Prince and Dr. Cornel West Pen a Letter With ‘Dear Mr. Man': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
In 2007, Dr. Cornel West, then a professor of African-American Studies at Princeton and a frequent guest on political discussion programs, joined forces with a collective known as BMWMB (Black Men Who Mean Business) to release a spoken-word/hip-hop album called Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations. The record contained cameos from such notables as Andre 3000 of Outkast, Talib Kweli and Jill Scott.
Prince also showed up, on a track called, “Dear Mr. Man.” Originally found on his 2004 album Musicology, the song was a piece of Afrocentric social commentary sung in the form of a letter that addresses poverty, war and the environment, and quotes the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution.
The lyrics note that civil rights legislation hasn’t changed enough people’s minds. “Listen, ain’t no sense in voting / Same song with a different name / Might not be in the back of the bus / But it sho’ feel just the same,” he sings.
West took the song and overdubbed an introduction, and sermonized with raps at the halfway point and the end. Speaking to Playboy in 2010 (SFW link), West, who is now at Harvard, recalled the day they tracked his part and shared another memory of their friendship.
“Lord have mercy, that man is a genius of unparalleled vitality,” he said, “and going into the studio to record something for him was an extraordinary blessing. But I just love hanging out with the man. We were together in Montreux last summer. He did two shows one night, two hours of jazz – [John] Coltrane, Charlie Parker – and then came back with two hours of funk. Unbelievable. Afterward he said ‘Brother West, do you sleep?’ I said, ‘Well, I try not to.’ He doesn’t sleep at all. He said, ‘Let’s spend some time talking.’ First thing we did, we went on top of the hotel and watched some of Obama’s speeches. Then we had a dialogue for about an hour, then we started talking about music for another hour, and then we talked politics for another hour. We stayed up until 7:30, eight. He packed and jumped on his plane. Stayed up all night.”
He also remembered going to see Prince with Michael Steele, the first African American chairperson of the Republican National Committee, whose ideology is considerably different from West’s. Still, West understood how Prince’s music transcended all viewpoints, “Politics can’t stop you from rockin’ to a genius, man!”
Prince Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness