“P.M. Dawn’s hefty front man Prince Be has been called everything from an ersatz hippie to a fraud,” reported David Browne in Entertainment Weekly. The name-calling was prompted by P.M. Dawn’s challenge to rap’s limited subgenre categorization, which fomented a controversy over the legitimacy of rap that tends toward pop music and away from the hardcore, “gangsta” stance. As early as 1989, Prince Be and his brother DJ Minutemix were using the tools of hip-hop—the standard vocal rhymes and “sampling” of bars from previously recorded songs—to make music that appealed to the largely white pop audience. The debate over this genre-bending would even go beyond argument to erupt into a violent confrontation in 1992.
The brothers who comprise P.M. Dawn actually answer to several names. Even those they initially adopted for the music world, Prince Be and DJ Minutemix, mutated in 1993 with the release of their second disc to become The Nocturnal and J.C. The Eternal, respectively. But in Jersey City, New Jersey, where the two grew up, they were known as Attrell and Jarrett Cordes; Attrell, the older of the two, has generally been the decisionmaker in their work together and—as Prince Be—is customarily treated by the press as synonymous with P.M. Dawn.
Prince Be described the brothers’ 1970s Jersey City home as a reflection of that blurring of genres that he has incorporated into his music; in August of 1991 he told Melody Maker’s Everett True, “I lived sort of between the yuppies and the killers.... You could literally walk across the street and get into trouble and walk across the street and get into even bigger trouble. It was right next to this park where all of that stuff would mix up. When you’re 14, it’s hard to know how to deal with that sort of thing.” Be detailed a similar scenario in Spin, while also stressing his need for escape from that environment: “Being male... being in an urban environment, you know what to expect if you don’t have that same point of view. I was easily influenced back then, instead of trying to develop my own identity... I had no choice but to follow what everybody else was doing. I saw myself slowly becoming an idiot. So I left.”
The most accessible exit route presented itself in the music and spirituality of Attrell and Jarrett’s parents’ home. They were both exposed to the funk and pop of the 1970s through their stepfather’s extensive record collection; five uncles and one aunt were DJs who further exposed the boys to new music. The brothers were also afforded the opportunity to see the music
For the Record…
Group consists of Prince Be (born Attrell Cordes, early 1970s, in Jersey City, NJ), samples, vocals; and D. J. Minutemix (born Jarrett Cordes, early 1970s, in Jersey City), turntables.
Prince Be worked as DJ, mid-1980s, and as security guard at homeless shelter, late 1980s. Group formed c. 1989; released single, “Ode to a Forgetful Mind,” Warlock, 1989; released singles in U.K., 1991; released Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: the Utopian Experience, Gee Street/Island, 1991.
Awards: Platinum record for Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross, 1992, and gold record for The Bliss Album...?, 1993.
Addresses: Record company —Gee Street/Island, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019.
world firsthand, since their stepfather was a musician who played briefly in one of the early incarnations of Kool and the Gang, which was among the most influential funk bands of the 1970s. And there was the church, where both boys and their mother sang in the choir.
Attrell began drawing on the family talent as early as the ninth grade, when he offered himself up as DJ at local parties; he was also starting to compose his own songs at the time. Within a few years, he had determined to make a demo tape of some of those pieces; he managed to put aside $600 from his first job after high school. As a security guard at a homeless shelter, he had time to work on his music while earning the money he needed. By then, he and Jarrett were putting in studio time as P.M. Dawn.
They first approached Tommy Boy, the rap subsidiary of Warner Bros., with their demo but were turned away; they were too much like alternative hip-hoppers De La Soul and not enough like hardcore rap they were told. They managed to issue a debut single, “Ode to a Forgetful Mind,” in 1989, on Warlock, an independent label that failed to market them. The debut went unnoticed.
The label that released the single in England, however, managed much better. Gee Street mixed and marketed the song so that it earned considerable attention from music reviewers, and P.M. Dawn found themselves courted not just by Gee Street’s head, John Baker, but also by most of the major record labels in England. Soon after Gee Street brought the brothers to London in 1990 to record tracks for an album, the label found itself facing bankruptcy; the P.M. Dawn contract—the company’s chief asset—was offered to the highest bidder. The winner was Island Records, a powerful English label that acquired not only P.M. Dawn, but the entire Gee Street operation along with them.
