Set Adrift

“Only one brother at a time is allowed to step outside of musical boxes.”

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Last week Attrell Cordes, better known as Prince Be of the rap group P.M. Dawn, passed away after a long battle with kidney disease. When I heard of his death I remembered the first music I heard from them, a track titled “A Watcher’s Point of View”. It had the steady, thumping hip hop beat popular in East Coast Hip-Hop at the time but gliding over the beat was jangly guitar and a psychedelic organ riff. Not long after hearing that I remembered grooving to “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” and digging the way they blended the “Paid in Full” beat with hooks from Spandau Ballet’s “True”.

I also remembered an incident that marked their decline. Prince Be gave an interview to Details magazine dissing KRS-ONE and at a club a few months later, KRS and his crew bumrushed the stage during P.M. Dawn’s show, threw them off and broke into “I’m Still #1”. I remember being surprised by the incident, because up until then I has always associated BDP post Criminal Minded album and death of Scott La Rock with the Stop The Violence Movement and “Self Destruction”. The incident pretty much destroyed any credibility P.M. Dawn may have had with purist hip-hop fans.

“KEEPING IT REAL”

In a way, P.M. Dawn getting thrown off stage was a metaphor for the changes happening in hip hop. At the time, mainstream hip-hop was pretty diverse. You had sex rap, party rap, gangsta rap, and political rap sharing space on the charts and on tours. Around the time P.M. Dawn blew up, the market was becoming streamlined and the music was forced into narrow boxes. Anything not thugged out was considered soft, by artists and fans.

P.M. Dawn’s response to the incident was a song called “Plastic”, where Prince Be mused that if hip hop is all about keeping it real, then why couldn’t he be real to his own muse. P.M. Dawn went on to have major pop hits with “I’d Die Without You” and “Downtown Venus” but their run on the rap chart was done.

MIND EXPANSION

Listening to P.M. Dawn’s later music you can hear live instrumentation and Prince influenced funk grooves that rap fans weren’t trying to hear at the time, although that sound is a precusor to the neo soul boom that happened in the wake of the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, and the visual and sonic tapestry that Cee-Lo and Andre 3000 would ride to stardom.

Whether self inflicted or through social pressure, many of us have decided that there can only be one brother allowed to step out of a musical box at a time. As I watched the condolences from older hip hop heads come in, it felt like a lot of them were doing the equivalent of fake crying at a funeral, or that Prince Be’s death allowed them to finally admit in public that they liked his music. Still, I guess belated acknowledgement is better than none, it’s just too bad that hip hop didn’t show P.M. Dawn more respect and love while they were here.

Author: Torraine Walker

I'm a writer based in Atlanta, GA.