Friday, September 27, 2019

"Old-School Melody" - Prince's Samples

If you study the liner notes of Prince's '90s music, you'll unearth a trove of gems, including esoteric messages, humorous commentary and beautiful artwork. You'll also learn about songs Prince sampled in his music.

That discovery has proven enjoyable for me in recent years. I think it's for several reasons: 1) Even a singular artist like Prince couldn't ignore a trend. 2) It provides insight into songs that were important to him, apart from the samples that everyone was using at the time. 3) It shows his creativity as a beat-maker. 4) The fact that he was being sampled, while participating in sampling--a foundation of hip-hop music--only strengthens his importance in the history of black music.

With that said, can you name the Prince songs featuring the samples below? The answers are at the end of the article. Hint: One is a song Prince co-wrote for The Time. Also, you may have to listen to one song all the way through to catch the connection.

No cheating!

1) "Tramp" by Lowell Fulson, 1967

2) "Lyin' Ass Bitch" by Fishbone, 1985

3) "I Can't Stand It" by The Chambers Brothers, 1967

4) "Good Old Music" by Funkadelic, 1970

5) "Squib Cakes" by Tower of Power, 1974 

6) "Feel Good, Party Time" by J.R. Funk & the Love Machine, 1980

Answers Below

1) "7" 2) "Billy Jack Bitch" 3) "Thieves in the Temple" 4) "Sex in the Summer" 5) "Release It" (The Time) or "Sleep Around" 6) "Gett Off"

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Friday, September 20, 2019

"We'll Be Delivered" - A Look at Three Spiritual Songs on "Emancipation"

Sometimes, you can trace Prince's lyrics directly to the Bible ("God," "Anna Stesia," "7," "And God Created Woman," "Love," etc.). Other times, Prince's lyrics appear to be indirectly inspired by scripture.

His 1996 album, Emancipation, falls into the latter category. It also draws on other spiritual systems and universal creeds.

You can stream it or get a newly reissued copy. And you can read my brief take on three spiritual tracks below.

"The Holy River"

Stretching over 1,500 miles through India and Bangladesh, the Ganges river is sacred to people with ties to the Hinduism spiritual system. They pray and bathe in the water, believing their karma will be washed away.

We don't know for certain if Prince was inspired by the river or if he made a pilgrimage there, but it is possible; "The Holy River's" lyrics and video can be interpreted from a Hindu perspective. For example, when Prince sings of asking his soul "over and over" about visiting a "cold" world, and "coming back" after death, he may be alluding to reincarnation. Hindus believe that we repeat cycles of life and death until we achieve liberation ("moksha").

Furthermore, the video includes a prominent painting of one eye within a flower, likely referencing the mystical third eye, which symbolizes extraordinary perception. That perception leads to higher consciousness and includes intuitive gifts like psychic ability. The concept is rooted in Indian spirituality.

Additionally, the flower in the video is likely a lotus, which is a Hindu symbol of purity and transcendence.

Those references do not exist in a vacuum; Prince sang about reincarnation, karma, the third eye and lotus flowers throughout his career. His ex-wife, Mayte Garcia, was also forthcoming about his interest in Eastern spirituality in her book, The Most Beautiful. (Note: I do a deep dive on Prince and Hinduism in my book.)

It's important to note that these concepts did not replace Christianity in Prince's world; his beliefs simply expanded. After all, he still mentions Jesus on "The Holy River."

There are so many layers of interpretation to wade through on the song, but Prince summed up its meaning quite simply in a 1997 interview:

'"The Holy River' is about redemption."

"One of Us"

Tackling faith and perception of God, this cover of Joan Osborne's 1995 top ten hit is a fitting choice for Prince. Instead of asking, "What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us," he inserts "slave," which is how he famously described his position at Warner Bros.

At a "media day" at Paisley Park in 1996, he told journalists, "I think it’s important for every musician to cover that song. And every person of color should cover it, too.”

While he didn't elaborate, it seems he may have been using the song to encourage other artists to recognize their own power; at the time, he was calling for all musicians to take ownership of their music. He was especially passionate about highlighting the historical mistreatment of black artists, and advocating for their independence. We were reminded in a recent New Yorker article that that fight continued up to his death.

