Text by Dawoud Kringle
There was almost nothing that could have prepared us for the news, when, on Thursday, April 21st, 2016, the news of the death of Prince was announced. At a time when he was riding the wave of yet another rise of success, suddenly it all ended.
Prince was one of those unique artists who defined himself and did his thing by his own standards. Standing on the artistic shoulders of giants like James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, and others, he funneled these influences into his own blend, reshaping it in a form of his own choosing.
Never one to shun controversy (even writing a song called “Controversy”), he rose to fame in the 80’s on a wave of funky dance beats, histrionic vocals, unapologetic theatrics, and sexual androgyny, he shook up the world of popular music. For years he was at the top of all games. His albums and movies were selling like hot cakes, his concert tours sold out. Until the day he died, he proved himself to be a master performer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist, singer, and producer.
Then, he severed ties with his record company Warner Brothers. Changing his name to “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince,” and adopting a symbol of his own design as a trademark, he essentially went to war with the whole music industry. And won. It is an important point that he was a pioneering music activist. His approach to business was just as innovative and iconoclastic as his music, and in pursuing this path, he proved that the corporate entities that seek the ruin of the artist are not as powerful and insurmountable as they would have us believe. Prince always called out the music industry on its corruption, and advocated for musician’s rights.
For years, he released his music independently: a pioneer of the DIY ethic. And while the output during this time never abandoned his funk, R&B roots, he took it into directions others would have had difficulty doing. Few people are aware that Prince had a working knowledge of jazz; but it’s to be found in his music, for those who can hear it. He was never one to allow himself to be confined to any one definition as an artist.
In recent years, his fame began to rise once more, his audience expanding into a new generation. Like his glory days in the 80s and 90s, he would effortlessly stride from one triumph to another. Yet, here was a more refined Prince; still flamboyant and controversial, but this time older, wiser, tempered by a political, social, and spiritual consciousness his early work only hinted at, yet drove toward with an inexorable force. The promise of more brilliance to come was clearly to be seen.
And suddenly, he was called home.
I must confess that the news of his death not only shocked me, but left me with a profound sadness. I know I’m not alone in this; most of you who are reading this felt the same. In any society, the artist exists to articulate what most people cannot, to give voice to our own life, to put a name on our feelings and inner spirit, and to exalt and ennoble the very human urge to stand up and cry “I Exist!” Prince knew this was his job. He did his job, and did it well.
Rest in Power, Prince. We shall meet on the other side.
Video: Prince Performs “Purple Rain” During Downpour | Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show | NFL: https://youtu.be/7NN3gsSf-Ys