Wednesday, April 27, 2016

R.I.P. Prince (1958-2016)

On April 21, 2016 musician and actor Prince died of influenza at the age of 57 at his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was a man of many talents and over a career spanning more than 40 years, he became well known for his prolific output and ability to blend musical styles while singing sexually charged music. His flamboyant style and androgynous features helped to make him one of the most distinct and successful musicians of all time, earning more than 100 million record sales worldwide. While his later career featured various lawsuits that even included him changing his name to a symbol and "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince," he remained just as vital, refusing to give up on his artistic passions. He leaves behind an exhaustive body of work and a career unlike any other. 

Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958 to two musician parents. His father John Lewis Nelson gave his son the name after his own band Prince Rogers Trio. claiming that it was meant to give his son everything he never could achieve. By the age of seven, he wrote his first song "Funk Machine" on his father's piano. His musical talents continued to flourish and joined bands throughout his early youth. His first was Grand Central, which he formed in 1973 and would feature future collaborator Morris Day on drums at one point. By 1975, he was writing and recording music with 94 East. At the age of 18, he signed a contract with Warner Bros. and started his own solo career with "For You." It didn't take long for him to gain popularity, as his next album "Prince" went platinum.

By 1980, he was a genuine success. This was in part to his ability to mix funk and pop with other styles. It was also because his music was becoming more sexually suggestive. With "Dirty Mind," he challenged societal norms and began to make the type of music that would become his identity. While opening on tours for Rick James, he received controversy for his lyrical content. By then, his identity was forged and he began releasing music in his shorthand, replacing letters with numbers and words like "You" with "U." He was even coy, choosing to name his albums suggestively and playfully, such as 1981's "Controversy." Along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," Prince's "Little Red Corvette" became one of the first music videos by a black musician to appear on MTV. 

Between Grammy nominations and renaming his band The Revolution, Warner Bros. insisted on Prince making a movie. Despite the success of his records, there was a limitation to the accessibility. As a result, 1984 brought about Purple Rain. It became a huge hit with the soundtrack selling over 13 million and Prince's status solidified. While his subsequent films (From Under the Cherry Moon) wouldn't be as successful, his work in Purple Rain remains some of his most memorable work, even earning him two Grammys as well as the Best Original Song Score Oscar that year. What remains baffling is that despite the film's huge success, the Billboard-topping songs "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" failed to earn him additional Oscar nominations. 

In typical fashion, Prince won the award while draped in a sparkling purple outfit escorted by two women. His speech was humble and began with acknowledging of the other people on stage. Despite his peculiar appearance, there's little that's particularly memorable about his speech, though it embodied everything that made him singular. He was flamboyant yet quiet. He also was very loving and supportive of women in the industry, which became one of his most renowned acts. To top off a year that saw dominate every awards show, he became the central focus of controversy yet again when Tipper Gore heard her 11-year-old child listening to "Darling Nikki": a song that begins by suggesting that she was a sex fiend. It lead to the formation of the Parental Music Resource Center, which Gore created to make sure explicit music didn't get into impressionable children's hands. This would eventually lead to the now used "Parental Advisory" sticker.

Prince never slowed down. If anything, he sped up. His music remained just as provocative as usual and saw him finding new issues with his career. When growing tired of his career with Warner Bros., Prince formed a new identity in an unpronounceable symbol (referred to as "Love Symbol") as well as taking on the moniker "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince." Between 1994 and 1996, he released five records. This was solely to get out of his contract and sign over to Arista Records in 1998. By 2000, he dropped all of the new identities and went back to his shorter, simpler name of Prince.

Since 2000, he released 16 albums. It was also a period where he had controversy not over his music, but with the general public's use of it. In 2007, he notoriously sued YouTube to take down a home video using "Let's Go Crazy" due to copyright infringement. This would become the norm for him, as most of his recorded music doesn't appear on social media services. When they do, they're often taken down quickly. It got so bad that he once performed at Coachella and performed a cover of Radiohead's "Creep" and demanded that YouTube remove it. Radiohead, under suggestion that it was their song, won and had it put back up. While Prince would release content digitally, including his final album "HITnRUN Phase Two" on Tidal, his relationship with the changing culture wasn't easygoing. He also failed to have all unauthorized photos and other content featuring him removed.

Despite this divisive trend, he remained active until the very end. He would perform concerts worldwide, including a highly acclaimed halftime show at the Super Bowl in 2007. Up to the time of his death, he was still performing gigs and even went shopping for Record Store Day. With an impressive legacy, he ended his life on a high note while remaining continually active and supportive of talent until his death. What's among the most impressive things is that he released 39 albums over his career for a variety of bands, almost marking one a year since his first contract signing. Still, he leaves behind one of the most expansive and influential bodies of work ever to grace music. If nothing else, he will always be remembered for wearing purple. Nobody wore purple better than him.

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