On Thursday, April 21, 2016, music icon Prince was found unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park studios at the age of 57. A week prior to his death, Prince was having difficulties with his health including having the flu, which cause the Purple One to postpone an Atlanta concert for one week. That Atlanta concert would eventually be his last performance.
Similar to legends who’ve died before him: Luther Vandross, Rick James, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson, Prince was one of the faces of pop music in the 1980s. With hits such as “Purple Rain,” “Kiss”, “When Doves Cry,” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” Prince is one of the most influential artists of all times with everyone from Lenny Kravitz to D’Angelo to Miguel to newcomer Ro James have been inspired by him.
Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, Prince began his musical career at the age of 19 with his debut album, For You, in 1978. Four other albums followed, the self-titled Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999, respectively. However, it was the mega success of the movie and soundtrack Purple Rain that ushered Prince to icon status. Throughout his career, Prince would eventually sell millions of albums, win numerous awards, star in two other movies, and discover talent such as The Time, Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, Sheila E., and Carmen Electra(yes that Carmen Electra).
My introduction to Prince was in 1984. At the age of 3, I was obsessed with the Purple Rain soundtrack, specifically “When Doves Cry.” I remember my dad ordering the cassette tape from Columbia House(remember them?) and seeing that album displayed at all my uncles, aunts, and babysitters’ homes. Even before going to Sunday School, I had to hear “When Doves Cry.” Thankfully, the adults in my life began to educate me on Prince’s music prior to Purple Rain.
Back then, every household did not have cable, a computer, or had no idea what the hell the Internet does. All I had was my relatives’ albums, including the 12-inch and the small 45 singles, and the record player. That’s how I discovered the Dirty Mind and Controversy albums. As a kid, I was intrigued by this man wearing make up, coiffed hair, and wearing black bikini draws. Even then, I knew I was going to be different from the rest of the boys.
Prince’s marriage of masculinity and femininity intrigued me. The 80s was filled with androgynous images including the masculinity of Grace Jones and Annie Lennox. Prince wore make up, lace outfits, and high heels. He was the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, even at the age of four.
Cut to my freshman year of college. I was reintroduced to classic Prince by the way of The Rose Supper Club. The Rose was a popular two level death trap of a nightclub in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama and was in walking distance of Alabama State University. Every Tuesday, all the college students and locals filled that death trap, sipping on 30oz cups of Blue Muthafuckas, and dancing to the hottest music in the city.
Somewhere in between Juvenile’s “Bak Dat Azz Up” and someone taking Three Six Mafia seriously and literally tearing the club up, the DJ would put on a 15 minute old school set. The bassline of Vanity Six’s “Nasty Girl” would summon all the girls(and undercover gays) to the dance floor, blended with “Erotic City,” one of my fave Prince track. It was something about “Erotic City” that had me grinding my hips and doing Prince-esque gyrations to the beat on the nearest speaker.
Besides the music and the artistry, I have always admired Prince’s self-expression. Prince gave no fucks about what anyone thought of his music or image. He was going to do Prince regardless. He didn’t allow people to put him in a box or label him to make themselves feel comfortable.
Prince represented for all those little boys who have always been told they were, “different,” or “had too much sugar in their tank.” Those boys, like myself, whose masculinity is always being questioned, their sexuality being labeled, or made to feel inferior for wanting to color outside of the lines.
Prince showed the world that black masculinity isn’t cookie cutter; it comes in all expressions. Black masculinity isn’t all about being the most thuggish nigga on the planet, it can also be expressed by bridging the gap of what is considered masculine and feminine. The new generation has the likes of Miguel, Odell Beckham Jr, Jaden Smith, Frank Ocean, and Young Thug to be inspired by. My generation had Prince and Michael Jackson as inspirations.
Regrettably, I’ve never been to a Prince concert nor will I ever have the chance. However, his music and legacy flows through my creative bones. Thanks to Prince, I’ve learned to embrace my sensuality and sexuality, be comfortable in my own skin, and most importantly, always think outside the box.
Prince, thank you for giving the world your artistry. Thanks for blessing us with nonstop party anthems, sensual slows jams, and your political commentary. Thank you for inspiring creative introverts everywhere who express themselves with their talent. Thank you for inspiring little boys like myself for being comfortable with embracing their individuality and not allowing people to put you inside a box. Although you’re no longer on this Earth, your music, legacy, and inspiration will continue to live on. You will be miss and I love you. Jimmie.