Of the whoozy whatzy, Utopian huh? That’s probably what went through my mind as a 15-year-old as I read the 13 word title of the debut record from what would go on to be one of my favorite hip-hop groups of all time, P.M. Dawn.
Brothers Attrell (Prince Be the Nocturnal) and Jarrett (DJ Minutemix) Cordes were unlike any other mainstream hip hop artist making music in 1991 and I still think I can argue that no one since has made music quite like this. Of course 1991 was pretty much in the heart of when intellectual rap could hang with both the silly shit and the gangstas. Of course you had your Public Enemy which is the pinnacle of the intellectual movment, but that was hardcore rap. On the lighter edge you had bands like Arrested Development and Digable Planets popping up, with the latter featuring lyrics that no 15-year-old could ever claim to comprehend. Urban Dance Squad was really the first group to open my mind to a different side of hip hop. They were some smart dudes who didn’t use the same samples as everyone else and mixed rock with their grooves. And although they were only a minor success in the end, they paved my path towards deeper hip hop.
The first single from The Utopian Experience was “A Watcher’s Point of View” which I don’t ever remember hearing on the radio. What caught my ear was of course “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” which so deftly sampled “True” by Spandau Ballet. I fell in love with that song like no other in 1991. Then came the purchase of the CD. Man, this album didn’t leave my player for a month after a I bought it. I was enamored with how different this was. I didn’t understand a ton of the lyrics that Prince Be would spit (and I probably still don’t) but I was an still am amazed at the music behind the rhymes. It’s all over the map and yet flows so beautifully. The main beat from “If I Wuz U” was yanked from “Pocket Calculator” by Kraftwerk. “Comatose” sampled Sly & the Family Stone with little more than some funky electronic percussion along side of it and somehow “A Watcher’s Point of View” sampled “Cindy C” from Prince without the purple one getting his panties in a bunch. Ending track, “The Beautiful” is just that and my favorite tune on the disc. With a very minimal programmed keyboard lick mixed with a simple and subduded electric guitar riff and gorgeous female vocals singing the chorus, it’s a song to get lost in.
Then there’s Prince Be. I mean, where do you start? Here’s this big dude wearing some crazy psychedelic pajamas and rapping like he’s sitting on a cloud. There was no booty chasing and certainly nothing even remotely hard about this brand of hip hop. Right from the sunny opening chords of “Reality Used To Be A Friend of Mine” I could just tell I was going to smile through all of this. Granted, the lyrics aren’t always the sunniest but The Utopian Experience never fails to turn my frown upside down. Prince Be’s lyrics were all about personal reflection, looking within yourself and life experience. Now I don’t recall ever hearing anything about their personal lives in the media but some of these lyrics make me think that Prince Be was high as a kite when he recorded. How else can you explain the lyrics in “In the Presence of Mirrors”;
“So outside one of us built a window to the other side / Now the flowers get upset when I take the short way / Holiness he holds on to with the wholest tightest love / So I wonder how he gets to ride my butterfly / But even if he wanted to, as sad as the wind / So I wonder why his smile is upside down all the time / See horses make me laugh at times as does the wind / But none of them get to see me anymore.”
That’s just some trippy shit there that I don’t have the mental capacity to even begin to get. And those aren’t the only ones. Check out this poetry from “The Beautiful”:
“Question marks constantly arrest my persona / Ironic how that creates one for me / Whatever is whatever / A phenomenon that consists of life and death / Hi Mr Experience / How was your trip to the moon? / I tear my thoughts with my own sarcastically piercing blade / I love you / Because you make me sick.”
The album contains two songs with interesting factoids, the first is that “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” was the first #1 hit of the SoundScan era and “Paper Doll” is notable for saying the name of the track more than 100 times (I counted 104 but it’s hard when they start overlapping them under the chorus) which is only behind MC Hammer’s, “Pray” (147 times) in terms of Top 40 hits. (Where’s “Colors” when you need it?)
To me, it’s just simply fantastic that such an “out there” group could be such a huge success. Their hit making career came to a screeching halt after The Bliss Album… in 1993, but both 1995’s Jesus Wept and 1998’s (also) oddly titled, Dearest Christian, I’m So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad were fantastic records. And if anyone has their final record – the 2000 internet only release strangely titled Fucked Music, send it my way as that is one of my most sought after pieces of music!
Ever since they appeared on Hit Me Baby One More Time, I’ve been holding out hope for new music but who knows if that’s going to happen. Last I heard, Minutemix was out and Doc.G [aka Dr. Giggles (yikes)] took his place. Doc.G just happens to be the Cordes’s cousin, so it works out nicely. Minutemix apparently went off to do solo material – where that is, I don’t know. Maybe somewhere on that cloud Prince Be is still on.