PRINCE – HITnRUN PHASE ONE: THE RWOM REVIEW…

Prince HNR1

Less than a year after Prince’s successful double dose of Art Official Age and PLECTRUMELECTRUM, he announced that he had a new album ready. However, as typical of Prince, this wasn’t without some controversy. This summer Prince yanked all of his music, with the exception of a few stray compilation tracks, off of Spotify, which is arguably the most popular streaming music service right now. Instead, he had announced that he would be teaming up with Jay-Z and his service Tidal to offer his music. He also expressed, much to the dismay of some, that his new album would be a Tidal exclusive. Now let me break this down before I begin talking about the album. Tidal is a streaming service that, much like Spotify, offers a wide range of artists and music to listen to on a computer or device for a monthly fee. As to where Spotify is free with advertisements or $9.99 for advertisement free streaming, Tidal is $9.99 for a quality similar to Spotify, or $19.99 for “HD” which is supposed to be FLAC/CD quality. The one thing it does not give, which is a deal breaker for me, is the ability to incorporate my own mp3’s into playlists with what they have. With my expansive collection, I have quite a bit that they do not. Especially with Prince. While Tidal offers several previously mp3-only releases from the early 2000’s, they do not have Lovesexy, for example. Or The Black Album. Or 20Ten. Or many of the 12″ mixes (at least in the US). For the most part, except for a handful of exclusive artists, Spotify wins out. The argument is that Tidal pays its artists better. That remains to be seen. What is *not* happening, is that I would pay $20 a month to merely rent Prince’s new album. If I fork out my money, I want a physical product that I can enjoy whenever I want. So over the past few weeks, the details were minimal but there was word from Prince “there will be a physical release”. Since many of us Prince fans are gun-shy about what Prince says will happen, as ideas are dismissed at his whim, I was getting doubtful. Even as a firm date of September 14 was established, I was getting suspicious, as websites for the main US outlets like Best Buy, Target and such had no mention up until Sunday evening. But alas, after two stores that did not have it in stock, I found my copy at Best Buy today, wedged behind Art Official Age.

I have a lot to say about this album, so grab a purple beverage and get comfy…

THE TITLE: HITnRUN Phase One. This implies there will be a Phase Two. It is named after Prince’s short strings of concerts where he announces the show with very little advance. While this has happened on and off since 1986, the shows this year with 3RDEYEGIRL had this name. So the title is basically an extension of the tour.

THE COVER ART: The cover is by Martin Homent. His Prince art has made the rounds in the last year, as he has a full line of similar pictures documenting Prince’s look on every album. I really love his graphics, and I am a bit surprised at Prince’s sudden crowd-sourcing for artwork. The fact this graphic is Martin’s version of Art Official Age immediately sets this album up idealistically as a companion piece to AOA. The CD comes in an actual jewel case! Thank you! And unlike AOA, the booklet is a booklet with lyrics!.

One thing you’ll notice right away in the booklet is this: “Produced, Arranged, Composed and Per4med by @PRINCE3EG @JOSHUAWORLD – *FEATURING JOSHUA WELTON – All instruments except Lead, Rhythm and Bass Guitar.” Josh is the husband to Prince’s drummer Hannah Welton, and has been working heavily on Prince’s music since AOA. It’s easiest if I break this down track by track.

MILLION $ SHOW: This track was the opening of Prince’s concerts this year. The opening comes in with the backwards vocal harmonies of the beginning of Prince’s first album, 1978’s For You, followed by the intro to “1999”, then the intro of “Let’s Go Crazy”. This gives way to a super bouncy fast trap beat and vocals by Judith Hill, one of Prince’s newest protegees. It basically serves as a rave up opening. Maybe a 2015 “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” in spirit although sounding nothing like it. It sets a strange vibe though because the song is more Judith than Prince. That then gives way to…

SHUT THIS DOWN: “Life O’ The Party” 2015 Edition. Like much of the first half of the album, I’m kind of mixed on my reaction. Musically, it’s very hip-hop/radio pop of today. There’s a small Flavor Flav sample throughout, and a cool keyboard part that reminds me of Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad”. Vocally, it’s a pretty close cousin to “My Name Is Prince”. I guess I’m not that big of a fan of songs that just say how someone’s going to shut it down/start the party/etc. Just do it already! “FUNKNROLL” actually funknrolled, it didn’t have to explain it was about to. But I do however love the bass solo and conga drum breakdown at the end. So maybe this will grow on me. But then the ending. GROAN. Prince – stop censoring yourself! If you want to say “sit you ass down!”, don’t then take the word “ass” out. You said it. I can hear where the word is blanked out. Jehovah heard it when you recorded it. You made us all think it. The thought is out there. Now stop being ridiculous and just be you. But I digress for now.

