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When I think of a genius, I think of someone who is consumed by their craft. Money, fame, and popularity take a backseat. The love of putting good work together is the driving force of that genius’ profession. That’s the thought that goes through my mind when I think of his royal badness himself, Prince. Even as I write this only a few hours after the announcement of his passing, I’m in a state of disbelief. His work evolved so much through the times and he never looked like he aged a day. His loss cuts the musical universe as deep as Michael, Whitney, Luther, David, Glenn, John, and all the other legends who will never be duplicated.
My tribute to Prince is a personal one among many others you may be reading within the next few days. My first experience with the purple one was in the summer of 1989 when Tim Burton’s Batman ruled the world. It was truly the summer of the bat and Prince capitalized on the craze with his soundtrack for the film. His “Batdance” track played in constant rotation on MTV which I would stop to watch while channel surfing after school. For my 6th birthday, my parents got me the Batman soundtrack on cassette tape. I must have wore it out between my tape player at home and in my dad’s car. Sometimes I used songs like “The Future” and “Trust” to get myself pumped up for school in the morning.
Outside the Batman soundtrack, I was in the group of people who did not understand Prince. Throughout junior high, I often joked of his image, his unpronounceable sequel, and his bad movies like Graffiti Bridge. Much like the in the way the media focused on his legal issues with Warner Bros. Records, kids like me were too blind to see how important his music was because we were all caught up in the hard edged hip-hop sounds of Biggie, 2Pac, and Wu-Tang. We could not see how Prince helped to pave the way for those artists to push the musical boundaries that so few dared to do before the 80s.
Within my first year of high school, I grew tired of late 90s music and found myself turned on by the old school R&B sounds that I heard on 98.7 Kiss FM. A song called “I Want to Be Your Lover” was one of the tracks I dug. I had absolutely no clue it was recorded by Prince. I just loved the beat and in particular the long guitar solo at the end. Four years later when I attended college in Tallahassee, Florida, I went to a local Best Buy store to pick up a few CDs for my apartment and got his self-titled 1979 album. That was only the beginning. In Tallahassee Community College, I was working backstage at the school theater and one of the guys I befriended there was a huge Batman fan. He would have parties at his house after every show and we’d have long debates about the movies, comics, etc. He got me into Batman again so much that I went out and brought the Prince soundtrack on CD. The next thing you know, we were blasting “Batdance” at his parties all the time.
One weekend when I came home to visit family, Purple Rain happened to be on cable and I found myself glued to it. I’d seen bits and pieces of it over the years as well as the music videos whenever there was an 80s marathon on VH1 or BET. Seeing it as a whole, however, was a totally different experience. The music itself was unforgettable, but the performances stood out as well. Though Prince and Apollonia Kotero were not experienced actors, their romantic scenes came across more realistic than most romance films. Clarance Williams III’s chilling presence as Prince’s abusive father gave the film some gravitas and some difficult moments to juxtapose with the high tempo musical sequences. Then as soon as “Purple Rain” comes on, the whole world comes to a stop. Once I got the DVD, I would watch it once or twice a week for inspiration. At this point, I had become a major Prince fan.
In a short amount of time, I was racking up Prince’s hit albums and compilations CDs. Tracks like “Controversy,” “1999,” “Dirty Mind,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Sign o The Times,” and “I Would Die 4 U” became the soundtrack of my college life. Reading about his work ethic and ability to produce talents like The Time, Wendy and Lisa, and Vanity 6 influenced my filmmaking abilities. He took full control of writing, performing, and producing his music just as I had the ability to write, direct, act, and produce my own films. He did not half-ass a damn thing. He turned up the dial to 11 on all fronts. I’ll be honest in also saying that even his most sensual songs helped me build some confidence around women at clubs and college parties. Unpronounceable symbols and making fun at his dress style became a thing of the past. Now I appreciated Prince’s artistry in more ways than I did with Michael Jackson.
My Prince phase around 2003-2004 would ultimately build up to the release of the Musicology album and tour. Free from his legal troubles and back to using his name, Prince was relevant again as Purple Rain had its 20th anniversary of release. The title track alone was funky and hot. But the best treat of all was my dad taking me to see him live at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 2004. I remember the stage set up as a large cross so he could give all four walls of MSG a good look at his performance. It was a three hour experience with Prince and the New Power Generation that I’ll never forget. He opened with “Musicology,” sprinkled in sections of his biggest hits, performed an acoustic solo, and eventually ended the night with “Purple Rain”. Coming out the Garden that night was just like walking away from a memorable performance at Minneapolis’ First Avenue in 1984.
Though I did not go buying every new Prince album in the next few years, I still went crazy whenever his songs played at clubs or friends’ parties. I admired his Super Bowl performance in ’07 and I was more than happily surprised to see him make a quick cameo at a Stevie Wonder concert at MSG with my dad that same year. Watching Stevie was already heaven. But to see him and Prince perform “Superstition” together was pure ecstasy. That would be the last time I ever saw Prince live.
As legends like Michael and Whitney were being taken away from us too soon, I held this belief in my mind that Prince would stay around for a long time. He was timeless as well as ageless whenever he made an appearance. He still remained an enigma in the entertainment world and I held on to hope that I’d be able to meet the man if my career reached a certain level where I could be honored in his presence. Sadly today, that dream was taken away and all I have left are the memories he left behind at MSG in 2004 and 2007.
Today, Prince got through this thing called life and made his way to the after world where he can always see the sun, day, or night. He left behind sounds that influenced our daily lives. He taught us to live it up, be loving to others, be cool to yourself, and to never be afraid to be vulnerable. No one can ever match his work ethic in this generation. So while we’re on our own in this life, he’s up in the sky with Miles having one amazing jam session. But if there’s one thing he taught us about surviving life, it comes from the track “Let’s Go Crazy”:
“And if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy, punch a higher floor.”
Rest in power Prince Rogers Nelson.