Prince, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999)

Relaxing really isn’t the proper word, but it’ll do to describe the latest release by the former Prince Rogers Nelson. Relaxing, not because he has forgotten funk or left out any harsh edges; though never unruly, the album still pushes and shoves its way through the funk, from stripped-down drum machines (“Undisputed”) to Nelson’s pungently funky, post-Hendrix guitar growling (“Baby Knows”).

What is relaxing, though, is the fact that it’s a Prince record — in 1999 — that demands as much intelligence, open-mindedness, and playfulness from its audience as anything he might have done 20 years ago. Note: Except for a few short string segues, any song on this album could theoretically sell anywhere on the dial — including two killer piano ballads (“Man ‘o’ War” and “I Love You But I Don’t Trust U Anymore”) that no one in so-called modern R&B could touch. Even so, none of the cuts on this record will get out of the R&B charts — if any of them ever get in. Name one white-formatted station that would even acknowledge Prince? And while you’re at it, name an “urban” station that would still drop Kraftwerk.

But, for the anti-Will Smith, it’s about expectations and Prince has once again failed to lower his, despite MTV interviews and salivating mouths over at Arista who are quietly hoping that Mr. Purple will pull in the big green in the Y2K. Anachronistic as it may seem, Prince is still a musical auteur, an artist, preacher, pimp, producer, hype man and romantic who doesn’t care about keeping it real, doing it for the community or trying to please fools who only take what’s on offer.