"Every artist should own his masters, he told me, especially black artists," said Dan Piepenbring, co-writer of Prince's upcoming memoir, The Beautiful Ones. "He saw this as a way to fight racism. Black communities would restore wealth by safeguarding their musicians’ master recordings and all their intellectual property, and they would protect that wealth, hiring their own police, founding their own schools, and making covenants on their own terms."

So "One of Us" could be another example of Prince utilizing religious songs as coded messages to black people, similar to negro spirituals. Read more about that perspective here
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"The Love We Make"

Reportedly written for musician Jonathan Melvoin (described in the liner notes as "a lost friend"), the song appears to reference Jesus with lyrics about God setting a table for his son, and the return of the savior.

But to Kat Dyson, who played the guitar solo on the track, the message is more spiritual than religious.

"We have to make our energy," she told me "We have to lay in the bed that we make with our minds and our mouths and our bodies and our actions."

And of spiritual discussions with Prince, she said, "It was very much metaphysical, very much karma."

But Prince's emphasis on love, obviously included in "The Love We Make," is a recurring theme in all of his music. In my opinion, spreading that message was an integral part of his spiritual mission. 

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Friday, September 13, 2019

"Two Petals from the Same Flower" - Interview with Gin Love Thompson

Photos courtesy of Gin Love Thompson

Florida-based writer Gin Love Thompson has a great reverence for the beauty, sanctity and symbolism associated with flowers. They adorn our homes, represent transcendence (think of the lotus flower) or signify celebration or mourning, she pointed out.

They are also a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.

"They require tender tending to," Thompson said. "Each flower must be enjoyed in the moment; for in an instant, petals may begin to fall away."

It's not a surprise that flower imagery sprouts up throughout Thompson's first collection of poems, Sunrises at Midnight, released in June. Though the image on the cover is meant to denote sun rays, it could just as easily be read as petals.

Chronicling the bright and dark moments of her life in seven parts, the book also features a segment on Prince, with whom she shared a connection. And she employed similar metaphors in those poems, which include titles like "Coup My Flowers," "Violets For You" and "Flowers in My Garden," though it wasn't done purposely.

"Prince's love and use of flowers in his own writing and art was subconsciously an inspiration," she speculated.

*Click to enlarge

Thompson said she met Prince face-to-face in 2004. Upon reading her poetry, he asked her a simple question that left an indelible mark: "What are you going to do with this?"

"I don't want to say he planted a seed," she said. "It's more like he planted a tree. ... I had so much growth to go through myself before I could absorb it and really be ready. That tree sheltered me and it strengthened me."

Thompson began writing poetry as a child, but the further she advanced in her career as a psychotherapist and a nationally known relationship expert, she found herself losing touch with her creativity.

"I just had this sinking, empty feeling like, 'This isn't what my life was supposed to be,'" she said.

Thompson said her last interaction with Prince was January 2016. After his unexpected death a few months later, she was moved to finally share her work. Sunrises at Midnight is dedicated to the artist "for being a reflection of what I was not yet able to see in myself," she wrote.

"He had a way of seeing straight through you," she recalled. "He saw your talents and had no issue with pointing those out and encouraging [you]."

*Click to enlarge

Thompson has presented on the therapeutic nature of expressive arts, and she found her own healing through poetry after Prince's departure. But the book covers much more than Prince; it includes pieces about other loved ones she lost, difficult relationships, sensuality and spirituality.

"It's all about making connections with other people to let them know they're not alone," she said. "These experiences that we have, while they're unique to each of us, they're also universal in many ways. And we're in this together."

Follow Gin Love Thompson

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Friday, September 6, 2019

"More Books Than A Few" - My Reading List

Prince's spiritual vocabulary was so vast. The Bible is important, but I have to look at other texts to grasp everything he studied. Here is just a snapshot of my current reading list:

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Hinduism by Rasamandala Das

The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People by Barry Kemp

The Ultimate Guide to Chakras: The Beginner's Guide to Balancing, Healing, and Unblocking Your Chakras for Health and Positive Energy by Athena Perrakis, PhD

Akhenaten: King of Egypt by Cyril Aldred

The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa

Llewellyn's Complete Book of Chakras by Cyndi Dale

American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West by Philip Goldberg

Buddhism 101 by Arnie Kozak, PhD

Approaching the Buddhist Path by the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron

The Foundation of Buddhist Practice by the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron

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