I'm a huge Prince fan. As such, I've been waiting very patiently for the release of the Radio Riddler Productions reggae tribute to Prince and the 'Purple Rain' album in its entirety. Radio Riddler Productions is Fast and Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin Criminals, who are reggae remix producers in their spare time (check out some of their remixes).
The album release has been delayed in part to complications in getting publishing approval from Prince and his camp, who are notoriously picky about anyone recording covers of his back catalog. That said, all indications suggest its just a matter of time before some of the tracks begin to see the light of day. And now they have! Former UB40 singer Ali Campbell has just begun to perform his version of 'Purple Rain' from the album live in concert.
In addition to Campbell's version, the album (which was originally to be released in 2011 but has been delayed) will feature a variety of artists and singers including members of The Specials brass section, members of Madness, Sinead O'Connor (performing a reggae version of her own Prince cover 'I Would Die 4 U') and many more. It certainly doesn't hurt that Benbini is originally from Leicester in the U.K. and is well connected in the British reggae music scene.
Though originally from New York and best known here for their tune 'Scooby Snacks', Fun Lovin' Criminals was never fully embraced by American audiences, though the UK and most of Europe really took the band to their hearts. The band members in turn always seemed to understand and tap into a uniquely European, and especially British, sense of humor.
Having worked to produce reggae remixes for a variety of artists, the Radio Riddler 'Purple Rain' project is a extension of their love of all things reggae and of Prince in particular. According to an interview that FLC drummer Frank Benbini did in 2010, the album is a true labor of love that originally came about as a lark and took on a life of its own.
Yeah, across the board. It was one of those things where we love reggae, and we have a reggae remix outfit called Radio Riddler. We’ve remixed a lot of people…Lily Allen, Coldplay…you know, we’ve done a lot of remixes for a lot of people. So we thought, what can we do? He went – “Why don’t we do the soundtrack to ‘Purple Rain’?” I was like – “That won’t work, that won’t happen, it just won’t work”. He was like – “Well, let’s give it a go”, and he did the first one, ‘Purple Rain’, he got the beats ready and sent it to me, and I was like – “Fuck! It sounds great!” Then I got a lot of my hometown players, brass sections, people from The Specials playing on there. I sang all the songs but then it was like – “Let’s get some guest artists on it”. So I started to approach different people and one person I approached was Sinéad O'Connor. She hasn’t sung a Prince song since ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ which was an international number one so I didn’t think she’d go for it. But she did, and did a version of ‘I Would Die 4 U’. Amazing. Then we’ve got Plan B, he’s doing one, Madness are doing one, the singer from UB40’s doing one. So, yeah, that’s a great little project we’ve got going.So what do you make of the Campbell cover? Personally I like it and I think his band does a great job of performing a notoriously difficult song live, particularly the trombonist who gives the song an edge. That said, Campbell's version seems to have split hard core Prince fans down the middle. Some like it and some absolutely detest it.