Prince DJae: A New Spirit for Traditional R&B 

When Prince DJae had his first onstage experience, it was in church, where crowds flocked to the kid with the big voice and showy moves. In high school, he formed the R&B group, Image IV, an ensemble styled after chart-toppers New Edition, Boys II Men, and B2K. In 2006, Prince DJae struck out on his own. Today, he's part of a Memphis R&B resurgence that includes Tonya Dyson, C'beyohn Sharp, and Cameron Bethany in its ranks.

Prince DJae, who performs at Height Lounge & Events this Friday, was born and raised in the Westwood community, but today he lives in southeast Memphis. "I was never 'in' the streets, but I knew about them," he says. "Westwood humbled me into not being an uppity kind of guy. Now I can step outside the door, toss a penny, and it'll land in Olive Branch."

click to enlarge Prince DJae
  • Prince DJae

While living in the suburbs has its privileges, Prince DJae acknowledges that despite all the talent that exists in Memphis, the city is sadly lacking in music business infrastructure — an issue that led Roney Strong and Rakeem Sprinkle to relocate to Atlanta before they assembled their R&B powerhouse group Bluff City, an irony that's not lost on local players.

"It's not easy in Memphis at all, for the simple fact that there are really no platforms here for what I do," Prince DJae says. "People here get caught up in cover songs, thinking that's the best platform for local R&B singers. Well, I don't perform covers. And when people in Memphis talk about original artists, they really only refer to rap."

Through perseverance, he's found success: K97 has been playing his singles, all of which are produced by his brother, music producer Bukoh. He's just dropped a new song, a ballad called "With You," which follows the bouncy "You Know," New Jack Swing-inspired numbers like "Fireplace" and "Perfect Day," and "Hands," which is a shoo-in for inclusion on a strip club mix tape. He's also a favorite on the club circuit, popping up at events like the most recent iteration of Stephanie Chamber's popular monthly music showcase, Dope on Arrival.

"I'm about feel-good music," Prince DJae says. "I really like to listen to artists like Marvin Gaye, Frankie Beverly, and Al Green. I'm inspired by older artists who came out with original material. At the same time, I watch younger people like Bruno Mars who are not just sitting down with a pen and a pad — they're creative, whatever they're doing."

Between music gigs, Prince DJae shoots videos and stars in stage plays under the moniker of Bipolar Chris, a character he invented who's taken on a life of his own. Last month, Bipolar Chris made a memorable appearance in a reprise of local playwright Brandon McMillon's Loving Mr. Wrong, staged at the Buckman Performing Arts Center.

"Bipolar Chris says what's on his mind. He has fun. Chris wears a wig, an afro, and when I put that hair on, it's almost like a mask. Prince DJae is a little more reserved. He's not in your face, but he's the quietest, biggest personality in the room. Recording and singing, that's acting, too. Getting into a song is getting into character.

"I love to entertain — it's my job," he says. "If I'm in a scene, or I'm onstage singing for 45 minutes, by the end of it, we're going to be cool. It's like chess — I'm really big on production, and I know how to make my moves."

Right now, those moves include a trip to New York, where he'll perform as Bipolar Chris in June. Later this spring, Loving Mr. Wrong will travel the regional theater circuit, stopping in Huntsville, Alabama, and other cities. When the wig comes off, Prince DJae will "continue to apply pressure" via concerts and a carefully orchestrated release schedule.

Rated R Live R&B Concert with Rich Josh, TL Da Lova, Nesha Deshaun, Dwayne Harrell, and Prince DJae, Friday, April 26 at 8 p.m. The Height Lounge & Events 1482 E. Shelby Drive; $15/$100 per table.

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