The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
One of the perks of listening to any solid music project—in the case, Amerie’s double-disced 4AM EPs—is pinpointing possible influences. On the first of the EPs, 4AM Mulholland, that eureka moment of tracing back happens during the three-track stretch starting with “The Wall,” followed by the EP’s titular track, and ending with “A Heart’s For The Breaking.” It’s at the heavy dosage of electric guitar in “The Wall,” the concept of driving around to find love (with a hint of 80s new wave noir) on “Mulholland,” and the etherealness existing on “A Heart’s For The Breaking” that rings truest to the vibes of Prince’s Purple Rain.
As trap&B continues to evolve as mainstream pop’s current epicenter, the time seems right to acknowledge the eldest originator of that sound. Back in 2017, The-Dream acknowledged in an interview with Billboard how the slow grooves of the late Prince influenced his debut album, Love Hate. With songs aptly titled “Purple Kisses” and “Nikki,” The-Dream’s starting effort felt like the contemporary R&B’s answer to The Purple One’s magnum opus, Purple Rain. Through Love Hate, The-Dream templated some of the earliest sonics of trapped-out R&B as we hear it on radio today.
Delving into Amerie’s two recent releases, that energy of Prince lives on, reminding us of some other examples that could have also inspired. It’s at “The Wall” where an electric guitar showcases Prince’s greatest contribution to today’s R&B scene. The fourth track off Amerie’s EP, “The Wall” is very reminiscent of Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Both women are begging to have a conversation which will ultimately result in frustrations being taken out through intimacy. The electric guitar backboning both respective songs represent tension being combatted with passion. For Rihanna, that's "man, phuck yo pride" and asking "what are you willing to do?" For Amerie, that's "c'mon on let's talk for a minute."
“4AM Mulholland” follows the breeziness of Prince’s iconic “Purple Rain.” It glides. It zig-zags in fervent vocals that cry out for tranquility. It has an anthemic stadium energy behind it. When Amerie cries “all we got, all we got is right now,” you could possibly be transported back to how Prince captivates an audience with rockstar urgency.
Another interesting aspect to note, which Rashad Grove brings up in REVOLT TV’s review of the 4AM EPs, is how Amerie flexes her integral influence on early-2000s R&B. One component that’s always made her work standout is her vocal delivery. Her style is faint, a bit airy, and a whisper-sing. When looking back at Prince’s Purple Rain, one could fathom that he perfected this style of delivery influencing generations to come. On “Curious,” Amerie best matches how Prince executed his own whisper talk-sing during the opening verses of “Purple Rain.” This moment, of course, recalls the exaggerated delivery in her 2002 cut "Talkin' To Me."
It’s possible that on “A Heart’s For The Breaking,” Amerie is not necessarily tapping into the Prince arsenal but rather the operatic tones of Enya fused with hip-hop/R&B (akin to Beyoncé's work on Everything Is Love.) More so, the mood of this song actually embodies an etherealness that we hear on Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Although both songs discuss inevitable abandonment, there’s still a lightness and tranquility to accepting this as fact. That’s emphasized by synthesizers in both songs, where the keyboard chords are also scaling in frantic motion in both songs’ backgrounds. This emerging of the classiness of Enya’s style of music multiplied by the avant-attitude of Prince is what makes Amerie’s “A Heart’s For The Breaking,” 4AM’s unorthodox standout.
Through these EPs, there’s the concept of driving and searching for love when the chemistry is too intense. Amerie since the start of her career, has always been into the motif of cruising along a highway as a representation of how the thrill of the chase benefits (but also slows down) the progress of relationships. Whether that was through “Talkin’ To Me” and “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” from her 2002 debut All I Have, or 2009's "More Than Love," from her last studio album to date.
Looking at Prince’s high speed chase of Apollonia in the Purple Rain motion picture, this concept has lived on through much of today’s R&B. In fact, one could say that it’s heightened. And through that cat-and-mouse game between Prince and Apollonia, there’s a sense of sensual sexiness. On Amerie’s 4AM, there are a few cuts that match that type of feel, particularly “Don’t Say A Word” on the second EP, After 4AM. Even when she closes out with melancholy on the final track “Just Sayin’,” there’s still a bit of tempting and teasing while setting a plea in motion.
In an interview with Billboard about these projects, Amerie sort of confessed to having a certain type of synesthesia. She’s discussed the phenomenon of chromesthesia, where when you hear a sound, you experience a color. This is represented well in Prince’s Purple Rain where he tells listeners what color they should feel. Looking at Amerie’s juxtaposing album covers—one of a teal background and the other a hot pink—we can see how this applies to her musically, as well.
All of this is not to say that Amerie was wholly inspired by Prince’s Purple Rain only, or that it’s even a source of 4AM’s inspiration in the first place. However, it’s clear how his artistic genius lives on, and the signs are hard to ignore especially with what Amerie has recently delivered.
More by Da'Shan Smith: