Prince — “Black Sweat”

Released: 2.7.06

Peak: #60

“Black Sweat” was the first Prince single in years that sounded at home in the present, and we reacted accordingly. That is, we overreacted. Rumors circulated that the little control freak had been listening to snap music (even, from his more historically challenged worshippers, that he’d invented it). But Prince didn’t need rappers to hip him to the Bernie Worrell synth-whine he monkey-wrenched into novelty here; along with the lyrical half-reference to “Cold Sweat,” that was just his way of reminding us he was the true heir to the funk greats.

“Black Sweat” was just a happy confluence between the music Prince wanted to make and the music we wanted to hear. At this point in his career, he had more to offer us in the way of groove than he did pop melody. That’s often the case with aging funk masters over time, and it’s bad for business, since audiences overvalue the freshness of a groove and underrate its depth. So it helped that “Black Sweat” re-exploited one of Prince’s treasured rhythmic sub-niches, the bass-less beat that drove “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss,” at a commercially appropriate time.

Oh, there was something else exciting here: that magical word “black” (like The Black Album!), hinting at that topic Prince sidestepped so frequently. “Black Sweat” is where he declares himself blacker than the competition, a.k.a hip-hop. It’s not some cutie he threatens to have “screaming like a white lady”–it’s those chumps who think they can “act hard” in the face of a groove that will make them “sweet.” Even his use of “white lady” rather than the more obvious “white girl” one-ups other lyricists. And then, as promised, that synth hook revs up to an orgasmic pitch on his command.

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