Before the first Dawn album was released in England, Island issued a few more singles to test the water; the reaction remained warm. A Melody Maker review in June of 1991 praised the second release, “A Watcher’s Point of View (Don’t Cha Think),” reporting, “The gently-plucked acoustic guitars, lilting bassline and supple beats, Sixties vocal harmonies and samples of The Monkees’ ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ add up to one of the most delightfully summery hip hop tracks ever recorded.” By October, “Paper Doll” had become single of the week, Number Five on the charts, and had earned further praise from the august Melody Maker, the paper calling it “one of the lovelier tracks from the most pure-and-simply gorgeous album of the year.”
With the release of P.M. Dawn’s debut album, Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: the Utopian Experience, in late 1991, Prince Be and DJ Minutemix were effectively rescued from obscurity. In October, Michael Azerrad of Rolling Stone had noted “PM Dawn is the hippest thing in England, and the Cordes brothers are hoping their thing hits big in America.” It did: the single “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” reached the Number One spot on three Billboard charts—pop, R & B, and dance. Part of its charm derived from a sampled bit of the song “True,” which was a hit for the British “new romantic” band Spandau Ballet in 1983; this stroke of creative borrowing was a splendid and unusual choice in a hip-hop world saturated with James Brown and P-Funk passages. Within two months, Of the Heart sold over 500,000 copies, earning a gold record; platinum came close on its heels. James Hunter praised the album in the Village Voice, deeming it “brilliantly conceived, executed and marketed.” In Interview, Rob Tannenbaum went so far as to compare Prince Be to rock legend Jimi Hendrix. And a writer for People noted a few years later that the disc “flowed and undulated—it was something new, hip-hop that ignored the streets and aimed for the heavens.”
People also commented, however, on the issue that would create so much conflict for P.M. Dawn in the year between the release of the debut album and that of the follow-up, The Bliss Album...? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence); People’s reviewer remarked that the duo was “embraced by the mainly white rock press as the second (non-threatening) coming of rap.” Prince Be responded to charges that his music was too “soft”—that it diluted rap with too much pop music—with his own critiques of the rigidity of hardcore rappers; he was especially skeptical of the violence espoused in the lyrics of such hip-hop stars as Ice-T, Public Enemy, and KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions. Although Prince Be was also careful to tell interviewers how much he admired these rappers, the confrontation escalated until KRS-One actually broke up a P.M. Dawn performance at the Sound Factory in New York City in January of 1992.
P.M. Dawn also took much of the criticism to heart and thought about the conflicts that had arisen while recording the second album. In the Source, Prince Be recounted to Brioné Lathrop his disappointment with the attention the debut album had received: “P.M. Dawn got a lot of recognition, we got a lot of critical acclaim, we got a lot of street level acclaim, but we got a lot of flack as well.... I looked around and I saw that a lot of the stuff that I read—[black-oriented publications] Black Beat, Ebony —I wasn’t in those and it looked very weird.” Be and Minutemix approached the second album with an eye toward correcting this, attempting to appeal more explicitly to inner-city and African-American audiences. Prince Be continued in the Source, explaining, “I made it more biased to an urban crowd, because they felt so neglected the first time, and I didn’t want to do that. I guess that was through my own stupidity. ’Cause I didn’t want them to feel neglected, and they do, so I made it for them and their consumption.” He also tried to address the black/white, rap/pop tension explicitly in both music and lyrics. The rapper noted that the song “Plastic,” in particular, was intended to resolve conflict: “It’s about the idiosyncrasies that exist between hardcore hip-hop fans or artists and alternative hip-hop fans. It’s about the tensions that’s between the two, it’s plastic, it’s not real.”
“I’d Die Without You,” the first single from The Bliss Album...?, was released as part of the soundtrack to the film Boomerang. The soundtrack was a best-seller, and the song became a Number One Hit. When the full album followed, in 1993, Entertainment Weekly’s Browne declared, “Once again, the duo effortlessly blends disparate elements—balladeering and rapping, samples and live orchestration—into gorgeous wide-screen tableaux of sound.” James Hunter, writing for Rolling Stone, remarked, “A flowing work filled with chaos and conflict, The Bliss Album...? will not disappoint.” But People’s reviewer was somewhat disappointed, venturing, “While there is no denying Be’s talent and melodic pop savvy, he needs something new to say and a new way to say it.”
