Where is the Funk? How Prince Created the Minneapolis Sound
The electro-funk style known as the Minneapolis Sound took over pop music in the 1980s and 90s. LA is in Minneapolis to meet with Jellybean Johnson of the Minneapolis Sound pioneering band, The Time, to find out how Prince and artists like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis developed the sound. Jellybean also helps LA create his own Minneapolis-style original composition.
- When the 21-year-old Prince
performed on "American Bandstand,"
host Dick Clark told him that the song
he just played wasn't the kinda music
that comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Yeah, I mean, this is not the kind of music
that comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- I'm in Minneapolis, my hometown,
to meet with Jellybean Johnson,
one of the pioneers of the electro-funk style
known as the Minneapolis sound.
- That's nasty, LA, that's nasty.
- We're gonna prove Dick Clark wrong.
I need to get some shiny joints like the sequin diddies,
'cause them is really hittin' right now.
Okay, here we go.
The Minneapolis sound is all about fusion,
not only of genres, but of black and white musical takes.
The style changed the course of pop in the '80s
with Prince and influenced artists like Janet Jackson.
It can still be heard in pop music today.
(Uptown Funk playing)
♪ Doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, ha ♪
- I was blessed to work with
a Minneapolis music legend, Jellybean Johnson,
to create a Minneapolis sound inspired track.
- See, back in the day, I would've played it like that.
- So straight? (drumming rhythmically)
- Uh-huh, I would play it like this.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
- This man is the real deal.
He was the drummer for the Minneapolis band, "The Time."
He also worked with legendary production team,
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and he even produced one of my
favorite Minnesota bands of all time, "Mint Condition."
♪ Quit breaking my heart ♪
But first, to understand what the Minneapolis sound is,
we have to look at where it came from.
Most people immediately think of Prince
when they think of the Minneapolis sound
and there's a good reason.
His 1980 hit album, "Dirty Mind," put the style on the map.
♪ Uptown ♪
♪ It's where I wanna be ♪
- He's the only cat I knew that could take two strings
and it sound wide, you know?
It's be big as a house.
- Yeah, yeah.
- You know, the rhythm would be big as a house.
Think about the rhythm guitar in controversy.
- [LA] Okay.
- It's, like, two strings.
- [LA] Yeah!
♪ Controversy ♪
"Controversy" and "Kiss" are the blueprint
of that kinda stuff.
And when you listened to his rhythm playing.
- But how did the sound evolve
in the relative isolation of Minneapolis?
To answer that, we have to start with the music career
of another Prince, Prince Rogers.
Prince Rogers was the stage name
of John Lewis Nelson, Prince's father.
Nelson was one of the many black musicians
who migrated to the Twin Cities
in the 20th century from the South.
Many of the them settled here in my neighborhood,
There's my high school we're North High.
The Polars, let's get it.
They brought with them an expertise in black genres
like blues, gospel, and jazz.
Minneapolis had also long been home
to other musical traditions
from the polkas of European settlers
to the Dinkytown Folk Music Circuit
where Bob Dillon would get his start.
But segregation kept the black and white music scenes
mostly separate during the mid 20th century.
In Minneapolis, if a club became too black,
the police would find a reason to shut it down.
Well, that didn't stop local black soul and funk bands
like Maurice McKinnies and The Champions,
Haze, Prophets of Peace,
Jellybean's first band Flyte Tyme
and of course, Prince's first band Grand Central
from creating a local black music scene.
But because the black population in Minneapolis
was still relatively small, these musicians were absorbing
and playing other genres like folk, rock and roll, and pop.
- [Jellybean] My mom moved me here in 1986
to keep me out of the gangs in Chicago.
- [LA] Hmm.
- I came from Chicago
and I was around, you know, black radio.
- All the time.
And so when I got here, we didn't have black radio,
black radio was only on for like four hours.
And so that meaned I had to listen to
the white rock stations and, you know, the Three Dog Nights
and the Rare Earths, and Black Sabbath.
You know, a young black kid that, you know,
that was kind of different.
- Different, yeah.
- I found out I started to like it, you know.
And so it changed me musically, too.
- These eclectic influences merged on Prince's third album
"Dirty Mind" which introduced the Minneapolis sound.
"Rolling Stone" called "Dirty Mind" one of the most radical,
180 degree turns in pop history.
The album is over the top both in it's stylization
and it's highly sexual lyrics.
"Dirty Mind" found crossover appeal on the national level
by appealing not only to the funk and R&B fans
but also to punk rock and new wave crowds.
In the early '80s, the Minneapolis night club First Avenue
was exploding with a mix of music, too.
Punk bands like Husker Du and The Replacements
were making a name for themselves playing the club's
smaller, dirty stage at the 7th St. Entry
while Prince was packing the larger,
main room stage next door.
