20 Years Ago: P.M. Dawn Release Their Wrongly Ignored Masterpiece, ‘Jesus Wept’
After spending the first half of the decade establishing themselves as one of the most exciting, commercially successful and controversial new acts of the '90s, P.M. Dawn delivered their masterpiece on Oct. 3, 1995, with their third LP, Jesus Wept.
Unfortunately, the world doesn't always reward art based on merit, and the album and its singles came nowhere close to the sales totals of the group's first two efforts. Instead, it proved to be the start of a sad decline into obscurity and illness for their mastermind, Prince Be.
Born Attrell Cordes, Prince Be and his brother Jarrett, who went by the name DJ Minutemix, first came to the world's attention with their smash 1991 Spandau Ballet-sampling hit "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." Their unique blend of hip-hop and R&B (which very quickly shifted more toward the latter) resulted in two hit albums and three more Top 40 singles ("Paper Doll," "I'd Die Without You," and "Looking Through Patient Eyes") over the next two years.
It also earned them the wrath of hardcore hip-hop fans who felt the group's heavenly soul-inspired vocalizing was watering down their genre. "I would never exclude myself from being a hip-hop artist," Prince Be told Vibe magazine in 1995. "I just wanted to help hip-hop be bigger than it was." A much-publicized tussle with Boogie Down Productions leader KRS-One further stigmatized the group in many music lovers' minds.
Undaunted, P.M. Dawn delved even further into their genre-blending ways with Jesus Wept, largely building lead single "Downtown Venus" on Deep Purple's 1968 hit "Hush," sampling Joni Mitchell and the Animals elsewhere on the album, and concluding the record with a dizzyingly joyous medley of Prince's "1999," The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and Harry Nilsson's "Coconut."
But more importantly, Jesus Wept was a far more consistent, cohesive collection of songs – a true album – than the group's already impressive but more singles-focused previous efforts (1991's Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience and 1993's The Bliss Album…?) Entirely leaving their rapping days behind – a process that largely kicked in with Bliss – Prince Be and DJ Minutemix concocted a highly impressive and individualistic blend of trippy, brainy psychedelic soul that drew equally from Prince, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and Portishead.
Highlights? Pretty much everything. But if you're really pressed for time, cue up track 5, "Forever Damaged (The 96th)," and see if you can turn Jesus Wept off after that. If we must pick just one song as your introduction, then skip a bit further ahead to the soaring, yearning "The 9:45 Wake-Up Dream," which features lyrics that will temporarily make you think you understand exactly what's important and right in the universe.
Unfortunately, "Downtown Venus" failed to reach the Top 40, and Jesus Wept stalled shy of the top half of the Top 200 Album Chart. The group's less expansive, more clinical (although still pretty damn cool) 1998 follow-up Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad failed to hit the charts at all, and after the aborted release of a 2000 mail order-only album entitled F---ed Music (which did leak and is worth tracking down) the group largely disappeared from sight for five years.
In 2005, despite the fact that Prince Be was still recovering from a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side, P.M. Dawn triumphed over other faded music stars such as Missing Persons and Juice Newton to win the NBC-televised Hit Me Baby One More Time competition show.
Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize on this momentum, as DJ Minutemix was dismissed from the group around the same time for undisclosed reasons. (He was arrested back in 1995 on charges of sexual assault involving a minor, although those charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.) In ensuing years, an escalating series of diabetes-related health issues has resulted in at least one and reportedly two leg amputations for Prince Be. As a result, the brothers' paternal first cousin, Doc G (Gregory Lewis Carr), who joined following Minutemix's departure, is currently operating as the only active touring and recording member of P.M. Dawn.