Tuesday, August 14, 2007

my name is prince

A while ago, I was having a debate with a friend of mine about Prince and Michael Jackson. The question: if they were double billed, who would open the show? Though clouded by insobriety, I remember contending that, in such a concert of my dreams, Prince would have to open for Michael Jackson. Despite the undeniable success of both, MJJ is the King of Pop(ularity), and in that regard, Prince is, well, a prince. I must admit that when I'm "in da club," and the dj decides to have that The Gloved One vs. The Purple One spin-off, I somehow end up siding with Michael Joe, despite my desire to declare such a contest a tie, or even pointless, since they're not entirely comparable artists. I always want to retract my mental decision in the end. Perhaps it's Moonwalker, or the whole Indiana connection. (State trumps region, I guess.)

Having said that, I find Prince's descendents much more tormented (D'Angelo, Maxwell), compelling (Bilal), cooler (J*Davey), and musically interesting (all of them) than MJ's. Admittedly, followers of Billie Jean's not-lover seem more popular, and I do enjoy some of their music and antics: I adore Beyonce's "Deja Vu" because the bass line especially reminds me of the opening notes of "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" and "Off the Wall"; N.E.R.D.'s "Frontin'"--especially the portions where Pharrell lays on the falsetto-- is reminiscent of "I Can't Help It." Despite my not at all ironic love of Mr. Timberlake, I found the apparently Prince-inspired Future Sex/Love Sounds inconsistent, mundane, and just wack at times; though the latter portion of "Lovestoned/I Think That She Knows" is one of my favorite tracks, I was shitty when he didn't dance in the music video. Then again, I'm generally shitty when JT doesn't dance. And while I'm speaking of getting on the good foot, the dancing machine Chris Brown is mere pubescent eye candy.

If MJ's sons and daughters are seemingly omnipresent, then Prince's subjects are equally inaccessible. There are more rumors of new material, sporadic concerts, losing record deals, and otherwise unfulfilled or disappointing fantasies than some can handle. A cult following is almost necessarily in order. Though I missed J*Davey covering "Sex Shooter" as an encore to one of their shows, I was lucky enough to be in New York the night Bilal played. He was gracious enough to rock for more than two hours -- more than most would give you for twice the money. He even made an off the cuff comment about his second album, Love 4 Sale, being leaked on the internet. (For the record, I never solicited anyone for that album. Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? To be sure, if the record label put out that album tomorrow, I'd buy it.) Yet as much as the internet may have been a curse for Bilal, it is often a blessing for indie artists and their fans.

I was glad, then, when Van Hunt released a digital EP last Tuesday, which contained two new songs from his upcoming album, Popular, and two acoustic versions of songs that appeared on 2006's On the Jungle Floor. My most favorite Hunt song ever is "Hold My Hand," which I've previously mused should be some sort of dyke theme song. That joint is a bit less Sly Stone and Rick James, and more Prince. And that's what I like about the first two tracks on The Popular Machine EP. I'm not exactly sure, but when I hear both "Turn My TV On" and "Lowest One of My Desires," I think of some song from Sign O' the Times or "Lady Cab Driver." (When Rick James tells you he wants to fuck you, it's pretty nasty. When Prince says it, you kinda want to let him make it.) Yet, what I also mean by "more Prince" is the evolution you can can track in the music. For me, Hunt's musical choices, his songwriting especially, keeps getting better. He, like the other, previously mentioned Prince-inspired, is on a different trajectory, another plane. Saying, "Y'all niggas keep doing that shit over there, while I fuck with this here." And what's cooler than that?

Prince was right, sexy never did leave. Thankfully, it spawned a few babies.

Of course, I could be all wrong about this.

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language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

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