Like many, I was shocked when I heard of Prince’s passing. Initially TMZ reported his death, and I, like many, was skeptical. Part of it was, I didn’t want it to be true – I was hoping it would be yet another ugly, yet silly hoax.
But Prince is gone. I was a huge fan of Prince’s music. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t played on my Walkman, Discman, and now my iPod. I loved the crazy harmony he found in blending dance, funk, rock, soul, and R&B. The Minneapolis sound is probably my favorite type of music – it was a glorious meet of technology and funk, studio wizardry and genuine musical prowess.
My introduction to Prince was hearing “Gett Off” on MTV when I was the ripe old age of 10. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: this was a beautiful man, with gorgeous doe eyes and a mane of black curls. I didn’t know what I was listening to (the lyrics were beyond me at the age of 10), but I knew I liked it…It reminded me of all the other kinds of music I listened to – he reminded me a lot of a male Janet Jackson (which made sense as Jackson’s music was created by Prince’s former bandmates, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – more on them in a bit). Like when I first heard/saw Madonna (the same year), I knew I was way too young to understand him, and it took a couple years before I really got him – and that was when I heard “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” It was a silky, sparkly number that sang the praises of all kinds of beauty. What I liked about the song was that Prince used his falsetto in the chorus – his voice was incredible: from a dark, deep bass to a passionate high falsetto.
As I got older, I started to appreciate what an incredible musician Prince was. He was always in command on his albums, a one-man band of sorts, able to jump and skip from one instrument to another. I appreciated the fantastic songs he wrote – the cryptic lyrics, the off-kilter beats, the synths. All of it.
Another thing I appreciated was his musical generosity. I am as big of a fan of Prince’s stable of proteges as I am of his own music: Eric Leeds, Vanity, Apollonia, Ingrid Chavez, Wendy & Lisa, Sheila E., Rosie Gaines, Janet Jackson, the Time, Patti LaBelle, Mavis Staples, Tevin Campbell, Jill Jones – they all were influenced by Prince, and made some fantastic music with him.
Earlier, David Bowie passed, and much was made about his play with gender and sexuality. Prince did that too. He played with androgyny, upending expectations of what a ladies man should look and sound like. His sexuality was never in question – no one really thought Prince was gay, even when he strutted across the stage in heels and mascara – but he nonetheless treated gender roles and gender performance as something to experiment with – and not take too seriously.
Thinking about Prince, I was trying to narrow down my favorite songs by the guy. “I Would Die 4 U,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Little Corvette” vie for that top spot. I like that they edge a bit toward dance music – I love the pulsating synth in “I Would Die 4 U.” I think those songs show Prince at his most creative, playing and pushing genre tropes and experimenting with sounds that he can create – seemingly out of thin air. A lot has been made of the perceptible dip in quality of his work in the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, but I was thrilled with his last batch of records. Sure, they weren’t 1999 or Purple Rain, but I think he was returning to a creative burst that would eventually bring him back to a place where he can produce a worthy successor to his classic work. Judging from his brilliant live performances in the past couple years, it was clear that creatively, Prince still had a lot left to show off.