The purple renaissance of The New Power Generation

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine

The purple renaissance of The New Power Generation

“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 idolized, 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 sounds of new jack swing and hip hop. It was then that Mosley was promoted from occasional dancer to featured rapper in the band that would become The New Power Generation (NPG).


“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 humpty-hump bass line. I just took a mic 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 NPG’s original lineup 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 faced this kind of criticism throughout that entire 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 NPG with Mosley as lead vocalist, he knew that the writing was on the wall for the band.


“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 [sic] 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, so I think he was using us to send a message to the record label. But there was no collaboration.”


Shortly after, Mosley left the band to start a family and find work outside of music. Despite disbanding The NPG in 1996, Prince continued to use their name for his touring bands until his death in 2016. It was under these circumstances that the original group reunited for a tribute show.


“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 seeing 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 NPG lineup brings together musicians that worked with Prince throughout his career, including one of his oldest friends, Andre Cymone, who played 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 will appear at Byron Bay Bluesfest, taking place from Thursday March 29 – Monday April 2. They’ll also play shows in Melbourne and Sydney from Monday March 26 – Wednesday March 28.