414: Arrogance

O(+> (1992)
Brief and intense like a rap tomatillo, Arrogance is the first half of a one two punch of hip hop in the midst of Prince’s unpronounceable rock opera concept album. A safe space for any kid weened on Public Enemy, struggling to process ballads and pop rock. At school, before the available musical landscape revealed itself as a hypercube of myriad dimensions, it was pretty binary. You were rock or you were hip hop. You listened to Guns N’ Roses or Salt N’ Pepa. Def Leppard or Def Jam. My flag was planted firmly in the hip hop camp. I didn’t get to hear this album until the latter end of the decade when such petty tribal affiliations had been lost along with my milk teeth but the conditioning was still there to make Arrogance and The Flow, along with the first two, more single-worthy, tracks all stand out. Whenever I hear shade thrown at any of these (and Arrogance gets more than its fair share) I instinctively take it as a poodle-haired broadside from the Guns N’ Roses trench. Old loyalties stir within. Feuds awaken. And the fact that I’m rating this below the theatrical rock silliness of 3 Chains o’ Gold pains me on some deep atavistic level, but is as much a sign of Arrogance‘s slightness than it is of maturing tastes. The beat has an Eric B & Rakim vibe to it and if you listen close you can even hear their Bobby Byrd “you got it” sample, from the classic I Know You Got Soul. The inclusion here is distorted almost beyond recognition though and sounds more like something from The Exorcist than a sampled affirmation. A banshee screech from beyond the veil. Arrogance, true to its name, manspreads over the end of previous track, Damn U, turning the ballad’s air salty with its “this one’s for all the whores” dedication. By which he means journalists, in particular Vanessa Bartholomew who bookends the Q&A lyrics where the title of the song is the brusk answer to queries about Prince’s motivation. It makes more sense within the context of the 3 Chains film, but who cares about narrative cohesion when you’re lost in foreign waters and suddenly hear a language you know and breathe. I would grow up to prefer the slow jams but, like love, the first cuts are the deepest.