When Prince Showcased a Stable of Proteges on ‘The Ryde Dyvine’
In Prince’s musical world, a phrase like “The Ryde Dyvine” could take on so many meanings. For example, it could describe the ascent to Heaven or something more sensual.
He used it in 1994 for a song title: Also known as “The Ryde Dyvine (Explore Your Mind),” it was credited to Prince's side group Minneapolis. But instead of exploring the sacred or the profane, the lyrics promote racial harmony, another familiar subject in Prince’s repertoire.
“When the music stops and all my people look around/What they see is a box of crayons: black, white, red and brown,” sings Sonny T., a member of the band, which was also known as the Crayons. According to PrinceVault, iterations of the group may have also included Jana Anderson, Morris Hayes, the Steeles, Kirk Johnson, Michael Bland, Billy Franze and Kathleen Johnson.
Minneapolis’ album, MPLS, was shelved, but the title song was released as a single on NPG Records in 1994, with remixes and “The Ryde Dyvine” as additional tracks.
Listen to Minneapolis Perform 'MPLS'
Two years earlier, on Dec. 19, 1992, The Ryde Dyvine was the name of Prince’s television special, which aired on ABC. Filmed at Paisley Park, it was a showcase for the Crayons and other Prince-associated acts, including George Clinton, Carmen Electra, Mayte Garcia and the NPG. Prince took the stage last.
The special was hosted by actress, author and psychologist Troy Byer. Also a former girlfriend, Byer had appeared in Prince’s “Sexy M.F.” video that year, using the check to pay for her education.
“Prince was the first guy I ever dated who actually confirmed my secret suspicions that I might be someone intelligent,” she later told Black Hollywood Live. “I wasn’t raised in an academic environment. … Prince one day looked at me and said, ‘You know, you really are smart.’”
Prince also shows his faith in Byer’s talent in “The Ryde Dyvine.” As part of the loose story line, Byer is invited to the concert as a guest, only to be given a microphone and instructed to introduce each act. Wearing the same outfit Prince wore in “Sexy M.F.,” Byer searches for Prince at Paisley Park — even attempting to open his vault — in between performances.
Electra, whose album would be released the following year, is a standout. While her rapping is underwhelming, her dancing and charisma are exceptional. If given different material, she may have been able to compete in the pop world.
More skilled vocalists, Rosie Gaines and Mavis Staples are also highlights. Unfortunately, their music under Prince did not get the promotion it deserved, due in part to Prince’s feud with Warner Bros.
There is a palpable increase in energy on “The Ryde Dyvine” when Prince rides up in his yellow convertible and performs his set. He shows off his chemistry with Garcia on “Sexy M.F.” and “Love 2 the 9's,” vocals on “Damn U” and guitar skills on “Eye Wanna Melt with U.” Dancers Tony M., Damon Dickson and Kirky J. (TDK) are excellent showmen and the NPG instrumentalists are tight.
Wearing a mask inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, Prince closes with a portion of the operatic “3 Chains O’ Gold,” and returns to the stage in all-white for an encore, featuring gospel-inspired “The Sacrifice of Victor.”
It was a sign of what was to come on the Act I tour, which would kick off the following year.
Watch the 'Ryde Dyvine' ABC TV Special
Despite the electrifying show, Prince’s career was cooling off: There was an abundance of chatter about his declining album sales, inconsistent performance on the pop charts and arguable plays for attention (à la butt-less pants at the MTV Video Music Awards).
Taking both Prince and Madonna to task in a piece for the Los Angeles Times, Chris Willman asked: “How is it they still interest us as icons, but suddenly bore us silly as pop artists? … Their insatiably addictive desire to provoke has made them immeasurably less provocative.”
The article was so scathing that it spurred David Saltz, the executive producer of The Ryde Dyvine TV special, to write an op-ed in the paper two weeks later.
“While you were publishing this negative article, Prince was creating an exciting new kind of presentation for music on television,” Saltz wrote. “The Ryde Dyvine was much more a positive and creatively satisfying work than your article. Prince’s music vision is broader, more complex and more sophisticated than today’s rock teen angst or pop balladeers and country fair singers with interesting hairstyles.”
Saltz went on to emphasize that Prince writes in “concepts, not sales packages,” and blamed journalists for his reticence to speak to the media.
Prince would make his lack of interest in sales and charts known throughout the ‘90s. “I don’t gauge success based upon the way other people gauge success,” he told Tavis Smiley in 1998. This isn’t about [Nielsen] SoundScan. … The music is a success upon creation.”
That sentiment is also reflected in the song “The Ryde Dyvine”: “What difference does it make if it don't make the f---ing charts? / All that matters is the way U feel it in your heart.”