Prince, the most magical pop musician and one of the most endearing and entertaining humans, has died. Living in a world without Michael Jackson, David Bowie, John Lennon and Elvis Presley makes a solid 99% of all other music feel hollow and empty. Thankfully, it’s in Prince’s legacy as a man who redefined everything we know about all things, that we figure out how music survives, fun rekindles itself and in lieu of Prince not quite doing so, how we can all live forever.
The color most often associated with Prince is purple, which Wikipedia says is “most often associated with royalty, magic, mystery, and piety, and [w]hen combined with pink, is associated with eroticism, femininity, and seduction.” In contemplating the fullness of Prince’s 57 years of life which encompassed a four-decade musical career these seven words are a fantastic encapsulation of his excellence.
The magic of Prince actually isn’t very “magical” at all. His “magic” was in his ability to consciously defy definition and stereotyping, forcing the world to stare at it’s frailties and flaws by using honest and simple methods. His 1982 single “Controversy” includes the lyrics “am I black or white, am I straight or gay,” and “do I believe in god, do I believe in me.” If Prince had released no other song than “Controversy,” he would be one of the most brilliant musicians that ever lived.
However, it’s the fact that he didn’t that made him music royalty. Prince’s 39 studio albums, 50-plus global top 10 singles and likely 50 million unreleased B-sides that are similar to “Controversy” force people to (a) consider and then (b) love a side of life and a unique prism of socio-emotional expression that they may never have wanted to consider as honest, legitimate or decent. Which makes him easily able to share the throne with Michael Jackson as the “King of Pop.”
Oh yes, and we can’t get too deep into this without discussing that Prince was unquestionably the most erotic, feminine and seductive man popularized by MTV. The effect that had on his music certainly changed me, and I’m sure it changed you, too.
Yes, Prince sang a song called “Erotic City,” wrote and sang songs about all manner of seduction from whips, chains and cages to basic foreplay before making love, while wearing women’s six-inch stiletto heels onstage. But it was in Prince’s expression always feeling honest as to why he was wearing these things and singing these words that allowed us to fervently believe that he was his best self as a hyper-sexualized superhero. For some men, wearing pumps while standing in a cage is a unique way to inspire an orgasm. For Prince, it was a surefire way to create the energy that could inspire a world of music fanatics to have orgasmic experiences that could positively transform their bodies and souls.
Prince was also mysterious. One of comedian Dave Chappelle’s greatest moments as a comic may have come on his Comedy Central sketch comedy show when Eddie Murphy’s brother Charlie pulled back the curtain on Prince’s secrecy a bit in telling a story about a basketball game. Prince, by all accounts was a pretty solid high school athlete, and his team of men wearing blouses defeated Murphy and friends in shirts. Prince was famously shrouded in secrecy, so much so that his recent decision to engage in social media sparked incredible excitement. Prior to social media, it’s in moments like these being displayed and having to be taken as true, that the blend of magic and mystery that made Prince, well, Prince on display.
Prince’s pious reverence to the best of musical sounds of the past, present and future also can’t be forgotten for it’s actually the backbone of his sonic excellence. In never being solely defined by any one genre of music, Prince continuously found ways to honor groundbreaking musical movements by routinely making seemingly impossible musical combinations feel commonplace. Most impressively, his hottest top-40 era from 1984-1994 saw Prince meld Jimi Hendrix, Detroit techno, soul and gospel into the soundtrack of the iconic Purple Rain, and dabble into Sgt. Pepper era Beatles and new wave on its follow up release Around The World In A Day. As raves became commonplace in Europe, Prince brought a heaping spoonful of happy hardcore into 1989’s Batman film soundtrack, and by the time rap had surged to the forefront in the early 90s, his James Brown-meets-Sly Stone funk-styled band the New Power Generation located the timeless soul that powered hip-hop culture and uniquely owned it as their own.
But that might not be enough to define why Prince’s pious reverence of history is important. Yes, on “Controversy” he questioned people who questioned if he was “black” enough as an artist blending soul, rock, glam and pop, but when he felt creatively stifled by Warner Bros. Records in 1993 and began to appear with the word “slave” scrawled on his right cheek and changing his name as an artist to an unpronounceable symbol Prince masterfully assumed his rightful role as a groundbreaking, and specifically, black artist.
As aforementioned, Prince was a prolific creative force, and released 14 albums in 14 years for Warner Bros. since signing with the label for his 1978 debut. By 1993, Prince felt that the label wanted to limit his artistic freedom by asking for more sporadic releases. Instead, in replying through being a black musician peacefully walking around in the world with “slave” inscribed on his face and insisting on being referred to by name that couldn’t be spoken, it was a savvy move that said everything while Prince needn’t say a word. By 1998, Prince was “emancipated” from Warner Bros. Records.
In the year 2016, Prince died. Considering what’s actually happening in the world right now, we truly see how amazing he truly was. Consider that 1976 men’s Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner has successfully transitioned into being Caitlyn, Kanye West is currently re-mastering and perpetually re-crafting an album that only exists in cyberspace, Kendrick Lamar released a rap album that sounds like a free jazz and pop-funk collection, and Skrillex is a former screamo pop sensation who makes dance music that sounds like synth-laden dub reggae or swinging R & B. In 57 years, largely without the immediacy of the digital age, Prince either created or embodied what it took four talented and empowered people nearly three times as much time to physically accomplish.
Royal. Magical. Mysterious. Pious. Erotic. Feminine. Seductive.
Prince was indeed everything. In honoring what made him great, we all — be it black, white, straight, gay or otherwise — learn via the “purple” virtues of The Purple One’s life, and how to live forever.