“Got To Try A New Position.” How Public Enemy Made Prince Change His Sound
For the latest episode of Questlove Supreme, The Legendary Roots Crew drummer’s new weekly Internet radio show, Quest traveled to Minnesota, for a special Prince edition of the broadcast. For nearly three hours, Quest spoke with collective members of The Revolution, Prince’s band from 1979 to 1986, including Wendy & Lisa, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, Matt “Dr.” Fink, Dez Dickerson, Andre Cymone and Susannah Melvoin. More than 5 months removed from Prince’s death, it was clear some of the pain of his loss had eased, allowing for the show to be a fun and cool celebration of the life and legacy of one of the greatest artists of all-time.
Rather than speaking with all of the members of The Revolution at once, Quest has a series of smaller, more intimate conversations with different groupings, during his 3-hour show which is live on Pandora on Wednesdays from 1pm to 4pm EST, and which repeats for 48 hours thereafter. He starts with Bobby Z, Brown Mark and Dr. Fink, moves to Wendy & Lisa, huddles up with Dez and Andre, and concludes with Susannah. Throughout, countless amazing details surface, from big to small. Bobby, Mark and Matt speak at length about an epic 2-day food fight that occurred between Prince, The Revolution and The Time, during which Jesse Johnson was abducted and handcuffed in a room, and close to $20,000 in damages were done from cream pies, yellow mustard and other edible weapons of choice. Susannah tells the story of the genesis of “Starfish & Coffee,” Prince’s esoteric song on Sign o’ The Times about a quirky schoolgirl. And, Andre and Dez talk about the earliest days of Prince’s career, as friends of his since their teenage years. While much of the conversation centers around Prince’s influence, during their segment, Wendy & Lisa share the impact Hip-Hop had on him and how one particular song caused him to change his musical direction.
In the mid to late 80s, as Hip-Hop was coming of age, Prince was not as receptive to the art form, which favored turntables over instruments, 27 of which the talented musician played. As reported in Newsweek, in a book about Sign o’ the Times, author Michaelangelo Matos suggested that the “Shut up, already!” catchphrase Prince used in “Housequake” may have been aimed at the Hip-Hop audience. Additionally, on his song “Dead On It,” from The Black Album, which was recorded in 1987 and on which Prince ironically rapped, Prince says “The rapper’s problem usually stems from being tone-deaf. Pack the house then try to sing. There won’t be no one left,” an apparent dig that rappers rapped because they didn’t have the talent to sing.
By 1989, however, things changed for Prince, owing to one specific song. “I remember, after we had broken the band up, and Do The Right Thing had just come out, and Lisa and I went to Minneapolis and I was a fanatic for the main title song” says Wendy. In further discussing that record, “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, Wendy says “I put it on there at Paisley [Park, Prince’s home and studio complex], and [Prince] seemed visibly angry at the track. And, it was because he was so uneasy, I think, with Chuck D and the cadence of Chuck’s voice being in that lower, sort of demanding frequency, kind of freaked him out.” Lisa also chimes in, saying “It’s very powerful. It was like, ‘why am I being assaulted with that?'” Wendy continues, recalling that as soon as they played it at Paisley Park, everyone in the room began dancing, except, presumably Prince. Likening the shift that came with Public Enemy to that which occurred in Rock with the ascension of Nirvana, Wendy said “[Prince] knew it changed, right there [with “Fight The Power”] He knew.”
It was in that moment that Prince recognized just how profoundly the music landscape had shifted and that he would have to change if he wanted to stay relevant. “It was almost the antithesis of what Prince was trying to do,” said Lisa. He was aiming at your grandmother now, not at your kids. Chuck D was aiming at the kids.” Always a quick study, when it came to music, once Prince accepted the new reality, he went to work. “And then Prince came back with ‘Sexy M.F.‘,” says Wendy, laughing. “Yeah, it’s like ‘I can do that now. I can fuck you up,'” added Lisa. “I think that’s just youth. Time goes by and you go ‘I get it. I totally get it.'” “Sexy M.F.,” which featured Prince rapping throughout, would go on to be certified Gold.
The Revolution episode of Questlove Supreme will air continuously on Pandora, until 1pm EST September 30.