Rapper Tony Mosley (AKA Tony M.) of Prince’s former band The New Power Generation is travelling down a road near his home in Minneapolis, thinking about keeping an icon’s legacy alive. He’s busy talking about his friend and former bandmate, his voice light, his laughter easy. That is, until conversation turns to Thursday April 21, 2016, the day of Prince’s death. Then, Mosley’s voice drops.
“I remember it clearly,” he says, slowly. “I was at work in a meeting, and a friend of mine from New York sent me a text and he said, ‘Hey man, give me a call. I’m hearing something crazy out of Paisley.’ I had not been at my computer and so hadn’t seen anything, so I left my meeting and went to my desk to call my friend, and that’s when I started seeing the news reports. The first thing I did was call Kirk [Johnson, drummer], because I knew he was still working with Prince. He confirmed it. It was surreal.
Prince would just stop at some of the local spots he knew he could frequent without it becoming a big spectacle.
“I remember going to his memorial service at Paisley, and for the first time the loss really hit me. But I think about the good times and how he helped me grow; what we created together as a family.”
That familial connection expresses itself as an incredible musical cohesion: the New Power Generation are a force to behold onstage; a whirlwind of funk and hip hop beats. “I see a lot of bands trying to do tribute shows, and we wanted to be the originals,” Mosley says of the NPG’s vision.
“We helped create this music, from Diamonds And Pearls  to the Love Symbol Album , and the New Power Generation album that came after that. We’re also bringing in his past bandmates like André Cymone [bassist, pre-Revolution].”
All of the musicians in The NPG, from keyboardist Morris Hayes to bassist Sonny Thompson (AKA Sonny T.), considered Prince to be a mentor. The icon introduced Mosley to blues and jazz, the young rapper having emerged from a hip hop and funk background while dancing at clubs and parties during high school.
“I came in as a dancer and choreographer, and it grew from that to, ‘Tony, can you do rap vocals?’, and ‘You play a little bit of guitar? Let me see what you can do here’,” he reflects. “He allowed you to stand onstage next to him and actually perform your craft… You really felt like you were focused. At the same time, he would be like, ‘Maybe you can try this onstage next time’. Those were the things he was always pointing out to you.”
That nurturing relationship worked both ways. Mosley became integral to Prince’s hip hop transition when the icon recruited the rapper – along with fellow dancers Kirk Johnson and Damon Dickson – for the dramatic film Graffiti Bridge and the Nude Tour. Indeed, it was on that tour that The NPG debuted their live show, before eventually coming together to record 1991’s seminal album Diamonds And Pearls.
“Before [the Nude tour] he didn’t know I rapped or played guitar,” Mosley says. “He happened to come into the stadium and he was back by the booth. We were jamming to a song, and before I knew it, he comes on the microphone and says, ‘You know what, that’s kind of funky’. I was like, ‘Oh shoot, did I mess up?’ and he was like, ‘Well let’s get on with rehearsal’.
“We got on with our soundcheck, and we went back into the venue for supper before the show started, and his manager pulls me aside and says, ‘Prince wants to talk to you for minute’. I go into his dressing room, we sit down and chat, and he said, ‘I didn’t know you played guitar or did rap vocals. Do you think you could write up that song tomorrow evening? I want to put it in the set, and when I do a wardrobe change, could you rap it?’
“I was like, ‘Absolutely’, and also, ‘Oh my god, what are these people going to think? Here I am rapping during a Prince song’. You know the history; you’ve heard the fans. So I was torn the whole time, but I made the most of it.”
That history Mosley is referring to is Prince’s previous reluctance to embrace hip hop. As the rapper explains it, “We actually sat down and had a conversation about it … I wanted to make sure that when we did this, it was in his own realm where he didn’t just try to do hip hop beats and then have me rap over it.
“At times it was difficult, because there were certain beats and phrasing I was looking to use, and it just wasn’t going to fit that mould. Even if I did make it fit, we changed it because we were trying to create something else, which I think we did.”
At no point did we sit down and talk about creative direction.
Nonetheless, throughout their longevity as Prince’s backing band, what held the NPG steadfast was their drive to be better; play faster; adapt more. “You come in, you start setting up and getting in your areas, and he would say, ‘Here are some notes’,” Mosley says.
“So we would listen through them and make those arrangements, and so by the time he came downstairs we were ready to roll. Then by the time he even came down, he’d already thought of two or three other arrangements… You had to be very agile to be around this man. We would play one night in the same place, and because his fans come to every show in nearly every city in the country, we always kept it new and fresh for them.”
Of course, Prince was also legendarily fickle – he would move on from collaborators at the drop of a hat. Mosley experienced that himself after recording The NPG’s debut album Goldnigga in 1993: Prince “just walked in, threw the CD down and said, ‘Hey, here’s your album’.
“At no point did we sit down and talk about creative direction, or what we were trying to convey… and at that particular time I was still going through a lot of criticism from his fans and the hip hop side. I said, ‘It’s probably a good time to try to form my own identity’. He was also looking to make a change, so it worked out well.”
Although Prince’s creative process is still a mystery to Mosley 24 years on, one thing remains real – that Prince was “still a guy from Northern Minneapolis” at heart.
“I grew up with him and all these cats in the music scene during that era. When you sat down and talked to him, he was still northeast side Minneapolis through and through. I think that’s a big part of why he always stayed home… He could still walk down the street and hang with his friends, or just stop at some of the local spots he knew he could frequent without it becoming a big spectacle. It was always home for him.”
The New Power Generation play the Enmore Theatre on Wednesday March 28. They are also playing at Byron Bay Bluesfest. For more Prince-related content, head over and read our study of the man’s fandom, here.