Prince Track by Track: “Dead on It”

I’ve been trying to squeeze in at least one guest spot per album on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, and for The Black Album I couldn’t resist taking on what is arguably its goofiest track, “Dead on It.” Listen to Darren and I dissect Prince’s skills on the mic here:

Prince Track by Track: “Dead on It”

I’ll be posting another podcast–one of my own–by the end of the week, then it’s off to Minneapolis!

By Zach

Recovering academic. Music writing at Slant, Spectrum Culture, and elsewhere. Arguably best known as the author of Dance / Music / Sex / Romance, a song-by-song chronological blog about the music of Prince.

4 replies on “Prince Track by Track: “Dead on It””

it’s a shame it’s not possible to comment on the track-by-track site (requiring a google/twitter/facebook account in light of the privacy debate?), so I’ll do it here…

I think that both of you have not lived through 78-88 actively listening to radio/music. Especially with a background in soul/funk/r&b. In the mid-80s, you’d hear a great track on the radio, only to be disappointed after 2 bars when it turned into a loop with some barely rhythmic, not in tune rapping over it. Sure there was some good hiphop, I suppose, but for the most part, it didnt speak to me, it wasn’t musical and it was everywhere.

From my perspective, Dead On It is a funny but earnest look at the phenomenon of the time. For every Kool Moe Dee, there were dozens of Vanilla Ices, and they were in the charts. Dead On It is irreverent, funny and right. It is still one of the better tracks to me from the Black Album, the last of Prince’s magic era.

Sure, I might be out of touch and too old (I was born in 1970), but this was basically my take on it too. I’ve never gotten into rap (the technique) much, although I love me some hiphop (the music and the culture).

This song speaks frustration with the scene of the day, while also acknowledging the fun and innovative side of it. It should be getting more props than it is currently getting.

Lastly, I think this is, together with Bob George, the reason the album got canceled after that drugged out night. I think he felt he was a jerk, as sung about in “the future”.

That’s a really valid point, ESPECIALLY if you’re a musical genius like Prince; his gripes about U2 winning the Grammy also seemed slightly “grumpy old man” (and I don’t even like U2!), but when you can play circles around every member of the band on their respective instruments it must be insanely frustrating to see them receive accolades you’re not receiving.

I also totally agree that it was the bitterness at the heart of some of these songs, not the squirrel meat or whatever, that led to the Black Album being pulled–so it’s cool to see that he recognized he was being a little too negative and course corrected. And as iffy as some of his later adoption of hip-hop aesthetics was, he was at least making an effort to understand and appreciate the genre on its own terms!

Also I appreciate your calling attention to the fact that the song is a joke and pretty funny, not at all meant in earnest–he was clowning rappers, not just shaking his fist at the clouds or whatever. It’s definitely important not to take it too seriously! (and I legit love the Dracula line)

It is true that I didn’t listen to radio 78-88, mostly because I was only 1-11, and live in the UK, where the main radio station was Radio 1, and they mostly played top 40.

On several occasions I’ve made it clear I came to Prince with Gett Off, and being a fan in the 90s probably colours how I view all pre-Diamonds and Pearls work. I did buy Ice Ice Baby and owned Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, but my recall of the 1986 rap scene is not that strong so I don’t know exactly what Prince was attempting to comment on, and perhaps the song was too strongly tied to the rap charts of 1986 (I would argue Salt n Pepa, Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Doug E Fresh were doing more than “2 bar loops with barely rhythmic rapping” at that time) for the joke to land in 1994. And Dead On It was quoted for years before it was heard, and that maybe that contributed to how I heard the song in 1994 (I have many magazines that breathlessly talked about the Black Album, and Prince’s joking anti-rap stance was always a sticking point for journalists).

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