One of the running themes in the Daily Prince posts has been Prince’s complicated relationship with hip hop. Prince was not on board with an art form he considered inferior to the music he was making. He was also threatened by the meteoric rise of hip hop and its intrusion in to his territory on the charts. 1988’s abruptly aborted Black Album contained “Dead On It,” essentially Prince’s hate letter to hip hop. He talks a lot of junk about rappers being tone deaf, not able to sing, and utters the line, “The only good rapper is one that’s dead (long pause) on it.” It’s my least favorite Prince song. However, starting with 1990’s Graffiti Bridge soundtrack and throughout the rest of his career, Prince’s music was constantly featuring guest rappers and borrowing elements of hip hop with mixed results. Prince himself rapped on several tracks and I’ve heard it said – and tend to agree – that even though New Power Generation had rappers, Prince ended up being the best rapper in his own crew. So, who’s responsible for turning Prince from someone who hated tone deaf rappers to a believer?
According to a story told on the Questlove Supreme internet radio show hosted by The Roots drummer and human music encyclopedia Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, it was Public Enemy’s Chuck D. On a 2016 episode of Questlove Supreme, Questo interviewed members of The Revolution. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman spoke of playing the Public Enemy anthem “Fight the Power” for Prince and seeing him get “visibly angry” at the track. Chuck D’s voice and message moved Prince to recognize the power of rap and how he would have to change. Wendy said, “He knew it changed right there. He knew.” Wendy went on to say that Prince came back not long after with “Sexy M.F.” and said, “I can do that now. I can fuck you up.”
It was only a matter of time before two legends like Prince and Chuck D would end up on a track together. It happened on 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The album featured an unusually large amount of collaborations for Prince, including the second track, “Undisputed” featuring Chuck D. Much like the entire album, the song is mixed bag. The production is stripped down and often choppy. Prince transitions from singing to rapping with frequent pauses and talking/mumbling. I struggle to enjoy a song with too many starts and stops. There isn’t a lot of flow to the song until Chuck takes over at the 3:20 mark and his verse is too brief.
Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic was a massive commercial disappointment and Prince decided to give it a reboot in 2001 with a pile of remixes, a couple new tracks, and a slightly modified title: Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic. In2 contains an extended version of “Undisputed” called “The Moneyapolis Mix” and it’s more focused.
So here’s my question: This is a dis track, right? There’s a moment midway through the original version when Prince raps(?) the lyrics, “My level is now what you must learn to rise above. Talk to D’Angelo or better yet Questlove.” Oh shit! Prince just anointed my guys D and Quest, didn’t he? Or did he dis them? I’m seeing stuff on the internet saying that was a dis, but I read it as D’Angelo and Questlove know how to rise above. Maybe he was singling them out as people who need to rise above. I know this: “Undisputed” dropped in 1999 before D’Angelo’s Voodoo. The remix came out in 2001, the year after Voodoo, and I’ll let you judge for yourself based on Prince’s lyrics:
Once again I don’t follow trends, they just follow me
Just like Israelitis thru the Red Sea
It might take U some time b4 U’ll want 2 c
The Undisputed truth and get FREE
My level is now what U must learn 2 rise above
Talk 2 D’Angelo or better yet ?usetlove
4 every royalty point of urs I make a mill$advance
That’s y in videos U never c me dance
Y should I, when minorities get half a chance?
In truth: U r 2 me, simply – my biggest fan
Is that my song playing on the radio?
“It could b G, I can’t remember, I wrote it in ’84!”
Y’all keep groovin’ – U know I got nothin’ but love 4 sho
Take it – like Clarence said:
“I got a million of them –
And they’re all different, U know.”
Prince finishes the song talking about playing some “real chicken grease,” which is an obvious reference to the D’Angelo track with the same name. WTF did D and Quest do to piss off Prince? They adore Prince. I saw a lot of theories online and I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not so I’m not going to list them here. You can Google “Prince D’Angelo dis” if you want. It makes me sad. Like finding out two people you love aren’t getting along. I know this: In a 2015 interview with Ebony magazine Prince said, “I love D’Angelo, but he’s just getting started.” There. Prince loved D’Angelo. D’Angelo loves Prince. All is right with the world.
“Undisputed” is a solid song, and it’s cool to hear Chuck D on a Prince track, but it’s an average song on a below average Prince album. Would’ve been cool to hear Chuck on a Prince track during the Diamonds and Pearls/Love Symbol era instead. Plus, I’m taking points away because Prince dissed my guys D’Angelo and Questlove. I can’t let that go unpunished.