The Artist Raves About His New Album And His Old Self

Gil Kaufman

NEW YORK—Before recording Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, The Artist said, he took off most of 1998 to contemplate his next move and meet some of his peers.

“I wanted to reflect on everything I’ve done,” the workaholic musician who used to be Prince said as he sat in a luxury hotel room Wednesday evening. “I wanted to meet people and see if I could jam with them.”

Dressed in royal purple pants, yellow high-heeled boots and a paisley-splashed purple velvet shirt open to reveal a clutch of gold chains, the diminutive singer talked enthusiastically about jamming for hours on end with such artists as No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco, Lenny Kravitz and former Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, whom he calls his mentor.

“It’s not about all of us going in one direction,” The Artist said, leaning forward. “It’s about collaboration and … I need to talk to more artists, I need to learn what they know.”

All of them show up on the ebullient Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (Nov. 2), on which The Artist, who played the album for 500 journalists and Arista Records employees here Thursday afternoon, appears to have broken his silence in a major way.

The Artist also collaborated, mysteriously, with his former self, Prince, a name he stopped using in 1993. Prince is credited as the album’s producer.

“My production ideology is that it’s inspiration if it’s done properly,” The Artist said. “A producer can open channels in you. Prince does things to me others can’t.”

The album’s joyous vibe has permeated The Artist’s label, Arista. While the leading edge of Hurricane Floyd battered Manhattan with swirling rain Thursday afternoon, The Artist and his invited guests were two floors underground listening to the 16-track album, with the company’s legendary founder, Clive Davis, who has worked with Patti Smith, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, playing master of ceremonies as he enthusiastically previewed the album.

“I’ve been in this business a long time, and this is a very special day,” Davis said. “I’ve done this a few times in my career and there are very few albums that could withstand this kind of scrutiny.”

With that, Davis began playing tracks at a speaker-shaking volume, introducing most of them with explanatory stories. The title of “Undisputed,” a skittering rap/funk collaboration with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, reflects what the two think of each other, according to Davis. “Over the years, he said, “both The Artist and Chuck D have thought of each other as the undisputed [best at what they do].”

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic mixes the classic rock and soul of early Prince albums such as 1999 and Purple Rain with futuristic beats that recall the work of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott producer Timbaland.

Clapping his hands and snapping his fingers, Davis played the album’s first single, “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold,” three times. The song, a collage of Arabic-sounding guitar lines, turntable scratching, booming bass, soulful lyrics and a flamenco-like guitar solo, seemed to have its intended effect: Several attendees were humming the infectious chorus as they left the building hours later.

“That is a hit record all over the world,” Davis said after the first play.

Davis also previewed the title track—a space-age funk tune on which Prince is credited with singing and playing all the instruments—as well as the Gwen Stefani duet “So Far, So Pleased,” in which the two singers’ voices intertwined seamlessly in a hard-driving, midtempo rock jam reminiscent of Prince’s hit “Little Red Corvette”.

There are plenty of other guest turns on Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The robotic “Hot With U” is a nasty sex romp with a cameo from Ruff Ryders rapper Eve. The Artist does a barroom blues duet with Crow on “Baby Knows,” while “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore,” a melancholy, falsetto pop ballad, features singer Ani DiFranco.

The listening party ended with “Pretty Man,” a propulsive, danceable collaboration with former James Brown saxophone player Maceo Parker. The song appeared to be an homage to Brown’s “Superbad.”

As “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” played a third time, The Artist—in electric-red pants, a clerical-style red blouse that dipped nearly to his ankles, yellow boots and a red scarf on his head—joined Davis onstage for a photo op. Moments later, he kicked a 12-piece band into a raucous version of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”.

The Artist whipped back and forth across the small stage, shredding Jimi Hendrix–like solos and indulging in a 10-minute Chicago blues take on the standard “Motherless Child.”

Graham shared the microphone for a nearly 20-minute jam that included Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and vocal cameos by R&B singer Deborah Cox and a gospel scat section by R&B diva Angie Stone and a bit of James Brown’s “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing.”

“This is what we do every day,” The Artist said with a grin as he picked up a purple guitar in the shape of the glyph that stands for his unpronounceable name and tore into another lengthy funk tune, with help from Roots drummer ?uestlove.