P.M. Dawn's New Day : Rappers' Return to '60s Spirit Leads to Hit Single

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I'm not black," P.M. Dawn's Prince Be announced firmly during an interview in a West Hollywood restaurant.

In a soft voice that seemed strange coming from a 300-pound man, the 21-year-old rapper continued: "I'm a human being. Anyone who considers himself black or white is crazy. It's my spirit that counts--not my color. I'm a spiritual being."

Prince Be (Attrel Cordes) has parlayed that lofty spiritualism into a No. 1 pop single, "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." The song is an ethereal dance tune built around a portion of the 1983 Spandau Ballet hit "True."

The other half of P.M. Dawn, 19-year-old DJ Minutemix (Jarrett Cordes), was also sitting in on the interview, but deferred to his brother on almost every question.

That was just fine with Prince Be, a self-proclaimed flower child who enjoys talking about the sunny, spiritual outlook that is reflected in the '60s feel of the duo's acclaimed debut album, "Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience."

Prince Be's mellow image fits the music well.

Despite the obvious rap ties, much of the album seems like a throwback to the peace-and-love era, when the hippie counterculture flourished.

"Maybe I was born too late," Prince Be said, wistfully. "I love the '60s--the colors, the attitudes and the music."

This gentle giant was steered into music by his stepfather, Buck Cordes, a former percussionist for Kool and the Gang. When Prince Be was 6, his father, whom the young rapper describes as a beatnik, gave him a record that shaped his musical vision forever. It was by Donovan, the Scottish songwriter whose lyrics in the '60s were filled with mysticism and colorful imagery.

When the Cordes brothers--who grew up in Jersey City, N.J.--started taking their music seriously, they sidestepped the genre's trademark street swagger and urban militancy in favor of a silky, harmonious approach.

They recorded a single titled "Ode to a Forgetful Mind" for a small American label in 1989. It did nothing in the United States but scored in Britain, leading to a contract with another independent label, Gee Street, now part of Island Records.

"The new label (Gee Street) understood my spiritual approach and thought it might be commercial," Prince Be said.

That spiritual orientation of the late '60s, stressing peace, love and equality, permeates Prince Be's views. He said he even moved to London recently because he finds the atmosphere there less stressful than on the East Coast.

"You can hear the difference in the songs that were written over there," he said in another interview recently. "New York is really stressed out so the songs I write (there) are really morbid. London, though, is (as) if you took New York's fire and poured water on it, so you still have the embers."

But Prince Be also found Britain to be more comfortable on a social level:

"They're not so race conscious over there. They understand me better. It's a shame but it's hard being black and spiritual in this country."

If P.M. Dawn's music is different from most rap, Prince Be's views, too, are radically different from the black unity cries of such acclaimed rap figures as Public Enemy's Chuck D. and KRS-One.

* On government affirmative-action programs that encourage minority hiring: "It's too focused on race. It lets people who aren't qualified get jobs over people who are."

* On the working habits of blacks: "Blacks aren't being held down any more. Blacks like to figure out ways of getting by without doing anything."

* On the issue of slavery: "Slavery was hundreds of years ago. It's time to forgive and forget."

When it was suggested that these views might not be popular with much of rap's core African-American audience, Prince Be shrugged.

"I don't mind," he said. "I can stand the heat."

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