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#RSFlashback: P.M. Dawn’s ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’ Turns 30

How a hip-hop classic may forever be a memory

Amit Vaidya Dec 02, 2021

Artwork for P.M. Dawn's song "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss."

30 years ago this week, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” by P.M. Dawn hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a historic week on the charts as it was the first single to feature the more comprehensive data of the Neilsen SoundScan system which more accurately monitored airplay and sales for all songs. The song was one of the first hip-hop songs to reach the top spot and also one of the first hits to feature such a prominent sample of another hit.

Spandau Ballet’s “True” is featured prominently throughout the single, alongside The Soul Searchers’ “Ashley’s Roachclip” and Paul Simon’s “Take Me To Mardi Gras” (as performed by Bob James). The song actually credits Ballet’s lead singer and sole songwriter for “True” as one of the songwriters for the song, Gary Kemp alongside Prince Be. Unlike many hip-hop classics of the time that were being sued and disputed for credits and royalties, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” actually managed to buck that trend spearheading a move by labels to manage these talks before the release of a single.

Of course, sadly, that doesn’t seem to have remained the case. Today, music lovers and fans of the song are unlikely to find the original version of the single on any streaming platform. Unless you owned and kept the cassette, CD or have a vinyl of the album – you’re unlikely to hear the original version again.

Thankfully, the music video still exists and you can enjoy Prince Be’s voice and the original mix on YouTube.

So what happened? To understand that, here are a few details. P.M. Dawn actually formed in 1998 as the duo of Jersey City brothers Attrell Cordes (better known by his stage name Prince Be and often credited as Prince Be the Nocturnal) and Jarrett Cordes (better known as DJ Minutemix). They released their first album Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience in 1991 to great critical acclaim. For the most part, Prince Be was the principal brains behind the duo – he wrote, arranged, and was the primary vocalist on most of the tracks.

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Unfortunately, Prince Be became incapacitated years before his untimely death in 2015. With a severe stroke and numerous complications from diabetes, he was unable to record or even handle any matters on his own. His paternal first cousin, Gregory Lewis Carr II, better known as Doc G, basically took over the reins from Prince Be after his stroke in 2005. Subsequently,  Minutemix was terminated from the band due to claims of alleged sexual misconduct.  

In a nutshell, P.M. Dawn’s two original members became the Doc G show by 2009. Given the tremendous success of “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” and its place in the history of pop and hip-hop, Doc G began releasing music under the better-known moniker and re-recorded the classic in 2013 making it the version available to every Nineties music/hip-hop compilation under the sun.

While it remains unclear what happened to the P.M. Dawn catalog under Universal Music Group (they are the current rights administrators for Gee Street & Island Records, P.M. Dawn’s label), it seems every original version of the Number One hit have disappeared and only Doc G’s mix of the song is now available at streaming. It’s an absolute travesty that a song that is so iconic can be butchered the way it has. The Doc G mix is simply atrocious. His voice is cold, heartless and just plain terrible – literally the polar opposite of the Prince Be original.

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“Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” is definitely one very valid reason for still owning physical copies of music recordings – because in today’s streaming society, there is no guarantee that what you love and hear will be there tomorrow and even if it is there, would it be the version we want? We are seeing Taylor Swift rightfully re-writing the playbook by re-releasing all of her albums again. While her updated versions are great, it is deeply troubling that masters disputes are responsible for altering music history. For music fans, the original mix of a song holds value – it can instantly take us back to a time and place that no matter how great a re-recording, even the smallest change compromise that connection we had.

With that said, for me, this week should still be a celebration. “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs of all-time. It was bold, visionary, creative, it used samples so seamlessly and thoughtfully, and it introduced a whole new style to hip-hop we hadn’t really heard before (or seen reach the top of the charts globally). Today, there is a whole category designated for Best Melodic Rap Performance at the Grammys, which without a doubt, this classic — in no small part — contributed to becoming a chapter in modern music history.

P.M. Dawn left a lasting legacy with “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” 30 years ago and I really pray that one day, their original version gets to be loved and enjoyed again by generations to come.