Prince Tries on a True Collaboration With ‘Like a Mack’
Prince was great at many things. Collaborating equally with other musicians wasn't really one of them. Which made his second-to-last studio album, 2015's Hit n Run Phase One, both a genuine surprise and a tantalizing vision of a future that sadly would never come true.
If Prince took you on as a protege, it's a pretty safe bet he'd also be choosing your new clothes, changing your hairstyle and possibly even your name. Your lead single would sound very much like something Prince would write and perform - because secretly and repeatedly, that's exactly what it was.
Even his fellow famous musicians were rarely able to establish equal footing with the Purple one. When Kate Bush sent him tapes so he could contribute to a nearly finished song of hers, he instead changed the track so drastically that it reportedly took her two years to find a usable middle ground version. At the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Steve Winwood might as well have been behind the curtain once Prince lit into his "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" solo.
But for Hit n Run Phase One - his 38th studio album - Prince suddenly plucked Joshua Welton from obscurity, and trusted him to be the first-ever co-producer of one of his albums. “This is the first time I’ve let someone make a record for me," Prince told USA Today at the time. "Josh hears music like I do.”
The husband of Hannah Welton, Prince's 3rdEyeGirl drumming bandmate, Joshua met Prince at a rehearsal. The two quickly bonded over their shared interest in religion. "His faith in God really struck a nerve," Prince told Entertainment Weekly. "And you know how you can just feel that something’s gonna work and it feels right, it’s a good fit? I knew the band was going to work; I knew the relationship with him was gonna work."
Welton, in his early 20s at the time, ended up receiving co-writing credit on all but three of Phase One's songs. His EDM-influenced keyboard and drum programming work dominated much of the album's first half, immediately pulling Prince out of his comfort zone. The results were admittedly somewhat mixed: The A.V. Club labeled the album "over-produced" and lamented that "the persistent droning" featured on many of the album's opening songs "grates like the restless buzzing of a mosquito’s wings in your ear."
While their point is well taken, to a degree, tracks such as "Shut This Down" and "Ain't About to Stop" delivered some of the most unexpected and exciting moments in Prince's recent history – and with the fourth song, "Like a Mack," Welton and Prince hit gold.
Perfectly blending insanely deep bass drops and big brassy horns with exotic synths and rhythms straight out of a Bollywood musical, "Like A Mack" fully realizes the promise only hinted at in some of the other Phase One tracks. Thanks to the duo Curly Fryz, it also features one of the most organic and "of the moment" inclusions of hip-hop into Prince's body of work.
Of course, we'll never know how deep or fertile Prince's collaboration could have gotten, or if it would have led to him doing more truly collaborative work with other artists. But a little more than a year before his untimely death, Prince told Ebony (in a since-retracted article) that he was eager to explore the dynamic further: "We’ll do another one. And this is a way for Josh to step up. ’Cause he’s not gonna stay around here forever. So, I gotta work with him while I can ..."
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