AIN’T ABOUT 2 STOP: This one features Rita Ora. Conquest? Protegee? Who knows. This song is my biggest hurdle on this album. I promise I have lots of praise as we go later in the review. But this one is a noisy electronic messy. Far too much going on. The sitar sounding thing is like something that got left off Graffiti Bridge era. Vocally, I’m in the middle. It’s far too much of a rap track and no real melody. The slowed down voice just reminds me of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”. But about two and a half minutes in Prince lets out one of his infamous “owwwwahhhh!” screams and the percussion and bass soloing get crazy and it starts getting good. Then it stops too soon. Then the fingersnappy-done-to-death beat comes back. Then it switches to…

LIKE A MACK: The first few seconds made me cringe. It’s that horn thing everyone’s using. The Iggy Azalea “Fancy”, Fifth Harmony ripped it off and several others did it too thing. But it picks up and gets much better. This one is hip-hop too and featured rapping from a duo called Curly Fryz, who are much much better than the raps on “Boytrouble” on PLECTRUMELECTRUM. But this track is laced with funky scratch guitar and actually has a nice groove to it. I also think Prince has bee listening to Macklemore, as I hear a few lines that have his pacing to them. Kinda weird. Nice real horn solo later in the song. Overall I like this one. It turns into the party track the last couple tracks tried to be but weren’t.

THIS COULD B US: Now the album truly starts. This is basically a total revamp remix of AOA‘s “This Could Be Us”. The underlying beat is completely different. Lots of darker sounds, sad sounding piano notes, and bleeps and blips. It took a couple listens to get into this version, as the original was one of AOA‘s better tracks. But it works. The second half of the track gets a lot grittier, with some dirty guitar and lots of electronic trickery. This flows seamlessly into…

FALLINLOVE2NITE: This track was originally put out as a single in early 2014 to promote Prince’s appearance on the TV show New Girl. This version however, does not contain Zooey Deschanel’s vocals. I actually prefer it this way. Not that she’s a bad singer, but I though Zooey’s vocals were mixed flat and a bit loud and it didn’t blend well. I thought it was a waste that this song hadn’t been included on AOA. So this remedies that problem. It’s a bouncy club track, but this one feels very much like a classic Prince track because of the horns and the Camille-ish vocals, and it doesn’t try too hard. It’s an enjoyable happy track. Now for side two. Well there’s a break. So if it comes out on vinyl, this is where the sides will split…

X’S FACE: This is one of my favorite Prince tracks in the past decade. It’s dark and weird. The new sounds by Josh push Prince somewhere new rather than bury him, filled with exciting new beats and sounds that creep along to a slowed down vocal of something like “Freeze, Stop, Edit, Play” or something close to that. This song was a free download single to those attending his show in Louisville this Spring, and was subsequently played during the show – only half a day old to us listeners. It seems Prince gets the most interesting when he’s pissed off at someone, or someone tries to show him up, or tries to prove him wrong. I don’t know which ex this is about, but with a line like “black don’t crack, beige don’t age, go on take that banana and get back in your cage” and then making taunting monkey noises… I mean wow. Without knowing who he’s saying this to we are left to wonder is that a racial wisecrack? Is she merely some unruly caged animal? Let us know how you really feel Prince! Yet the messed up part is this song is one of his most interesting! The vocals and the falsetto melody here are top notch. While he’s gonna have one pissed off ex that may come back now to haunt him, I wish he’d open up more the way he really feels on songs. I’m really surprised something this frank made it onto a modern day Prince album. This blends seamlessly into…

