I don’t know what I would have thought about this if I hadn’t yet heard Dearest Christian already, but I have, and I can’t help but have that experience colour this one.
The music is, at times, very, very distinct from what I expect from 1991 hip hop. Though there are tracks that absolutely sound like what you would expect – “Comatose” for example – but most of it sounds like it’s coming out of left field. It often feels more R&B than hip hop, but filtered through some alternative lens which has more in common with ’60s psychedelia and psychedelic soul than with ’80s R&B. (There are samples that pull from old listening habits of mine – some even going back to my childhood – and that sort of endears it to me.) But if you’re looking for an album that is 12 other songs that sound like “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” you’re not going to find it here.
Prince Be’s lyrics are another stark difference from hip hop. I don’t pretend to know what he’s on about – on this or on Dearest Christian – but at least he’s coming from a different perspective. I suspect I would absolutely not enjoy talking to him about anything but I appreciate how he was willing to buck the trend.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Prince Be is not a great rapper. He may be a different kind of rapper but, at least by the standards I’m familiar with, his flow is not great. That’s a problem for a lot of people, it seems. I’m not sure it’s a huge problem for me, but it’s notable. My memory of Dearest Christian is that I didn’t notice this. So there are a few possibilities there: I hadn’t heard enough rap yet (not that likely), Prince Be got better (definitely possible) or it’s less obviously hip hop (most likely, I think). This just sounds more “hip hop” to me than their later music, from what I can remember. And so it’s more of a problem here.
Still, this is an utterly unique record for the time. I’m not sure it’s, um, “good” necessarily, but I suspect most people hadn’t heard anything like it at the time, and that should count for a lot.