Interview: Tony M. (Prince & the New Power Generation)

There are few artists whose creative star burned as brightly as Prince’s did during the 1980s and early ‘90s. Tirelessly turning out albums for himself and other artists while never settling on one style, he surrounded himself with a revolving cast of musicians to help realise the next sound that he was looking for. One of whom was Anthony Mosley, otherwise known as Tony M., who got his introduction to the musician when his breakdancing crew were selected to appear in the 1984 film Purple Rain.

“He walked into the bathroom when we were doing some down time during the filming and saw us perform. We were just in there with a boombox,” says Mosley. “And (then) his road manager came up and gave us a bunch of songs, which was like, ‘Computer Blue’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, and said ‘Can you put together some routines and come back tomorrow?’ We worked all through the night, that was our first introduction and he kept us onboard for years.

“I was still in the marine corp. doing reserve duty, so I’m coming from the regimented military. All of a sudden I’m in Hollywood, California, in front of Eddie Murphy and people that I idolised and we’re performing ‘Erotic City’ in the premiere of Purple Rain. It was crazy, I went from being just a kid in North Minneapolis breakdancing to now we’re performing in front of all these stars. It was kinda hard to absorb at the time.”

Despite the enormous success of Purple Rain, Prince continued to explore other styles at a rapid rate, and by the close of the ‘80s he abandoned the drum machines and synthesisers that he’d championed through much of the decade in favour of the more contemporary sound of new jack swing and hip hop. It was then that Mosley was promoted from an occasional dancer to the featured rapper in the band that would become The New Power Generation.

“We were in Paris and we were doing a soundcheck and just messing around. I picked up a guitar and Kirk [Johnson, dancer] ran around on drums and Levi [Seacer, bassist] started doing that [Digital Underground] Humpty Hump bass line. I just took a mike and start rappin’,” says Mosley. “Then we heard his voice going ‘Oh that was kinda funky’. Later he called me back to the dressing room and said, ‘I never realised you did vocals at all, you think you can pull that off tomorrow night?’

“You can talk to a lot of musicians who have come to play with him and that’s what it is – he’ll put you on the spot and see if you can hit it, and hopefully you don’t choke. I was just lucky I didn’t screw it up, I might not have ever had another opportunity.”

The original incarnation of The NPG lasted from 1990-96, with Mosley featuring prominently on the albums Diamonds and Pearls, Love Symbol and GoldNigga. Though the former album was one of the best selling of Prince’s career, many were critical of the inclusion of rap vocals, particularly because they often seemed to be added into songs without regard for genre. As the rapper, Mosley has had to deal with a lot of this criticism and the legacy of that period of Prince’s career.

“At the time it was hard. Him and I would talk a lot,” he says. “I wanted to go down a more traditional path of maybe just a drum beat, a bass and some slight synth. I didn’t want all the strings over the vocals, I didn’t want all the various arrangements. But his creativity was a mile a minute and one thing he stood by was that he wasn’t going to dumb down the sound for a certain genre. And he wanted me to expand my mind to get away from what the typical hip hop sound was. When I look back on it I have to say, I was probably ahead of our time.”

However, when Prince decided to take a back seat on 1993’s GoldNigga, which was attributed solely to the band with Mosley as lead vocalist, he knew that the writing was on the wall for The NPG.

“I’d watched him since Purple Rain and I’d known every single band since then and you start seeing the transition happen,” he says. “One of the things where him and I became a little strained at the time was that he’s putting me in the spotlight, kind of like ‘this is your thing now’. But I felt like we weren’t incorporating the band’s thoughts, or even mine. I mean, he walked in and he had the CD with a bunch of songs compiled and said ‘Hey here’s you guys’ album’. And it must have been something that he had presented to Warner Bros. That’s when he was going through his transition with his name and the whole the ‘slave’ thing, so I think he was using us to send a message to the record label. But there was no collaboration.”

Shortly after this Mosley left the band, eventually starting a family and finding work outside of music. Despite breaking up The NPG in 1996, Prince continued to use that name for his touring bands until his unexpected death in 2016. It was in such circumstances that the group reunited to pay tribute to their fallen leader in October of that year at the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“I remember coming to the first rehearsal and I had not been in front of a microphone, all my awards were packed up and my kids knew nothing about (it. Their) entire life they just knew basketball dad,” says Mosley. “I remember seeing the look on their faces when we walked into the stadium and we saw these mass of fans and my daughter looked at me and said ‘Oh this looks better than Beyonce’. For them see dad hit the stage and then me being able to bring them up to dance with me on ‘Housequake’, it was one of the highlights in my career.”

The current version of The NPG brings together musicians that worked with Prince throughout his career, including one of his oldest friends, Andre Cymone, who began playing with him around 1975.

“The beautiful thing, especially with us being able to bring in Andre – we’re crossing back into some of the early music,” says Mosley about what to expect on their upcoming Australian tour. “There’ll be a cross blend of a lot of stuff so it’s gonna be exciting.”

The New Power Generation are playing at 170 Russell on Monday March 26 & 27 2018 as well as appearing at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2018. Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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