John Shotti/Tapemasters Inc.
A Prince in Harlem
Gimmicks make the world go round. Some homemade stunts even lead to bigger, better, corporate-sponsored ones—see Danger Mouse's recent work with DangerDoom and Gnarls Barkley, borne of his jury-rigged blend of Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album. The Grey Album also spawned a colorful cottage industry matching Jay-Z with you-name-it, from the hideous Slack Album (featuring Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted) to Kev Brown's terrific Brown Album. So it stood to reason that in an excessively humdrum period for big-name hip hop, rap's most fervent cult would undergo the same treatment. But Cam'ron and his Dipset crew could only be paired with the one artist who shares the Harlem rapper's affinity with the color purple. (One musician anyway, though given the group's brazenly retrogressive, idiotic ideas about women, a Dipset/Alice Walker mash-up would be pretty mind-boggling.)
Alas, two up-and-coming producers have reached for the Prince catalogue—in the most blatant way possible in the Bangers' case. Jon Moskowitz Presents Purple Reign offers Cam'ron and company rapping over giant, instantly recognizable steals from the short giant's hits. Best-of perennials like "Let's Go Crazy" and "Sign 'O' the Times" and "Alphabet Street" and "Pop Life" are all present and accounted for. About the most imaginative reworking is "Bizarre Whistle Kiss," on which Juelz Santana's "There It Go (The Whistle Song)" meets a backing track that, midway through, segues from "Kiss" to Sheila E.'s "A Love Bizarre." There are also giant chunks of dialogue lifted from Purple Rain. Apparently Morris Day's unrepentant-pimp attitude offers an easier analogue with Dipset's own "G'ed up swagger" than Prince's falsetto androgyny.
John Shotti/Tapemasters Inc. go about plundering His Royal Badness in a more intriguing way. On A Prince in Harlem, Shotti hardly shies away from Prince's more obvious touchstones, but he tweaks them so much they're almost unrecognizable. The remix of Cam'ron's "Let Me Know" obsessively reworks a gnarled knot of guitar from the beginning of "When Doves Cry," and "Get 'Em Girls" is made over with a snippet of "Do Me Baby" that balances luxury and unease. But Shotti seems equally impressed by Prince's '90s work: "Byrd Gang Gold" taps "Gold" (from 1995's The Gold Experience) for something as towering as anything on Cam's own albums. You might not even mistake it for a gimmick.