Remembering Prince Be of P.M. Dawn, Hip-Hop’s Forgotten Pioneer


2016 has been relentless. Seemingly every other week a key figure from American culture is ripped away, leaving us here to mourn the death of another legend.

And while he never had musical reach of a David Bowie or Prince, or shook up the world like Muhammad Ali, Prince Be of PM Dawn deserves that same adoration. Prince Be passed away Friday at his New Jersey home from kidney disease. He was 46. 

The very sounds that dominate hip-hop radio in 2016 are an offshoot of the sound PM Dawn pioneered 25 years ago. The Fugees, Missy Elliott, Ja Rule, Kanye West, Drake and his thousands of clones — they all walk in the path paved by PM Dawn.

Prince Be, real name Attrell Cordes, and his brother Jarrett (AKA DJ Minutemix), blurred the lines between rap and R&B, constantly alternating between soulful vocals and poignant lyricism to differentiate themselves from their peers. They were so different, in fact, that they had a tough time shopping their demo — in the gritty early ’90s, they were criticized for not being “hard” enough.

They were the original “soft” rappers, I guess.

But soft solidified into success REALLY quickly when they hit big with 1991’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” the second single from their debut album Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. Sampling Spandau Ballet’s “True,”  “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” became a No. 1 hit and one of the most celebrated songs in hip-hop history.

More hits followed — “Paper Doll,” “I’d Die Without You,” “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” with every song relying on the blend of rap and rhythm and blues that made PM Dawn stars.

PM Dawn’s sound may have been shunned in rap’s formative years but they’ve gone from outcasts to trendsetters. Just turn on your radio right now: Bryson Tiller’s marriage of rap and R&B, Post Malone’s “waviness,” Drake’s very DNA — they all owe a debt to PM Dawn. Prince Be was way ahead of his time, but he kicked down doors for today’s biggest artists.

Artists — and fans — owe PM Dawn a debt of gratitude.

Good night, sweet Prince. Whether you knew it or not, you changed the game.


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