Prince and Chuck D Team Up for ‘Undisputed': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
A ferociously talented musician who could play just about any instrument he needed to, Prince didn't always have the warmest relationship with the sample-heavy hip-hop genre. But there was definitely a certain amount of overlap between that music's aggression and the raw energy in Prince's own songs — a similarity highlighted in "Undisputed," his collaboration with Public Enemy frontman Chuck D.
As explored earlier in this series, although Prince seemed to take an antagonistic stance toward hip-hop in the late '80s, he'd started coming around early the following decade, and incorporated rap into a significant portion of his 1991 Diamonds and Pearls LP. As rapper Anthony "Tony M." Mosley, who handled the verses on that album, later pointed out, Prince's opinion of the music evolved thanks to the peerless efforts of two of the genre's biggest heavyweights.
"I sat down with Prince and talked about rap," Mosley recalled. "He said he didn’t like it until guys like Chuck D and KRS-One came on the scene. Then it started to make sense to him."
It wouldn't be until the late '90s, however, that Prince recorded with Chuck D, enlisting the veteran MC for a vocal cameo on "Undisputed," a track recorded for his 1999 Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic album. The fruits of a new deal with Arista Records, the album found Prince working with a fairly long list of famous guests, a favorite tactic of Arista boss Clive Davis — and one that had paid remarkable dividends for the label with Carlos Santana's Supernatural LP not long before. Of course, cutting a Prince album with guest stars isn't the same thing as rounding up a roster of popular vocalists to take the mic while Santana plays guitar. Collaborations aside, the album wasn't anywhere near as overtly commercial as Supernatural, which seemed to be entirely by design.
"A comeback from what?" Prince retorted when asked whether the star-studded Un2 LP represented a comeback effort. Long since established as one of the more willfully independent artists in the industry, he forcefully insisted he'd made this album the same way he went about making all his others — by following his own muse. "'We want you to do this. We want you to do that' — I've had people talk to me like that. And loud," he told the New York Times. " "'Everybody has to answer to someone,' they'd tell me. I'd say, 'I answer to God, fool.'"
The Rave record ultimately broke the Top 20 and went gold — a respectable showing, especially coming after years in which Prince had seemingly made a series of efforts to undermine his own commercial potential, but nowhere near the smash Arista and Davis were likely hoping to score. Still, even if his brief creative union with Prince didn't end up making much of a dent on the charts, it definitely made an impact on Chuck D: more than 15 years later, he found himself uncharacteristically at a loss after hearing the news of Prince's shocking death.
"I’m a man of words. I’m kinda speechless," he wrote. "It’s like the Earth is missing a note. Little to say — only thing to do is play."