Throughout his life Prince never let societal norms dictated his actions, and this attitude plays a large role in the progression of his musical career. Prince broke molds pertaining to creative content, artist control, and masculinity (sexuality/ gender roles), thus paving the way for generations to come to do the same. Prince Rogers Nelson plays a pivotal role in the evolution of various genres in African American music.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to parents John Nelson and Mattie Shaw. Both of his parents were musicians, his father was a pianist and songwriter and his mother was a jazz singer. Prince was named from his father’s band the “Prince Rogers Trio,” when asked about it in an interviewed in 1991 his father said, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.” In an interview in 2009, Prince admitted to Tavis Smiley that he was epileptic as a child and that earlier in his career he “tried to compensate by being as flashy and as noisy as I could.” Prince wrote his first song at the age of seven on his father’s piano titled “Funk Machine.” When Prince was ten his parents divorced, after that he spent a period bouncing around from house to house before finally moving in with his neighbors the Andersons, where he met André Anderson also known as André Cymone. In high school, Prince played football, baseball, and basketball. In high school, he also formed his first bands Grand Central, later called Champagne, along with André Anderson and Morris Day. As an adult Prince continued to play basketball recreationally, which provided the basis for famous Dave Chapelle skit. His music was influenced by Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and Jimi Hendrix.
There are two types of celebrities; ones that live their lives in the tabloids and ones that try to keep their personal lives as private as possible. Prince was part of the lather, he kept and the people closest to him kept his personal matters under lock and key. Those who have met Prince speak on his need for control of all things around him. Prince was able to succeed in staying out of the tabloids by mainly confining himself to Paisley Park, which is a compound he built in his home state of Minnesota in 1985. Prince was married twice, he married backup singer and dancer Mayte Garcia on Valentine’s Day 1996. The two had a son on October 16, 1996, and died a week later due to a rare genetic disorder. Their marriage was annulled in 1999 and their divorce was finalized in 2000. Prince married Manuela Testolini in 2001 and the couple divorced in 2006. Also in 2001, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness after studying the faith for many years.
In March 2016, Prince announces he was working on a memoir titled The Beautiful Ones. When speaking about the memoir he said, “This is my first (book). My brother Dan is helping me with it. He’s a good critic and that’s what I need. He’s not a ‘yes’ man at all and he’s really helping me get through this. We’re starting from the beginning from my first memory and hopefully, we can go all the way up to the Super Bowl.” On April 22, 2016, Prince was found dead in Paisley Park, a week after his plane made an emergency landing and he always hospitalized due to a severe case of the flu. His cause of death was determined to be “an accidental overdose of “self-administered” fentanyl, a synthetic opiate.” His remains were cremated and a small private funeral was held on April 23. In addition to his funeral, many fans and other celebrities took to social media to commemorate his life and mourn the loss of Prince. In October 2016, Paisley Park became open to the public and is now a museum. In November 2016 his first posthumous song was released titled “Moonbeam Levels.” A documentary about the Prince’s rise to fame, titled Prince: R U Listening? is set to be released in 2017. The documentary will feature interviews with friends, family, and admirers of Prince.
Merriam-Webster defines a genius as “extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity.” Prince Rogers Nelson matched that definition perfectly, as an artist and creative being many cannot begin to compare to his talents. Prince’s genius manifested in a number of ways. Overall being his ability to successfully master a number of aspects in the music industry. When asked about his debut album “For You…” released at age 20, Prince stated he played every instrument included in all the tracks, which summed to 27 in total. His creative mind did not stop there if a Prince song was randomly selected there is a 99% chance that the credits say “Written by Prince.” In addition to writing his own songs, Prince also wrote for many other artists spanning a number of genres. One of his credits for other artist include; “I Feel for You” by Chaka Khan, “Kiss” By Tom Jones, “Manic Monday” by The Bangles, “How Come You Don’t Call? me Anymore” by Alicia Keys, “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, and the chart-topper “Nothing Compares 2U” by Sinead O’Connor.
In addition to his on-screen productions, Prince’s live performances were also a well calculate event. In many of his performances, he can be seen playing one of his guitars. Prince’s most memorable live performance was the 2007 NFL Super Bowl halftime show where he managed to deliver a stunning performance all while performing in a heavy downpour.
As stated earlier, Prince is also known for his talents as a writer, these talents sometimes got him in trouble when he took it a little too far with the sexual references. From his first solo recording “Soft and Wet,” which from the suggestion of Chris Moon a local producer, implied naughty sexuality by combining “highly suggestive words, but not too explicit language” in order to avoid radio sensor ship. That idea resulted in lyrics like “You’re just as wet as the evening rain.” The song “Darling Nikki” off of the Purple Rain soundtrack actually led to the parent advisory label on albums, after Tipper Gore wife of Senator Al Gore felt it was inappropriate for children due to the lyrics “A sex fiend… masturbating with a magazine.” Prince is also responsible for lyrics like “I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long, make you shout,” and “Everybody grab a body pump it like you want somebody gett off (gett off).” He also pinned more expect songs like “Head” from his Dirty Mind album “Jack U Off” from Controversy, and “Cream” from Diamonds and Pearls. He also showcased his more sensitive side in songs like “If I Were Your Girlfriend,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Adore,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and “Purple Rain. Some of his other songs also include religious references and references to the afterlife.
Prince’s whole life is centered around control, this need for control sank into his outward identity. Prince created his own definition of masculinity by combining an androgynous style with a sensual and overtly sexual love for women. Prince was not a big man, standing at only 5 foot 2 inches, however, he carried a large presence. His clothes were flashy, his hair was perfect, his shoes were healed, his eyeliner was crisp. Prince’s wardrobe included feather boas, blouses, lace, polka dotted jumpers, sequins suits, capes, and even stylish canes after he started having trouble with his knees. He also had an extensive guitar collection that accented his wardrobe. Two of his most shocking wardrobe choices include performing at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards with the New Power Generation in a bright yellow lace suit with see-through material on the butt and performing on many occasions in just thigh-high boots and his underwear.
Purple Rain is a movie, an album, and a song, all of which solidify Prince’s place as a creative genius. Purple Rain, the movie, is known as an “American rock drama film,” written by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn. The film follows The Kid (played by Prince) who is the lead singer for a local Minneapolis band and his struggles musically and in life. The goal of the movie was to showcase Prince’s musical talents and contains a number of concert scenes. Prince came up with the idea for the film during his 1999 tour. The film originally had a darker plot, but it was drastically revised before the final production. Many fans believe the film is a loose biography of Prince’s life. The film grossed $80 million worldwide, with only a $7.2 million production budget. Purple Rain was the last film to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.
Purple Rain, the album, was Prince’s sixth studio album and his first album with The Revolution. It also acts as the soundtrack for the movie, however, it does not include all of the songs that appeared in the film. The album was certified thirteen-times platinum (diamond) by the RIAA and sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The album is one of the highest selling soundtracks of all times and is regularly ranked as one the greatest albums of all time. All songs were written by Prince, with some including input from other band members. Five singles were released from the album, “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U,” and “Take Me with U.” Purple Rain won two Grammy’s for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, and receive a nomination for Album of the Year. Purple Rain spent 24 consecutive weeks at number 1 on the Billboard’s top album chart.
“Purple Rain”, the song, is arguably Prince’s most recognizable song, however, it never reached number 1 on the Billboard charts. The song was the third single off of the album. When working in the movie it was suggested that the song was the climactic production the film needed, Prince said if that was true then the movie should have the same name. The song was recorded on August 3, 1983, during a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. The performance was guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s live debut with The Revolution. The song is symbolic of judgment day. When asked about the meaning of the song Prince explained, “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” The song has been covered and sampled by numerous artist.
One of the most important features of Prince’s legacy was his demand for artist control. With Prince being as expression as he was, it was important to him that he had complete control on the kind of music that was released and the time that it was released. In fact, he had to fight for this kind of control. At the peak of his career, Prince was making music at a faster rate than his record label was willing to release. The dispute was never settled, but the Warner Brothers owned the name stage name Prince and any music affiliated with the stage name Prince.
Prince compared his contractual obligations to slavery and began performing with the word “SLAVE” on his cheek, as a way to rebel against his label. He felt that anything that was produced under the name Prince would promote the Warner Brothers. To counteract this, Prince changed his name in 1993. He no longer produced music under his name but instead produced music under a collection of different names. These names include Camille, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, The Artist, Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, Tora Tora, Alexander Nevermind, and Christopher Tracy. His most popular pseudonyms wasn’t actually a name, but a symbol. Prince began releasing music under what is a “Love Symbol” which is a mashup of the gender symbols of a man and a woman. Consequently, the use of these pseudonyms aided in the decline in music sales, but what was important to Prince was that he was standing for his truth and his creative authority. In 2000, his contract with the Warner Bros expired. He started his own label and went back to releasing music in his name.
The rise of the internet changes the dynamic of music sales and consumption. Most artists and labels adapted to the change in time, Prince, however, was not one of them. Although, Prince was one of the first artists to sell an album online and created a subscription-based club allowing subscribers to listen to unreleased tracks. Prince grew to dislike it because he felt it robs artists. Prince once tweeted “Essentially, streaming has offered labels the ability to pay themselves twice while reducing what is owed to artists…” In 2014, he launched a large copyright lawsuit, subsequently forcing YouTube to remove a video if a baby dancing with “Let’s Go Crazy” playing in the background. He also filed a $22-million lawsuit against bloggers who posted unauthorized recordings of his concerts. Thus, resulting in most traces of his music being removed from the internet. Eventually, he allows the use of his music on Tidal, the artist owned music streaming platform which he felt gave artists the control of their music that they deserved.
From childhood, Prince Rogers Nelson proved that he had the musical genius need to live up to such a spectacular name. He taught himself to play multiple instruments and was never afraid to take risks even when others were. Prince took great pride in all the work he did, this gave him the need to control everything pertaining to his music. He made it his personal responsibility to have a hand in writing, production, and distribution of his music. When he felt that his voice was not being heard he did not sit quietly, he made noise and let the world know that he was not happy. Prince also redefined masculinity, by juxtaposing a feminine appearance with overtly sexual lyrics about women. Starting from his first solo production his lyrical content oozed sex and sensuality, all while still maintaining a high level of respect for the subject in question. Prince proves to the world that you can love women, sports, heels, and eyeliner all at the same time. He also did not limit himself to one genre or writing for one gender. Prince stands as an example for the next generation that all of your dreams can come true once you stand in your truth.
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Copyright 2017 Kaila Crosse
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