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Instrumentation

Instrumental Version of Prince’s “Kiss” Single, YouTube.com

Prince

Aside from the visuals, what ties Prince and Monáe’s work together is the practically identical instrumentation. Arguably the most “funky” song on Prince’s Parade, is Prince’s “Kiss.” Though the album Parade is not one of Prince’s more popular or successful albums, “Kiss” excelled upon its release. Released as a single in 1986, this funk, post-disco single held the Number 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart for two weeks, won a Grammy, and has sold over 1,000,000 copies. The instrumental of the hit song is made up of drums, guitar, and a synthesizer. The song has a very recognizable “plucked” and distorted bassline and the prominent, steady, synthesizer-created percussion, giving it a very funky vibe. With just a few instruments, the texture of the instrumental remains quite simple throughout the song. However, it thickens and becomes more complex during the build up of the chorus, as the tempo of the instrumentation rapidly increases for a few seconds before slowing back down. During this build up, the drums disappear and all that can be heard is the distorted bassline. This sudden increase in tempo and texture seems to signal a type of climax for Prince and whoever may be engaging with the song. During this climax, there are also prominent kissing sound effects, which signify the title and content of the song. Because of the nature of the song, and of Prince’s artistry, it can be inferred that this is representative of a sexual climax. At the very moment of the climax, Prince seems to be claiming his sexuality in the face of rigid views of Black masculinity and sexuality. During the bridge of the song, the instrumentation also thickens, which is foretelling the extreme falsetto and screaming that Prince performs at the end. This represents the final climax of the song, as it ends shortly after the end of Prince’s vocal rampage. Right after his screaming, he ends the song in a shiver-like, low tone singing voice which parallels the now thin instrumental of only the distorted bassline. It is interesting to think about how Prince used the sole distorted bassline to represent a climax, and how this is essentially the way in which he ends the song. With this, he is taking complete control of his masculinity and sexuality, which were constantly challenged by his critics, predecessors, and peers as “music is an essential factor in the construction of gendered subjectivity” (Pirkko 1999, 15). However, with these instrumental schemes, Prince solidifies his redefinition of gender and sexuality norms.

 

Instrumental Version of Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” Single, YouTube.com

Janelle Monáe

Similarly to Prince’s song, Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” instrumentation primarily consists of the identical funky guitar vamp from “Kiss.” The use of funk is very significant. Throughout the history of funk, it has existed as a very male-dominated genre, with notable funk artists being those such as Rick James, James Brown, and Bootsy Collins. Though Prince was bending gender norms, he still typically identified as a man, and was identified as such by not only the industry, but also fans and critics consuming his music. This certainly gave him an advantage, as women were not always welcomed into the world of funk in the same way as men. Inspired by Prince but also creating her own space in the music industry, Janelle Monáe explicitly utilizes a funky instrumental for her song “Make Me Feel.” However, rather than just completely sampling or covering the instrumental of her mentor and friend Prince, she makes the funk instrumentation her own. She certainly does use many of the same elements from Prince’s “Kiss,” such as the distorted bassline. However, she also adds sound effects, such as tongue-popping noises and techno-inspired snap-like sounds to solidify the song as a piece specific to herself. In comparison to Prince’s success with “Kiss,” “Make Me Feel” only reached #99 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart, though it did do better overseas on places such as Belgium and France. However, a few days ago, her album Dirty Computer, which “Make Me Feel” came from, was nominated for Album of the Year for the 2019 Grammy Awards, which is no small feat, especially for Black women in music.

Another great feat is how, though male-dominated, Monáe inscribes herself, and Black women, in the lineage of funk. Her “steady deployment of contemporary studio effects (including autotune and synthesized instruments) distinguishes—in much the same way as does her gender play—her music from Parliament’s “uncut” 1970s funk” (English and Kim 2013, 223). Just as in “Kiss,” there is a climax in the chorus. During the build up to the chorus, there are power chords being played. However, unlike “Kiss,” the texture of the song becomes thinner during the build up, with only the power chords and tongue-popping noises being prevalent. Monáe and Prince claim their sexuality at the exact same moment in the song, as Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” climax mirrors Prince’s moment of proclaimed sexuality and agency. With Prince’s inspiration, Monáe utilizes her instrumentation to challenge and redefine femininity and sexuality for Black women in American society and music.

 

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