HARDROCKLOVER: This was released a few weeks back as a standalone single download before the album was announced. This one sounds new from Prince. It has a dark ominous feel to the keyboards and what I presume to be resampled distorted drums, but Prince unleashes some really top shelf soloing on this one – basically an ode to how he’s going to make a woman scream with his guitar. The lyrics are self explanatory and really not all that necessary as this song is all about the soloing. Very nice, definitely not a rehash of any prior tunes. My one complaint here is that, like several of his recent singles, he peaks everything so loud that it distorts on the tape/recording, and then brickwalls it down very very noticeably. His recent single “Baltimore” is almost rendered unlistenable at the end because of this. So I can’t tell if the drums are distorted samples, or just badly EQ’d drums peaking.

MR. NELSON: Wasted opportunity. It’s basically a remixey, club-beat-y rehash of the spoken part of “Clouds” from AOA. The music underneath is cool. But it warrants its own song. It doesn’t really work as a reprise. A reprise from a past album even.

1000’S OF X’S & O’S: This is an old track that has been re-re-worked from previous protegees, first for Rosie Gaines in 1992, and then Nona Hendryx in 1993. Both times the song remained unfinished and shelved. I have heard the Nona Hendryx version that’s circulating, and the new version is slower, with a completely different groove but basically the same lyrics. I think I like the new version better. The keyboard sounds under the chorus really make this one. The lyrics are Prince praising his woman and understanding how hard she works. Does he really? Is it just a line? You decide. But it’s a really good song regardless. Oh here he does it again! “The world can B, well 2 put it frankly, such a b… sometimes”. No Prince. That’s not putting it frankly, unless you frankly left in the frank line you originally said. Now instead, it’s “the world can B, quite politely put, a b… sometimes”. Stop doing that! Or use a different line. Otherwise – good song.

JUNE: The real WTF track of the album on first listen. Intriguing, perplexing, and at some point you will think “dude what are you even talking about?”. The song is basically a ponderance of his being lonely on his birthday making pasta. At least that’s what I make of it. One line that did not get past me, “Sometimes eye feel like eye was born way 2 late, Shoulda been born on the Woodstock stage”. Prince was born in June 1958. That would make him born too early. Unless he meant something else that didn’t come out that way. He also ponders the dichotomy of someone he’s got his mind on being free and so he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with her. From what I’ve read, the overbearingness factor had caused some relationship issues in the past as is pretty well documented, if only a common one-sided story. So it’s interesting he’s just writing what he’s feeling here, sounding more like his actual thought process than Prince being purposely cryptic. An interesting way to end the album.

So overall, it’s a good album. About two thirds of it I am really into. About a third feels too forced. As I become further disenchanted by the blandness of hip-hop/trap/club/pop top 40 lately, it makes me cringe a bit to see Prince trying some of this. However, to be fair, it’s an avenue he hasn’t tried yet. And Josh Welton is a very talented beat producer. But from what I understand so far, the “making of” process consisted of Josh handing Prince beats to layer on top of. I’d much rather see them sit down and really collaborate at the same time. That could lead to some interesting things. HITnRun Phase One is nowhere near as focused as Art Official Age. But it’s still a decent and very listenable album, and in the latter half especially, there’s some really good stuff here. I’m glad the man is still at around 30-40+ albums later still creating.

You can pick up your own copy of HITnRUN Phase One HERE:


HITNRUN Phase One CD

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4 comments

  1. Have been waiting for the official RWOM review of this album and am not at all disappointed with the writing or insight and opinions. You come from a good place (read we have common likes and dislikes) so there is a level of trust baked in.

    The album however is another story. I believe The Artist Always Known As Prince and his shenanigans have tainted this one for me. I have not even listened to it yet and for the first time ever I am actually dreading that first listen.

  2. The last few albums have felt really forced and, well, ‘artificial’. Im hoping beyond hope for a better listening and grooving experience. * – Prince fan since ’81.

  3. shockadelica · · Reply

    prince,,,please just remaster ur old stuff!!

  4. All-Mi-T · · Reply

    “June” lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like I was born way too late
    Shoulda been born on the Woodstock stage
    But, I’m just here waiting and waiting and waiting”
    To me I think he’s saying that he was “born” in 1978 when “For You” was released instead of when Richie Havens performed at Woodstock.

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