Aside from the conflict over genre, P.M. Dawn suffered another setback in their blissful rise to fame: Prince Be’s discovery that he is diabetic. After falling into a threeday coma in December of 1992, he was diagnosed and began treatment. But, as he explained to Spin’s Danyel Smith, the revelation of the malady put a dent in his self-image. He said, “To top it all off I found out I had diabetes, which automatically made me a human being. Pinned me down as a human being. And I like to think that I’m not. I don’t like to think that anyone is a human being.” This desire to be more than human reflects the spirituality that often defines P.M. Dawn’s music. Prince Be told Interview’s Tannenbaum that his spirituality “comes from myself. I’ve read the Bible. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t really like to be told how to worship God.” He elaborated on his name—his original rap handle, by which he is generally known—to the Source’s Lathrop, saying, “My name is Prince Is, Prince Exist, that’s my whole entire thing”; and for Rolling Stone’s Azerrad, he explicated his band’s name, stating simply, “the darkest hour, comes a light.”
Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: the Utopian Experience (includes “Ode to a Forgetful Mind,” “Set Adrift on a Memory Bliss,” “Paper Doll,” and “A Watcher’s Point of View [Don’t Cha Think]”), Gee Street/Island, 1991.
The Bliss Album...? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence) (includes “Plastic” and “I’d Die Without You”), Gee Street/Island, 1993.
(Contributors) Alternative NRG, Hollywood, 1994.
Details, August 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 1993.
Interview, October 1991.
Melody Maker, June 15, 1991; August 31, 1991; October 5, 1991.
Musician, June 1993.
People, June 7, 1993.
Rolling Stone, October 31, 1991; April 15, 1993.
Spin, July 1993.
Source, June 1993.
Village Voice, December 24, 1991.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Gee Street/Island Records publicity materials, 1993.
—Ondine E. Le Blanc
"Dawn, P.M.." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dawn-pm
"Dawn, P.M.." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dawn-pm
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
1970 & 1971—
P.M. Dawn enjoyed some impressive pop-music success in the 1990s with the hippie-style, radio-friendly, peace-and-love rap songs of Prince Be and D. J. Minutemix. The unusual samples and gliding melodies from these two young New Jersey musician-brothers were showcased in their 1991 hit "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," from their platinum-selling debut album, Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. Pegged as the harbinger of a new kind of psychedelic rap, the brothers were sometimes ridiculed by more hardcore rappers, but their crossover success broke new ground for black acts in American pop music. Grouping P.M. Dawn with such others as De La Soul and Arrested Development, Jay Lustig of Newark, New Jersey's Star-Ledger described the group as "philosophical instead of macho," adding that they "described what was going on in their minds rather than in the streets." Lustig noted that P.M. Dawn's "music wasn't harsh and spare, like most rap, but lush and dreamy, based more in gospel and soul than blues and rock."
P.M. Dawn was fronted by a heavyset, dreadlocked singer who called himself Prince Be, and his brother D.J. Minutemix commandeered the group's turntables. Prince Be was born on May 15, 1970, in Jersey City, New Jersey, as Attrell Cordes. His brother, D.J. Minutemix, was born Jarrett Cordes on July 17, 1971. The Cordes boys' father died when they were young, but they grew up in a two-parent household with their mother Janice, an occasional gospel singer, and her boyfriend, a musician who had once been a member of a Jersey City act called Five Sounds and the Jazziacs, which later became Kool and the Gang. The rest of the Cordes family was also musically inclined, with several uncles and even one of their aunts working as local disc jockeys. The boys grew up listening to old-school funk along with the gospel classics.
Prince Be began working as a disc jockey for parties when he was still in high school, and eventually began writing songs. Working as a security guard at a homeless shelter gave him plenty of time to work on his music, and he and his brother saved six hundred dollars to record a demo tape at a local sound studio. Tommy Boy, the rap subsidiary of the Warner Bros. musical empire, rejected it. The Cordes brothers did not give up, and released the single "Ode to a Forgetful Mind" on the Warlock label in 1989 as P.M. Dawn. It came and went with little notice, but it did attract some interest from a small British label called Gee Street. The duo signed with the label, which brought them over to London to record an album in 1990. But Gee Street then ran into financial problems and was forced to sell P.M. Dawn's contract to Island Records, a British label that had been instrumental in bringing Jamaican reggae music to a worldwide audience in the in the 1970s.
The group's next single, "A Watcher's Point of View," was released in Britain in 1991, and broke into the Top 40 U.K. charts. The overseas success paved the way for a U.S. launch, and P.M. Dawn's debut LP, Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross, was released in August of 1991. The first single from it, "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," used a sample from a 1983 pop hit, "True," by the British new-wave balladeers Spandau Ballet. The lilting hook helped propel the song to No. 1 on three different Billboard charts—pop, R&B, and dance—in 1991. It also made music history as the first single to be certified No. 1 in sales thanks to a new technology called SoundScan, which used a bar-code scanner at the cash register.
