And just like that, 2016 deals another blow to the global music community. The world watched in confusion as reports flooded the internet about a death at Prince’s Paisley Park compound, unclear as to whether or not the body found was indeed the beloved pop/soul/funk/R&B icon. Hours later, police confirmed the horrifying truth: The reign of Prince has ended. Causes are still unclear, but that’s almost beside the fact. On the heels of one devastating loss (David Bowie), came another, and fans are left reeling.
Prince Rogers Nelson came to fame in 1977 at the age of 18, when he signed a six-figure recording contract with Warner Bros. — at the time one of the largest contracts ever signed by a new act. Throughout his career he remained a stupefying enigma of personality and ridiculous multi-instrumental talent with alien music sensibilities that sent the world into a frenzy due to both his titillating performances and his substantially sensual lyrical content. At 5’2 with a beautiful, feminine face, he was given to wearing platform shoes and flashy clothes while shredding on crazy, sculptural guitars that were as loud as his outfits.
Over nearly forty years, Prince delivered consistently amazing music that defied genre and gender boundaries. He flipped the script with his female alter-ego Camille in ‘If I was Your Girlfriend’, described the escape from a tumultuous home life into the safe embrace of music in ‘Purple Rain’, infuriated the public with ‘Darling Nikki’, climbed the dance charts with ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, and the list of his musical accomplishments and ripostes goes on for ages.
Prince was also a web of contradictions: he was both flamboyant and a devout Jehovah’s Witness, an enormous personality on stage and a homebody recluse, a world-renown pop star who carefully guarded and prevented his release of music and videos online, and a brilliantly spoken orator who preferred to spell words like “you” in the childlike fashion of “u”.
Unbelievable legends of Prince abound. In Questlove’s book ‘Mo Metta Blues’, he recalls a bizarre and hilarious evening when he was invited out of the blue to roller skate with Prince:
When I got back, Prince had the briefcase out on the floor. He clicked the lock and opened it, and took out the strangest, most singular pair of roller skates I had ever seen. They were clear skates that lit up, and the wheels sent a multicolored spark trail into your path. He took them out and did a big lap around the rink. Man. He could skate like he could sing.
After news of Prince’s death, Talib Kweli took to Twitter to describe a time when he was at a club with Prince and how Prince “kicked all the dudes out, it was just us and the women. Then he read from the Bible.” On The Chappelle Show, Dave Chappelle hilariously reenacted a time he was called to the Paisley Park compound for a game of basketball with Prince, after which Prince made him pancakes. His impersonation later led to Prince’s ingenious use of Dave-dressed-up-as-Prince on the cover for ‘Breakfast Can Wait’. “That’s a Prince judo move right there,” Chappelle shared on an episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “You make fun of Prince in a sketch and he’ll just use you in his album cover. What am I going to do — sue him for using a picture of me dressed up like him? That’s checkmate right there.”
Another legacy Prince left behind was one of style. As a fashion icon, Prince influenced culture for four decades with his androgynous glamour. Not only did major celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, Lady Gaga, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Janelle Monae, and many others pay respects to his style by imitating it in their own wardrobes, but over the past four decades, millions of young people took up the banner of Prince fashion by donning fringed pants, platforms, and metallic brocade suits. The fashion industry itself praised and lauded his brave sartorial dandyism by including homages to him in their collections. Most recently, Peter Dundas paid tribute to Prince with purple velvet pant suits for Roberto Cavalli Fall/Winter 2016.
In addition to music and style, Prince was also known for his support of women. He put Sheila E. on the map by collaborating with her on his groundbreaking album “Purple Rain”. Other muses and musical collaborators included Vanity – who fronted his all-girl band Vanity 6 – and Apollonia who later replaced Vanity, leading to a rename of the band to Apollonia 6. In the past few years leading up to his death, Prince worked with another all-girl band called Third Eye Girl, and they released astonishing albums that were recorded entirely analog in studio.
Unlike the death of Bowie, which Bowie himself foresaw and prepared for by giving his fans the parting gift of his last album, ‘Black Star’, there was no way to prepare for Prince’s death. It was a shock and surprise to us all, especially since he passed away at the young age of 57. There was no final album preparation or clandestine farewell. One day he was at Paisley Park hosting a dance party, and the next he was found lifeless in an elevator. However, when we reflect on the tremendous amount of creativity he poured into the world through his talent and his clothes and his singularity, we must ask: what would Prince want to be remembered for the most? Long ago, in an interview with Oprah in 1996, he provided the answer: “The music.” That is one thing Prince gave the world that is guaranteed to outlive us all.