Last night was “music’s biggest night” and it was another showcase of the greatness of Black people. Chance the Rapper’s ability to showcase rap and Gospel in a seamless blend. Beyoncé’s stunning performance filled with incredible images and gorgeous vocals. Bruno Mars and his cavalcade of back-up baes eating both That’s What I Like and delivering a Prince tribute that was better than I would have predicted. Morris Day & the Time (and Jerome!) showing that they still got it. Never mind, Rihanna’s perpetual ability to not give a fuck and giving us iconic moment after moment with her bedazzled flask.
But this isn’t a recap of the ceremony nor a thinkpiece about Adele or the Academy. It’s about paying tribute to a group that defined my musical tastes; P.M. Dawn.
Prince Be, DJ Minutemix
I saw a tweet this morning noting that mastermind behind the group, Prince Be, passed away in 2016 believing that he wasn’t a part of the Grammy tribute. This ruined my entire day. I had no idea that he had passed! I’m sitting here completely devastated.
Before I get started, please read this stunning piece by Anil Dash detailing the history and importance of this group. He goes into extreme detail about how you can still feel their impact in current trends.
My first exposure to P.M. Dawn was listening to Set Adrift of Memory Bliss on one of those MTV compilation albums.
It was my favorite song on that album. I thought it was so beautiful. The production is lush and soothing. Prince Be’s voice conveys the heartbreak of seeing an ex-lover and realizing that you want them back. He knows that he can’t have her back, so he has to settle for the memories of their past romance to comfort himself.
I stole my aunt’s cassette version of “Of The Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience” when I was in high school. I listened to it so much that the tape shredded. It felt like my entire world fell apart.
Imagine being a weird kid struggling with weight and abandonment issues while hiding his sexuality. I didn’t feel comfortable presenting my true self or personality to people. Now give him a chance to listen to In The Presence of Mirrors or Paper Doll. I had been introduced to a fat Black man dressed in the carefree Black boy costume 25 years before it was a trend. Prince Be was singing/rapping about love, its superficiality, the pain it causes and the ugly it brings out of himself and others. He talked about existing outside of his self, but never lost sight on his own humanity. His Blackness and the influences that shaped his perspective. His album helped do the same for me.
I actually had an entire post to discuss my love of alternative hip hop and R&B in the my musical taste series I’m working on, that was to prominently feature P.M. Dawn as the primary influence. Their influence can be felt in my love of Craig David, Blood Orange/Dev Hynes, and Solange. I think of specific songs like Delilah’s Go, Jessie Ware’s Champagne Kisses, and Mapei’s Don’t Wait, which combine lush harmonies with strategically layered production, and gorgeous harmonies. Their influence can not be overstated, especially as a greater number of indie R&B artist are getting more recognition. Never mind that Drake is one of the best selling rappers with a focus of rap/singing and emotionally honesty music.
I end this love letter with two of my favorite songs from them.
The chorus repeats a single question. “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful?”
Prince Be’s poem has always been the struggle of self-realization. Seeing the beauty in your own life, but also the pain and hurt that comes with it. Dealing with your own flaws and scars. Recognizing that we don’t have all the answers, but also that our feelings can get in the way. But it’s all still beautiful. Life is still beautiful.
My favorite lyrics:
“Question marks constantly arrest my persona
Ironic how that creates one for me
Whatever is whatever.”
I keep reading this and remembering how it made me feel back in 2000. But now it’s 2017 and I feel the exact same way.
I’d Die Without You
This is from the Boomerang soundtrack and it is simply beautiful. I chose to highlight this song here because I think it’s their most traditional R&B song. I’ve talked about so much of their quirky lyrics and disparate influences, but this is just is simple, beautiful, and completely straight forward.
Their music wasn’t weird for the sake of being weird. It was a pure expression of Prince Be’s voice. We were blessed to have him with us for the time we did and I can’t imagine my own world of music without their influence.
Rest in Peace Prince Be. You will never know exactly what you did for one little Black boy from North Carolina.