Top 10: Questlove's 33 Reasons Why Prince is Hip-Hop!
Illustrations by Joshua Dunn
Top 10 Tuesdays! Seriously, we might kick off Top 10 Tuesdays around here pretty soon. But for today our Top 10 comes courtesy of our brothers-in-crates over at Wax Poetics, who picked (<--no afro intended) Questlove's brain for a top THIRTY THREE, specifically, the "Top 33 REASONS Why Prince Is Hip-Hop." In support of all things related to Prince, Questlove, wax, poetics and hip-hop, Okayplayer is proud to present reasons #33-24. Read on and then follow the thread over to Wax P for the full 33 (and 1/2?--if we know those dudes, there's a hidden groove in there somewhere).
October 1991 marked the year of a new Prince. I could tell that something was on his mind (perhaps money?). It was his thirteenth professional year, and something had to give. Clearly he was irked by longtime fans already giving his 1978–’88 tenure a past-tense reference (known as “the genius period,” similar to pre–Woman in Red Stevie’s 1971–’76 era, but Prince fared a lil better). Although a commercial success, his 1989 Batman soundtrack felt unthawed. (And let’s face it: anything with that Batlogo was getting copped back in the late ’80s, so it was a no-brainer. You could turn in just about anything and it would sell as long as that golden logo was attached to your product.) His next album was a heartbreaking failure of a sequel to the very breakthrough that probably is responsible for this tribute issue you now hold in your hands. Graffiti Bridge, released in 1990, did the exact opposite of what Purple Rain was to do for his career (and it’s noted that all of the soundtrack highlights were indeed written or recorded...during the—ahem—“genius period.”) However, on Prince and the New Power Generation’s Diamonds and Pearls, his first “proper” album since 1988’s puzzling Lovesexy and his first project not to reach the top ten since 1981’s Controversy, Prince seemed to embrace “rap” (not hip-hop, but “rap”) almost with the believability of Republican politicians that visit the inner-city slums to kiss babies and shake hands. The puzzling thing about it all is that Prince was more “hip-hop” than he ever was once he gave in to “rap” music.
Dare I say he was a hip-hop pioneer? Yes. That Prince. Without even trying, he did things that those in the hip-hop generation wouldn’t even think to do some years later in their careers. So in celebration of Prince reaching Jesus status (thirty-three years in the game), I’d like to argue thirty-three reasons why sucker MCs should call him sire.
33. “2 Live, 2 Live is what we are.”
In 1988, Prince poses stark naked on his tenth album cover, Lovesexy.
32 & 31. “So either join the crew or get beat down.”
With Hammer as America’s newly discovered go-to guy, Prince reverses his Sir Nose D’VoidoRAP position of the past (more on that later) and full-on puts his career survival ahead of his personal creativity. Backtracking a hard stance, of course, would be the norm come 1997 with the all-integrity no-sell-out hip-hop. Of course, with the formation of the NPG and its kickoff album, 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, with samples and rap breaks over a band soundtrack (I’ll just sneak in #31 here) and the occasional “nigga” sprinkled for effect (let’s not forget the mic gun either), Prince was actually onto something that was years ahead of my own entry in the game.
30. “I got it from my pops, where there’s a man in the house and all the bullshit stops.”
Genius starts with the act of defiance, achieving something when you are told that you can’t achieve. Prince’s father told him flat out, “Don’t touch my piano.” So, naturally, Prince takes that to mean, “Please help yourself, then help me some twenty years later by taking care of me with the fruits of your labor.” I don’t know if the Joseph/Tito thing went down, but I do know that he taught himself to play the theme to Batman (See? The man is a visionary!) and soon he got more intricate—that is, until he got kicked out the house and shuffled around to various relatives until running away at the age of twelve.
29. “Check it, fifteen of us in a three-bedroom apartment / Roaches everywhere, cousins and aunts was there/ Four in a bed, two at the foot, two at the head.”
The Anderson family basement. P’s BFF André Anderson (aka Cymone) asks his mom, Bernadette, to take in “Skipper” as her seventh child. She does so, and also puts up with all the noise, knowing it’s better to be inconvenienced than those two to be running out in the streets.
28. “Shakespeare couldn’t tell a story that well.”
Prince’s bio stretched the truth quite a bit. Shaved his age a little bit to grab teen market. Embellished his ability. (Don’t get me wrong, he can play anything he wants to, but if you list over twenty instruments, and fifteen of those instruments are keyboard related, then, yeah, it’s impressive to someone who don’t know any better; but in my head, you play three instruments: drums, bass, and guitar. Okay, I’ll be fair and say four—and keyboards. Not: (1) Organ—no organ on his first seven records! (2) Rhodes (3) Clavinet (4) Synth. (5) Piano... Come on, now.) Now, the previously mentioned coulda been record-label politics. But in early interviews (especially with Right On! teen mag), Prince, too, was having some fun making up his bio on the spot to get some hood cred. My favorite being how he was so poor, he’d steal Bubble Yum and stand in front of a McDonald’s just to pretend he was eating a meal.
27, 26, & 25. “The shoes (the shoes?)… It’s gotta be the shoes!”
Unusual footwear is the most definitive rebel statement one can make in hip-hop. Some take the strings out, some rock mismatched, and with a better budget, some can rock just about anything. But it takes a true man to rock heels with confidence. Hip-hop can posture all it wants, but to get yo chick stolen from a dude looking like him is a hurt piece. (Let’s not forget #26, feathering his hair in ’79 and ’88–’90, and #25, his Black-hippy period of ’85–’87, having heavy influence on West Coast rappers and the Native Tongues, respectively.)
24. “Who put this thing together, huh? Me! Me, that’s who!! Who I trust? Who I trust? Me!”
Prince Rogers Nelson aka Jamie Starr aka Alexander Nevermind aka Joey Cocoa aka Camille aka Victor aka the Kid aka Christopher Tracey aka TAFKAP aka “Taffy” aka Tora Tora aka Violet the Organgrinder aka Gemini aka Ecnirp aka NPG2000 aka the Artist aka Paisley Park aka Skipper aka His Royal Badness aka Azifwekare aka the Wise One aka...Prince? (Wonder what his Wu-Tang name would be?)