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Who the hell was Prince?

Who the hell was Prince?

By: Lauren Napier

With a musical resume that suggests royalty and a moniker that declares it, Prince was equal parts musical mystic and musical reality.  His childhood was steeped in the Minneapolis jazz scene: his mother the lead vocalist of his father’s band. These early introductions to music wove themselves throughout his artistic career as he continually developed his intoxicating blend of funk, dance beats, and rock n roll.

With a musical resume that suggests royalty and a moniker that declares it, Prince was equal parts musical mystic and musical reality.  His childhood was steeped in the Minneapolis jazz scene: his mother the lead vocalist of his father’s band. These early introductions to music wove themselves throughout his artistic career as he continually developed his intoxicating blend of funk, dance beats, and rock n roll.

 

Prince began his foray into the music business at a young age. Not only did he release his first album (For You, 1978) at the age of 19, he also recorded nearly all of the instruments on it. A thread of hands-on involvement that would continue throughout his relationship with Warner Brothers after signing with them at twenty-one; Prince produced his own records since the inception of the relationship and was made vice president of the company in 1992.

 

Not one to fade into the background, Prince’s third album, Dirty Mind, helped to cement a sensual image of the pop star in the public mind; in particular, he crooned about incest and oral sex to smooth and funky tracks. Forever to inform his wardrobe choices and growing fame, the somewhat autobiographical Purple Rain soundtrack and movie duo was released in 1984 alongside other noteworthy titles including Madonna’s Like a Virgin and David Bowie’s Tonight. The album 1999 solidified Prince as a household name with ten Top 10 singles including the title track and “Little Red Corvette”.  Scintillating and timeless, Prince was - and still is - perfect fodder for fans and press alike. As if releasing hit albums was simply not enough to keep his name in the papers, the artist also legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, paraded his flamboyant nature both on and off the stage, and caused people to reconsider their rigid definitions of gender.

 

The artist was never able to stay out of the studio or off of the road for long. He once retired from live performance in 1985, but was back on stage two years later.  1986 saw the release of a second movie and soundtrack pair, Under The Moon, which featured the song “Kiss”, the very song that Julia Robert's prostitute protagonist sings in the bathtub in Pretty Woman. In the same year, the song “Manic Monday”, which Prince wrote for The Bangles reached #2 in the US and UK. His secret release, The Black Album, in 1987, was one of the most bootlegged LPs in history and was not released simply due to his sudden change of mind. His mainstream appeal and artistic eccentricities balanced to create an iconic pop star. 

 

Thirty-seven LPs later and with a musical timeline whose reverberations rival the sustain of a Gibson Les Paul, Prince died a month after announcing plans to write his memoir.