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Prince continues shapeshifting on album No. 35

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Mike Pizzo

Three and a half stars

Prince HitNRun Phase One

I heard Prince’s “Sexy MF” for the first time at Olympic Gardens when I was 15, and I distinctly remember thinking, This is Prince? as he adopted a jazzier sound, perhaps to appeal to the Blue Note-sampled beats popular in hip-hop at the time. Adaptation has been Prince’s M.O. for many years, as he has keenly altered his sound many times to appeal to modern production styles. Yet the sound is always very Prince, as we hear again on his 35th album, HitNRun Phase One, which finds him sharing the spotlight with producer Joshua A.M. Welton, who also helped out on last year’s Art Official Age.

Prince opens the album with “Million $ Show,” a track built from classic guitar licks and his trademark up-tempo, syncopated drums, with vocalist Judith Hill center stage. On both “Shut This Down” and “Ain’t About to Stop,” Prince sings over modern hip-hop production and Rita Ora backs him up on the latter. Later, on “FALLINLOVE2NITE” and “Mr. Nelson,” Prince borrows EDM synths and four-on-the-floor rhythms, yet makes the sound his own.

Despite being pretty good at keeping up with musical trends, Prince is at his best here when tapping into his own seemingly unlimited genius, as on “HARDROCKLOVER” and “This Could B Us,” which are less about adaptation and more about him just being himself.

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