President Prince? No Thanks, He’d Rather be ‘Pope': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
The recent ascension of real estate tycoon and former reality TV star Donald Trump to his current role as President of the United States has already inspired several celebrities to at least consider their own future runs for political office.
Judging from the lyrics of 1993’s “Pope,” however, it’s pretty clear Prince would not have thrown his hat into that particular ring.
“Pope” was one of the previously-unreleased tracks added to Prince’s first compilation package, The Hits/The B-Sides, which was released in fall 1993. An end-to-end rap song, it’s also one of the Prince tracks that fits neatly into the “new jack swing” subgenre — a hybrid of hip-hop and R&B that dominated black radio in the late ‘80s.
“Pope”’s lyrics, which are mostly political, touch on everything from Prince’s fascination with computers (including computerized sound effects following Prince’s instructions to “press save”) to the benefits of live drums over sampled loops (the double-entendre “I love the taste of unpredictable licks”). While certainly tied to the era it was made in, “Pope” is a solid dance track and his politics don’t detract from the quality of the song as would often be the case towards the end of his career.
By the time of “Pope”’s recording in early 1993, Prince had morphed into a fairly competent rapper. Although his early flirtations with the genre found him delegating the emceeing to T.C. Ellis and Tony M., Prince had jettisoned both of them and was confident enough to handle the rapping himself. And while no one was ever going to confuse him with Rakim, songs like “Pope” proved that Prince had a fair amount of “flow,” relative to the rap game in the early ‘90s.
Mayte’s girlishly sung chorus and the fast-paced bounciness of the production gives the impression of a lightweight dance song, but the general lyrical conceit of “Pope” hinges on a darker (or at least more serious) chorus: “You can be the president / I’d rather be the Pope / You can be the side effect / I’d rather be the dope”. Several years before Prince adopted the Jehovah’s Witness faith and removed himself from any active role in choosing government (members of the faith do not participate in government elections), the artist was essentially saying that the religious leader wields more power anyway.
Perhaps “Pope”’s most interesting feature is that it liberally weaves in samples from a series of hilariously vulgar Bernie Mac comedy routines, which originally appeared on HBO’s series Def Comedy Jam. Bernie’s voice screams “You don’t understand…I ain’t scared of you motherf—ers!” before the music even kicks in, and various interjections from the then-rising comedian are interspersed throughout “Pope.”
Not only was it rare to hear a Prince song that sampled content from other sources, it was quite unusual to hear portions of a comedy routine sprinkled throughout a song by any pop artist. Of course, Prince was no ordinary pop artist, and while “Pope” had a rather short shelf life in the Prince universe (not being performed live after 1993), the Bernie Mac samples occasionally turned up in other songs in concert.
Shortly before “Pope”’s release, Prince used it as the show closer for the stage production Glam Slam Ulysses. The show, which premiered at the Los Angeles location of the Glam Slam nightclub franchise, wasn’t taken to very kindly by critics. A Variety review of the show called Glam Slam Ulysses “a very loose music-theater adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, complete with semi-nude dancers, pointless and silly sketches and enough phallic symbols and references to make even Heidi Fleiss blush. Homer-erotica, if you will.”
Thankfully, “Pope”, along with several other songs from the stage show, managed to transcend their original placement and were able to be enjoyed independently of the show in which they made their debut. A remixed version of “Pope” was worked on by Prince and premiered at Glam Slam’s flagship Minneapolis location in early 1994, but was never commercially released.
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