Prince and the New Power Generation
Diamonds and Pearls
(Warner Brothers; US: 1 Oct 1991; UK: 1 Oct 1991)
“Thunder”, the first track on Diamonds and Pearls, segues into something closer to what we might expect a bandleader and his band to come up with for an opening salvo: a jam. That is, not a great work of songwriting or a hit single for the ages, but something the band can groove on. It’s a funk song, but with synth parts that give it a vaguely jazzy nightclub feeling. The lyrics drop hints that we’re hearing a band on stage, rocking the house (“Let’s make the whole house move”). That feeling is accentuated by the vocals—by all of the little back-up echoes and asides (lots of “oh Daddy”s and “oh yeahs”, including some spoken ones that give the feeling a crowd is present) and by the back-and-forth between Prince and Rosie Gaines.
Gaines is introduced here as the album’s counterpart for Prince. Not an equal counterpart, but a gifted singer who can play as his foil or his support, depending on the need. Prince has had female singers play a similar role on individual songs in the past, but never one in the band in the same way, as present, which supports the impression that the New Power Generation is a band, not just supporting characters, whether that’s true or not.
The other vocal presence introduced near the end of the song is dancer-turned-rapper Tony M, perhaps the most ridiculed figure in the overall Prince repertory (the Jar Jar Binks of Prince-world?). He’s a serviceable, occasionally awkward rapper whose approach is that of Let’s Get It Started-era MC Hammer, yet delivered with a gruffness that suggests he’d rather think of himself as tough and confident, more like, say, the D.O.C. He gets nowhere near pulling the later off; his role is basically the old-fashioned hypeman. That’s why he doesn’t take much away from the band, especially here. Yes, he reveals that where hip-hop fits into Prince’s music—as just another piece of entertainment, part of a greater show-biz trajectory of performance tricks and tools—but in terms of keeping the focus where it should be, on Prince and his groove (“deep purple concord jams”, he calls them), that helps. In other words, if Tony M was a virtuoso MC, it might be to the detriment of Prince & the New Power Generation’s project.
No one should really show Prince up, in other words. When a guitar solo steals the scene—when Gaines says “talk guitar talk”, and a guitar comes in sounding strange and cool, you know it has to be Prince’s guitar. He even tries sort-of rapping, and shows up Tony M, mainly because he’s more fluid with it, blending the rapping into the singing into, I don’t know, smooth statements of confidence, basically.
Bragging—or, more precisely, putting Prince in the king’s chair and kissing his ring—is the point of the song, as it should be for a song whose position on the album is about hyping up the imagined crowd, getting them excited for the momentous occasion that is the debut of Prince’s new group (“the funkiest band on land”, Tony M calls them in the song). Prince, after all, is “Daddy Pop”. The lyrics start by declaring that he’s the man everyone wants to be. They want to drive his car, sit in his chair, be on his stages.
Gaines gives career advice to those who can’t be as good as Prince (everyone)—“Whenever you say that you can’t, that’s when you need to be tryin’”, while Prince both lauds his own past and derides them for dwelling on the past when they should be “living the new” like he is. Meanwhile, breathless women moan, “you’re the best”, to Daddy Pop, who seems to have women following him around feeding his ego (Diamond and Pearl, perhaps?). The song is pure braggadocio, but also communal. Its focus on the band is also a focus on the band leader, the one who made this all possible, a divine figure of sorts. He hasn’t just written great songs, he’s written the Book of Love (“Daddy Pop is the writer / And love is the book”). Daddy Pop is the man, the one and only, and we’re in his house.