The Best Songs From Moodymann's Prince Tribute Were the Ones Nobody Knew

Kenny Dixon Jr. dove deep into the Purple One's archives for a four-hour set full of b-sides and rarities.

by Ezra Marcus
May 9 2017, 2:27pm

Photo courtesy of RBMA

There's a delicious frustration in hearing an incredible song and knowing you'll probably never find it again. It's a rare feeling these days, when tools like Shazam can unlock sonic enigmas in seconds. On Saturday night, though, Detroit icon Moodymann (AKA Kenny Dixon Jr.) played four hours of rare Prince songs at Space Ibiza for RBMA NYC, and those of us in attendance were awash in gorgeous mysteries. "If you came to hear 'Purple Rain' you're at the wrong party," he declared near the start of his set. One track in particular, played right as the party peaked around 2:30 AM, hasn't left my mind—it featured a heavenly R&B vocal floating over grinding metallic guitar stabs, which a friend described as Nine Inch Nails meets Aaliyah. "This is a future classic," growled Dixon, by way of introduction. His running commentary was one of the best parts of the night, and often took the place of typical DJ transitions. "I didn't come up here to do no mixing," he explained. "Y'all know what you came here for."

Over the years Dixon has developed a reputation as one of the world's foremost amateur Prince scholars. "This [set] is from a collector's point of view, not a DJ," Dixon told us early on. "Y'all in my living room right now." This is more than just a turn of phrase—last year, THUMP's Michelle Lhooq got the chance to look inside Dixon's Detroit home, which he's turned into a shrine of sorts for the Purple One.

The affinity between these two artists makes sense. Both possess a Midwestern independent streak, refusing to play by the industry's rules—Dixon rarely gives interviews, and Prince's battles with major labels are the stuff of legend. They also share a fascination with musical seduction. When Lhooq asked why Dixon was initially drawn to Prince's music, he simply said, "Girls. Women. I didn't have to have no game. I just had to put a Prince record on."

There was no shortage of romance in the air on Saturday, as Dixon tore through song after song of steamy robot funk. He didn't skimp on Prince's oft-overlooked records from the last decade—one particular highlight was a jam called "Valentina" off the 2009 album Lotusflow3r, an ode to Salma Hayek's daughter. "Hey Valentina, tell ur mama she should give me a call," Prince croons. Dixon also played an extended version of the 1988 B-side "Scarlet Pussy"—"I know you ladies know something about extended versions," he joked—which is full of x-rated lyrics like, "She can make you shoot your ego all over your sheets." By the song's end, the air in the room felt dense with sweat.

Over the course of the night, Dixon kept expressing his awe at the amount of amazing material Prince left behind. "There's so much that hasn't been available for you guys to hear," he noted, before launching into what sounded like a demo version of the 1984 B-side "17 Days." The DJ's offhand comment captured the sublime power of Prince's archive—"There's just so many to play," Dixon added, four hours into his set and only beginning to scratch the surface.