Prince Disses Hip-Hop on ‘Dead On It': 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.
By 1987, hip-hop had already started to make inroads into American pop culture. But Prince initially wasn't too impressed with the genre, and recorded his own diss track called "Dead On It" for The Black Album.
That March, he went into his home studio and built the song, incorporating a sample of Sheila E. singing "badder than wicked witch" from her "Holly Rock," a Prince-penned tune that appeared on the soundtrack to Krush Groove. He takes aim at hip-hop in the first verse, rapping that he turned on his car radio to hear music, but "I got a silly rapper talking silly s--- instead / And the only good rapper is one that's dead ... on it." Later, he adds that "the rapper's problem usually stem from being tone deaf / Pack the house then try to sing There won't be no one left."
Of course, his opinion on hip-hop would soon evolve. He shelved The Black Album (although he eventually released it in 1994) because he thought it was too dark, and replaced it with Lovesexy, whose first single, "Alphabet St.," featured a playful 16-bar rap by dancer Cat Glover that closed with her telling someone to "jerk your body like a horny pony would."
Within a few years, he had completely given into the changing times. Five of the 13 tracks on 1991's Diamonds and Pearls, his first with the New Power Generation, had raps by Anthony "Tony M." Mosley.
He would later claim that "Dead On It" was misunderstood. “Well, first I never said I didn’t like rap," he told Sky magazine, "I just said that the only good rappers were the ones who were ’dead on it’ — the ones who knew what they were talking about. I didn’t used to like all that braggadocio stuff. ’I’m bad, I’m this. I’m that.' Anyway, everybody has the right to change their mind."
That seems like an odd demarcation point, considering that Prince was no stranger to bragging about himself in his lyrics. But in that same profile, Tony M. added that he was able to pinpoint the moment when Prince's attitude about hip-hop changed. “I sat down with Prince and talked about rap," he noted. "He said he didn’t like it until guys like Chuck D and KRS-One came on the scene. Then it started to make sense to him.”
Tony M. stayed with Prince for a few more years, contributing a few more raps to the Love Symbol album, including "My Name Is Prince" and "Sexy M.F." By then, Prince had become more comfortable rapping, as evidenced on The Gold Experience's "P. Control" and Emancipation's "Face Down." And he would later praise Kendrick Lamar for his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly.
"Kendrick is the truth," he told Entertainment Weekly. "That's new, that's now. What he's doing, no one else is even trying."
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