As their debut record climbed to No. 29 on The Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop album charts, Prince Be and his brother were ridiculed by some rappers for their hippie style and non-threatening lyrics. In January of 1992, during a concert at New York City's Sound Factory, rapper KRS-One shoved Prince Be off the stage, commandeered the microphone, and broke the record that Minutemix was playing. This was done in response to a comment that Prince Be had made questioning KRS-One's status as a spokesperson for African-American youth. Somewhat ironically, KRS-One was a founder of the Stop the Violence movement, which urged young rap fans to foster peace in their communities. The entire fracas was captured on tape for Yo! MTV Raps, the music channel's highly rated weekly program.
P.M. Dawn's next album, The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence), was released in March of 1993. It did even better than its predecessor on The Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop, climbing to No. 23, and also peaked at the No. 30 spot on The Billboard 200, helped in part by the single "I'd Die Without You," which appeared on the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy movie, Boomerang. Another track, "Plastic," addressed the rap-world controversy surrounding their debut, with lyrics written by Prince Be that painted the debate as a manufactured one. That and other tracks had a harder edge to their music, but the group earned further scorn when they appeared on Elton John's Duets LP with the track, "When I Think About Love (I Think About You)."
Prince Be was diagnosed with diabetes in late 1992, after sinking into a coma that lasted three days, and the setback fueled even more introspective lyrics on P.M. Dawn's third LP, Jesus Wept. Released in the fall of 1995, it failed to achieve the success of their previous two records, selling just 88,000 copies. The brothers returned in October of 1998 with Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad. The title song was an homage to Prince Be's oldest son, and much of the lyrics reflected his sense of responsibility to Christian and his twin brother and sister, Mia and Brandon. One single from it, "Being So Not for You (I Had No Right)," made it into the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream chart, but the duo virtually disappeared from the public eye until June of 2005, when they appeared on Hit Me Baby One More Time, the NBC showcase for forgotten bands and one-hit wonders. They performed "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" and won their round with it. The prize money of $20,000 was donated to a juvenile diabetes research foundation.
A few years earlier, V2 Records had released a greatest-hits compilation, The Best of P.M. Dawn. It prompted music critics to re-evaluate the Cordes brothers' earlier success, and most granted that they had done a worthy job in bridging a gap in pop music in the early 1990s. "Little in contemporary hip-hop can match the succulent splendor of 'The Ways of the Wind' and 'Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,'" wrote David Browne in Entertainment Weekly. "Even if their later attempts at harder grooves didn't always work, P.M. Dawn were the missing link between Johnny Mathis and Jay-Z."
Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, Gee Street/Island, 1991.
The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence), Gee Street/Island, 1993.
Jesus Wept, Gee Street/Island, 1995.
Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad, Gee Street/V2, 1998.
The Best of P.M. Dawn (greatest hits compilation), V2, 2000.
At a Glance …
P rince Be, born Attrell Cordes, May 15, 1970, in Jersey City, NJ; son of Janice Cordes; children: Christian, Mia, and Brandon; D.J. Minutemix, born Jarrett Cordes, July 17, 1971, in Jersey City, NJ; son of Janice Cordes.
PM Dawn, musical group, with Prince Be on lead vocals and D.J. Minutemix on the turntables, 1989(?)–.
Record company—Gee Street/Island, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019.
"Ode to a Forgetful Mind," Warlock, 1989.
"A Watcher's Point of View," Polygram, 1991.
"Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," Polygram, 1991.
"I'd Die Without You," LaFace, 1992 (on soundtrack to Boomerang).
"Paper Doll," Polygram, 1992.
"Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine," Polygram, 1992.
"Plastic," Polygram, 1993.
"Downtown Venus," Polygram, 1995.
"Sometimes I Miss You So Much," Polygram, 1995.
"Being So Not for You (I Had No Right)," V2, 1998.
"Amnesia," Kardis, 2002.
Billboard, March 20, 1993, p. 14; September 12, 1998, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 1993, p. 50; June 16, 2000, p. 86; June 6, 2003, p. L2T10.
People, October 23, 1995, p. 24.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), October 4, 1998, p. 1.
Village Voice, September 6, 2000.
"P.M. Dawn." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pm-dawn
"P.M. Dawn." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pm-dawn