I like to think I know a few things about hip hop. I know I’m arguably as far from hip hop as a person could be, so why have I been glued to it ever since I heard the Fresh Prince complaining that he asked his mama for Adidas and she bought him Zips? I know how to spot a wack MC. I recognize skills when I hear them. As much as I love Prince, hip hop as always been the glaring weakness in his game since he recorded that atrocity “Dead On It” back in 1987. That’s not to say he hasn’t pulled off the occasional passable hip hop song, but for the most part he should’ve stayed in his lane. He was the greatest multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter we’ve ever seen in popular music, yet it seemed to kill him that a bunch of rappers that he considered musically talentless and tone deaf were selling more albums that him by the early-90’s.
Prince didn’t grow up hip hop. He born in 1958 and lived his life in the midwest. He seemed to dislike hip hop. Yet he spent a lot of time trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to incorporate it in to his repertoire. He had the microphone that was shaped like a gun. Ugh. It was like he wanted the one thing he couldn’t have. So many of his attempts at it were cringeworthy. In my mind, Prince just didn’t know hip hop and couldn’t pull it off.
So why is it that I think “Y Should Eye Do That When Eye Can Do This?” sounds like a Big Daddy Kane song?
Prince recorded “Y Should Eye Do That…” in 1999 and released it as a standalone digital single on his NPG Music Club website in 2001. In 2004 he took the singles he’d spent years releasing online and combined them on two albums, one being The Slaughterhouse: Trax From the NPG Music Club Volume 2. Prince spent most of the 1990’s in and out of hip hop. His 1999 album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic incorporated a lot of hip hop, but ended up being a commercial flop. His 2002 album The Rainbow Children was 100% musicians playing real instruments. It was a sign that he had given up on trying to make it in the rap game. Yet somehow, when very few people were paying attention, he snuck a song on to the internet that proved Prince could compete in the rap game if he wanted to. Maybe he’s not a lyricist like Talib Kweli or a storyteller like Biggie, but he had skills. It’s classic “get off my lawn” Prince again. Talking about “wasting brothers” and “spanking them like he was their father.” Still, he’s actually rapping on this track and he’s good.
At least I think he is. I’m unable to properly critique Prince’s rap skills at this point. I’m so convinced he’s not good at hip hop that maybe I’m just giving him a pass on a track when he’s better than passable. Or, if you told me this was Rakim instead of Prince on this track would I be saying, “Oh my God, this is the shit?” Maybe I’m underrating it because it’s Prince. I can’t tell anymore. I know this much: I wish he hadn’t done the Camille voice on this track. I wish he would’ve just left it alone. The high voice is adding to my confusion.
I thought I had Prince and hip hop figured out. I love both of them, but they don’t necessarily play well together. I’ve accepted this as the truth. When I want to hear hip hop I look elsewhere. Yet on this one song from 1999 (the year, not the album) I could swear Prince was Kane with sound effects to make his voice higher. Then he moved on to The Rainbow Children and didn’t look back. He was done with hip hop. Because why should he do that when he can do this?