.

It was somewhat surprising to find a 12″ inch vinyl single from 1999. But on this set of remixes of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”,you get Rodney Jerkin’s original hip-hop/pop version,a Daddy D remix that has an Afrika Bambaataa style electro funk groove while Maurice’s Last Days Of Disco has a late 70’s dance/early 90’s house flavor. It showcases how the song might’ve sounded in three different eras of time.


One thing about 12″ inch singles that I’ve forgotten about is how much they bring out that punchy,analog sound that vinyl is so renowned for. Some of these were actually 33 RPM,but the majority were 45 RM so that probably helped out a big in that regard. It also lasted far longer than I knew-about up to the advent of the MP3 and today they are making a comeback with the big vinyl revival. Creatively speaking,they allow remix producers, sometimes even the artists themselves,re-imagining their own work in new,unexpected ways. And this makes the 12″ inch vinyl single a format worth expanding on.

 

 

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Destiny's Child, Disco, Edgar Winter, elecro funk, extended mixes, Grace Jones, remixes, Rodney Jerkins, Stevie Wonder, Tom Moulton, Vinyl

Prince Summer: “Pretty Man” (1999)

Prince’s final jam of the year for the 1990’s was 1999’s Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. This one and only Prince album on Arista derived from the artist’s legendary vault of unreleased music. One well known song was an outtake from the 1988  album Lovesexy. It was the new albums title song,and a funky one at that. The remainder of the album was catchy pop/rock  oriented music featuring then very popular guests such as Ani DiFranco and Sheryl Crow. Public Enemy’s Chuck D even appeared on the hip-hop flavored “Undisputed”. Personally,this album had other levels of significance.

This would be the final album released by The Artist Formerly Known As Prince-using his O(+> glyph. It was pretty commercially successful at the time. Yet even though I personally was very interested in Prince,I avoided the album for years. This was due to one major moment of caving into record store peer pressure saying that this new Prince album was being out funked by Beck’s Midnight Vultures-released several days before it. A decade later,I began to see right through that statement and picked up the CD. I enjoyed much of it. But it was a hidden track called “Prettyman” that really stuck out most.

A fast paced drum shuffle,consistently accented by cowbell,gets the groove going and remains steady throughout most of it. A slippery bass line plays every note not heard within the fairly simple chords of the song for a thick bottom. Along with turn-tabling that brings in high pitched horn blast samples.  Maceo Parker accents Prince’s chicken scratch rhythm guitar through a serious of calculated breaks-eventually coming back for Maceo to take one of his iconic sax solos. By the end,Prince is adding squiggly synth organ tones as he and Maceo solo fade the song right out to the sound of a glassy smash.

It was James Brown’s full rhythm approach that inspired Prince’s own type of funk from the outset. This can be heard as far back as 1987’s “Housequake”. On this song however,Prince isn’t just modernizing the JB funk sound: he’s outright re-creating it. Maceo Parker had by this time taken a journey through the three key phases of funk-through James Brown,P-Funk and winding up with Prince. And just at the time that the Minneapolis icon was finding his inner JB most fully. This approach to funk would be the one Prince would work around for much of the rest of his career as it turned out.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, Arista Records, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Sampling, Saxophone, synthesizer, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Undertaker” by Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples represents the  black American civil rights era in music so much for me. She went from a gospel child star to one of the earliest purveyors of “people music” as the lead vocalist of The Staple Singers alone. She made a series of solo albums during the 1970’s. All without officially leaving her family’s musical fold. During the early 80’s,she returned with the Staple Singers as they modernized their sound. Later in the decade, Prince celebrated her strong musical legacy of humanistic gospel and funky soul by signing her to his Paisley Park label. There she recorded two more solo records in 1989 and 1993.

During her collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as her producer,Mavis has never ceased to make civil rights messages the focus of her songs. That’s extremely admirable. Yet her productions by Tweedy and now M.Ward find her in a bluesy country rock musical direction-one where only her voice projects the strong funky soul element. Her brief time recording with Prince (including her memorable appearance in his final film Graffiti Bridge) really allowed Mavis to be funky AND sociopolitical at the same time. One good example comes from her 1993 Paisley Park album The Voice in the form of “The Undertaker”

Backup vocalists The Steeles  start the song off by singing its title. That breaks off into Michael B’s slow funky drum shuffle. Sonny Thompson’s 2 note bass pump is held up by non other than the late Pop Staples’ bluesy guitar licks. The NPG horns and Ricky Peterson’s organ washes play a call and response element to both Mavis’s vocal leads and The Steeles’ back-rounds. On the last couple of refrains of the song,Pop’s and Mavis deal with that father/daughter duet style they did so well-with his gentle tone and her husky well leading the groove onto it’s fade out.

This bluesy funk jam is a fine example of funky message music in the early 90’s. With it’s use of re-sequenced vocal and horn licks,it plays along with the slowly funky variety of hip-hop at the time as well. The New Power Generation’s groove holds up Mavis’s gospel authority delivering the basic message to the streets saying “Put away the guns for future’s sake/Don’t you be another number for the undertaker”. This LA riots era concept resonates with what’s happening today-with black American’s having enough of institutionalized violence towards them. So in that sense,this funk is still right on time!

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Filed under 1990s, blues funk, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop funk, Mavis Staples, Michael Bland, New Power Generation, organ, Paisley Park, Pops Staples, Prince, rhythm guitar, Ricky Peterson, Sonny T, The Steeles, Uncategorized

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.

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.