Prince used this club to try out new music
by slipping unreleased recordings to the DJ
and watching the crowd react.
And when he was ready for his feature film debut,
he used First Avenue as the band battle ground
in the film Purple Rain.
- He was the master of layering them funky guitar parts,
you know, and he put them in there subtly.
- You just hear them back in the back,
they be brewing, you know, got all this other stuff goin.
- [LA] Plug it in.
- He was a master of that.
The guitar playing on "Lady Cab Driver", the rhythm,
I mean, go back, listen to that, that's crazy.
(Lady Cab Driver playing)
- Smooth. - That's crazy.
- So in musical terms, what is the Minneapolis sound?
Some key ingredients include highly processed instruments,
♪ Can I get some nasty bass. ♪
(I Didn't Mean To Turn You On play)
And using synthesizers where prior bands
may have used horns.
♪ Baby can you help me ♪
- As kids, you know, I was lucky,
I was in Flyte Tyme and we had like five horns.
Well, Prince was in Grand Central they didn't have horns.
Then he heard our horns and he's like, well,
we don't have a horn section.
I know he thinks, man, he's cocky.
Well, we don't have one
but you know what I'm gonna fix that.
- Was Flyte Tyme and Grand Central,
those were separate studios--
- We were, yeah, we were like rival bands--
- Separate brands, okay.
- We were like rival bands at 15-year-old.
- Dope, yeah.
Prince's "Dirty Mind" wasn't a blow out success
in terms of record sales
but it paved the way for other bands
to develop the sound.
One of the first and most successful
was Jellybean's Band, The Time.
♪ What time is it ♪
The Minneapolis band lead by Morris Day
was created by Prince in 1981.
Like much of Prince's work, The Time's music
was danceable, funky, highly processed,
and used synthesizers.
But unlike Prince who was known for his androgynous style,
The Time's image was all about dressing immaculately,
with exotic suits, slick haircuts, and shined shoes.
- Hey, watch it now.
- In the mid '80s, two members of The Time,
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis broke away
to create their own production company,
Flyte Tyme Productions.
Over the next decade,
they helped take the Minneapolis sound platinum
with massive hits like Janet Jackson's album "Control",
which they produced and helped to write.
♪ What have you done for me lately ♪
Jellybean Johnson also worked with Jimmy and Terry.
- [Guys In The Back] Why Bean?
- Did y'all see how Janet looked tonight?
- Helping Janet rock even harder
with her 1989 hit "Black Cat."
♪ All the lonely nights I stand alone ♪
- "Black Cat," you know, it tripped out
all the heavy metal guys but that's what I was listening to,
you know, and so I got some of my friends
and we rented a Marshall Amp, and turned it up real loud,
kicked their butt out of Flyte Tyme.
- We rented the amp.
The Minneapolis sound of the '80s and '90s
helped to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul
into a great place to be a musician.
The music didn't stop when Prince died,
there's a dynamic and diverse local music scene
where an artist like Lizzo can perform
with a range of musicians all while discovering her voice.
♪ Can't ya feel that kick, kick ♪
♪ Boom, boom, kick, kick, boom, boom ♪
All right, so for this Minneapolis track that we created,
I had Jellybean lay down three separate layers of guitar.
So here's the first joint.
(funky electric guitar)
That's the first layer,
now first and second layer put together.
(funky electric guitar)
Third layer of the B section, when we go the four,
let's play it by itself
'cause it's actually where the flavor is,
that's where the flavor
♪ Mm, mm, mm ♪
It's so simple but it's so necessary.
The cool part about it is
it's tiny, little parts all added together,
it's like a big puzzle to make one soundscape.
Down here we have some keyboard parts
that have different roles in the track as well.
Some of these parts act like horn parts or like right here,
brass sense solo, just so you can hear it.
(synthesized horn sounds)
That's like a horn line.
I was listening to a bunch of Morris Day and The Time,
a bunch of Prince, I realized that
they weren't playing these full bodied chords
but it was more so about the rhythm in it.
♪ Blee, blip, blu, blip, blip ♪
Simple, step away from it, come back.
♪ Buhm, da, da ♪
(synthesized horn sounds)
That's kinda how I use that synth right there for the horns.
I'm not a pianist, I'm not a keys player at all
but I feel like, you know, the soul is there,
the groove is there, the vibe is there.
That's really what the music was about,
it was about the feel.
All together, this is what it sounds like.
(funky upbeat music)
The Minneapolis sound did more for the culture
that just leave an imprint on Top 40 music.
It was a unique fusion of genres
that helped break down barriers,
not only between musical traditions
but also between different racial communities.
All though Minneapolis is still no racial utopia,
the Minneapolis sound has brought different people together
on the dance floor for decades.
I forgot about this part.
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- Ah, I like that, I like that.
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