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.
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
The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (often abbreviated to TAFKAP) hasn’t wound up being the most musically consistent of his career. At the same time he was fighting Warner Bros for ownership of his master tapes as well as changing his name,he had inner daemons as well. Heart palpitations resulted in him having to start taking pain killers. The hip-hop genre he’d once looked down his nose on was by then becoming the mainstream of popular music. So now Prince was facing in the 90’s what Stevie Wonder had faced in the 80’s: still musically strong,but no quite as apt to amaze his listeners.
Happily 1996 proved a happy one for Prince. He ended up being released from his Warner Bros. contract. And now had the creative autonomy he desired. Plus he got married for the first time in his life to Mayte Garcia,one of his dancers of the last seven years. During this time he began recording his triple CD set Emancipation. This was as much a musical love letter to Mayte as it was a declaration of musical independence for him. Especially the second disc of the set. One of the songs on it came as a result of Mayte becoming pregnant with what would’ve been their first child. This song was called “Sex In The Summer”.
Prince starts the song out singing the chorus of the song acapella. After this,the round synth bass line and reggae like drum beat get the song started. This is accompanied by a soulful piano part and the percussive pulses of Prince sampling the ultrasound of he and Mayte’s son’s beating heart. The full chorus starts earnestly with ringing synths bringing the counter melody-and the synth bass/ultra sound derived bass line assisted by a bluesy wah wah guitar. The refrains strip the rhythm down to the drums,bass lines and a much lower and chunkier rhythm guitar tone.
The song itself contains two musical bridges. The first one consists of Prince duetting rather George Benson style with his wah wah guitar improvisations. After another chorus and refrain round,including one with Prince singing said chorus over the drum and ultra sound,the second bridge starts up. This is defined by the bluesy wah wah,low synth brass and a Ramsey Lewis like Chicago soul jazz piano solo over a bed of heavy rock guitar. This bluesy jazz flavor set up by the second bridge of the song keeps the song high on the groove until Prince closes it out with the title chorus just as he began it.
Seeing Prince and Mayte talking about the joyous experiencing of recording their unborn child’s ultra sound on the Oprah Winfrey show during this time was deep for me. Though sadly the child did not survive. The very best of music,especially rhythm based sounds,express the very essence of life itself. And Prince using that ultrasound as part of the bass line,the foundation of any strong groove, really bought out that creative spirit. By mixing reggae and soul jazz/hard bop styles,this song perhaps stood out most fully as a prime example of Prince liberating his own funk during the mid 1990’s.
Filed under 1990s, blues funk, drums, jazz funk, Mayte Garcia, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, piano, Prince, reggae funk, rock guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, ultrasound, wah wah guitar, Warner Bros.
One of the keys to my personal understand of Prince would be flexibility. Expansion of ones tastes and thoughts would seem to be vital in order to have the appropriate appreciation for the art of Prince Rogers Nelson. Having reviewed and done at least two blog posts about the man already? It feels like exactly the right time to acknowledge the fact my experiences with his music spans across four decades-give or take a year or five. So on the man’s 57th birthday? I am going to run down,decade by decade, just where my path growing up intersected with his purple life.
There’s always a vague memory from a child’s point of view. But hearing “When Doves Cry” on my mom’s 45 RPM record of it,when it was brand new,was a very unusual musical experience for me. At the time? I didn’t know what I was hearing. On the beach near where we had a summer camp? The ground was littered with flat,slate like rocks with a red/indigo color that my mom referred to as “purple Prince rocks”. These rocks were collecting heavily in my room by the time I heard my next Prince song-a very choppy VHS recording my dad made me of the video to his song “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. This was Prince’s commercial prime-his public decade as an artist. I knew of him,but perhaps took him a little for granted.
When Prince elected to change his name (amid record company hassles) to an unpronounceable symbol in 1994? My first reaction was actually laughter and eye rolling. By that point? Most of the artists I deeply admired were involved in some very public scandal. I felt the media were unfairly projecting Prince as being insane. Naturally this attracted me to his music. First came The Hits/The B-Sides. After that,while revisiting the salad years of this back catalog up to that point? My first experience with new Prince music came via multi CD sets such as Emancipation and Crystal Ball. If the 80’s were Prince’s prime decade? Then the 90’s were the prime decade of my personal experience with his artistry.
Becoming an adult was a happy time for me to be an admirer of Prince’s music. Mainly because he was calling himself Prince again. Of course another aspect of being an adult during the immediate post 9/11 years kept me from the latest news on the man. While Prince was at last a creative free agent? I was personally experiencing a great deal of difficulty managing life on my own. Issues I still face,to some degree, to this very day. Interestingly enough? Being able to delight in the exciting funkiness emerging from new Prince releases of the time such as Musicology,3121 and MPL Sound had me rooting for the man’s success as an example to myself: that an artist could be successfully and creatively free at the same time.
It’s been an interesting six year journey with Prince by this point. One had has yet to be complete. This decade started off with me being very disappointed,annoyed and angry with Prince’s business choices. Not only was he electing to release little to no music. But his live shows never came close to reaching my area. Not to mention him turning his nose up at the internet. Which was at this point becoming an enormous aspect of my own creative expression on every level: literately,artistically and photographically. This has all changed within the last year or so. Prince has re-signed (on his terms) with Warner Bros. and released two new albums. With the promise of more. Also he’s released a single to raise awareness for the BlackLivesMatter initiative with his racially charged single in “Baltimore” as well.
One element that has been enormous in my understanding of Prince during the past decade and a half or so has been the enormous presence of third person perspective. Facebook friends such as Brandon Ousley,Henry Cooper and in particular Henrique Hopkins have been instrumental in providing often illuminating insights into the creative and personal character of the often elusive Minneapolis native. One element of Prince’s recent character I appreciate is his public advocacy of albums as a vital musical concept. Especially in the retro 50’s/post MP3 attitudes of single songs again being the main source for popular music. If Prince and my own life progress forward along a similar clip to this? I might at last achieve a full appreciation in my art of understanding of the artist and his motivations.
Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 3121, 45 records, albums, BlackLivesMatter, CD's, Crystal Ball, Emancipation, Facebook, Funk, MPL Sound, Musicology, Prince, The Hits/B-Sides, When Doves Cry