P.M. Dawn is a Jersey City brother (as in same mamma) duo consisting of lead emcee Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes and deejay Jarrett “DJ Minutemix” Cordes. PM Dawn was formed in 1988 and would eventually ink a deal with Gee Street (former label home to both the Jungle Brothers and The Gravediggaz) where they would release their first four albums, including their debut album and today’s subject Of The Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. To safe space (and the strength in my hands) for the rest of this post I’ll refer to simply as The Utopian Experience.
The Utopian Experience would go on to earn the duo their first gold plaque and tons of critical acclaim as well. While the pop critics were showering The Utopian Experience with props the hip-hop world pretty much turned their back on P.M. Dawn and the album. A brief beef that erupted with hip-hop legend KRS-One in the early nineties didn’t help the duo earn any street cred either (“On and on to the P.M. Dawn, 2 buck shots and your squad is gone”). Unlike Shan, P.M. Dawn was able to recover from the KRS-One beef and go on to have a fruitful career, though they never really earned true respect from the hip-hop community.
I’ve never listened to The Utopian Experience in it’s entirety before today, as I’m only familiar with their singles that were flooding the radio and video programs back in the day. Subconsciously, like most hip-hop heads I also wrote them off as corny. I came across The Utopian Experience a few years ago in the dollar bin at one of the used book stores I frequent. Since I liked their song off the Boomerang soundtrack (“Die Without You”) and it was only a buck so…why not?
Intro – The album opens with Prince Be welcoming the listener to The Utopian Experience over a sick middle eastern tinged instrumental. I had to run this one back a few time to hear the sickness again. Ill.
Reality Used To Be A Friend of Mine – Over a pleasant instrumental Prince Be speaks in parables about a physical and spiritual awakening to what this world will sell opposed to what reality really is. Be delivers some food for thought on this one. The soulful vocal sample (which sounds like it could have been borrowed from Atlantic Starr’s “For Always”) was a nice added touch.
Paper Doll – This was the third single released from The Utopian Experience. Prince Be gives the listener a lot to chew on lyrically. P.M. Dawn’s production work on this one sounds like something that might play in current top 40 rotation, which coming from me usually would be considered an insult, but I actually kind of dig this one.
To Serenade A Rainbow – Beautiful. Over a laidback cool jazz instrumental Prince Be recites a poem to a rainbow which I interpreted as a metaphor for God. Prince Be is kind of nice on the mic, in his own right. This was really good.
Comatose – Prince Be step outside of his box and tries his hand at a more up-tempo instrumental and changes his delivery to a more aggressive tone. Be sounds a lot better in his melancholy-half-awake tone than this aggressive approach. The aggressive delivery exposes the flaws in his flow. The song is still decent, though.
A Watcher’s Point of View (Don’t ‘Cha Think) – This one was a little too psychedelic/hippyish for my liking. It didn’t help that Prince Be sounds like he’s chasing the instrumental struggling to keep pace.
Even After I Die – This kind of reminds me of one of King David’s Psalms: Prince Be goes in to deep conversation with God as he reflects on his life, faith, and fears. Specifically, his fear of what happens after death. It’s always admirable to hear an emcee show vulnerability, since most emcees won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. I dug the instrumental but I don’t know if I quite like it behind Be’s content.
In The Presence of Mirrors – The first 7 seconds of this song open with one of the sickest samples I’ve never heard, before Prince Be interrupts it to acknowledge how “dope” said sample is. They then flip the sample into a decent version of the original sample and Prince Be discusses the difficult task of facing yourself in the mirror and learning to love yourself despite your flaws. Again, this isn’t your average macho hip-hop rhetoric but grown up shit that most men are to insecure to deal with. Fake ass hard rocks dare not enter this realm of realism.
Set Adrift On Memory Bliss – You’ve heard this one, as its probably the biggest hit in P.M. Dawn’s entire catalog. They ape Spandau Ballet’s eighties pop hit “True” for the backdrop. Decent.
Shake – This sound like nothing else on The Utopian Experience, but his is not a bad thing. This is definitely a song that could have been played at the club back in the day (and it probably would still work today), but even with it’s intentional party sound Prince Be doesn’t dumb down his lyrics. This still holds up well today. Love the bass line during the hook.
If I Wuz U – They can’t all be great.
On A Clear Day – Prince Be again choses to wet his singing chops on this one. Decent.
The Beautiful – Prince Be closes The Utopian Experience out with a spoken word piece with an assist from an uncredited female vocalist singing the hook. The song’s vibe feels like what I imagine Prince’s music would have sounded like in the 00’s if he would have died in ninties and none of his catalog from the 2000’s existed. I guess what I’m trying to say is this song is alright, I guess.
Some heads may find The Utopian Experience too soft, but I actually enjoyed it. It’s an album that a youthful Deedub probably wouldn’t have been mature enough to appreciate. Prince Be is not the greatest emcee of all time but he delivers some meaty parables that will require you to listen to repeatedly to appreciate their depth. On the production end, the duo weave together cohesive backdrops that tend to have a folksy-pop feel but manage to maintain a small resemblance of hip-hop integrity. There are a few songs that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor but the majority of the album works. This experience may not have quite been Utopian but it comes damn near close to it.