In his signature mystique and matter-of-factly tone, Prince Rogers Nelson sat with Rolling Stone in September 1985 to explain the method behind his
madness badness. “I don’t live in the past,” he said. “I make a statement, then move on to the next.” As an ultimate Prince response, the quote became reflective of the man himself and the taut Minneapolis Sound that casts a long shadow over modern pop.
When he wasn’t invigorating dance floors through new-wave funk and R&B fusions, he melted minds with his dualistic sex appeal, all the while wrapping sex, love and God in the same hot breath via unfiltered, conventional songwriting. Above all, he unearthed all of this eclecticism, put in the
ears faces for all to see, and forced everyone to deal. And like his “oww-wa” shrieks, everyone was touched.
Between 1978 – 1979, Prince released his first two albums, For You and Prince, which was the breeding ground of the introverted genius’ music approach. Songs like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” showcased his musical range and helped raise his profile from Minneapolis upstart to burgeoning one-man tour de force. Then came along the 1980 breakout, Dirty Mind. “A lot… had to do with being in love with someone and not getting any love back,” he would tell RS in the same aforementioned interview about the LP. Raunchy, hard funk, with soaring guitar pop, the flamboyant release featured songs like “Head,” “Sister” and the most widely covered number “When You Were Mine.”
“I have the follow-up album to 1999. I could put it all together and play it for you, and you would go “Yeah!” And I could put it out, and it would probably sell what 1999 did. But I always try to do something different and conquer new ground,” he would say in the same interview regarding the impressive double-disc follow-up to 1981’s Controversy.
In his knack for breaking new ground, the funk-pop singer took a huge leap of faith and gave the world 1984’s monster, Purple Rain. At that point, one-man tour de force wasn’t enough and it was at this timestamp that Prince vaulted into icon status. As the accompanying soundtrack to the hit film of the same name, the album spent 24 weeks at No. 1 on the charts and yielded hits singles like “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain” and “I Would Die 4 U.” With his band the Revolution, Prince won Best Group Rock Vocal at the 1985 Grammy Awards and R&B Song of the Year with “I Feel For You.” Like his ability to break genres, Prince also received an Oscar at the 1985 Academy Awards show for Best Original Score. This was a testament to his musical reach.
After Purple Rain, Prince expanded his discography with over 30 releases. Among this dense catalog were albums like 1991’s Diamonds & Pearls, 2001’s jazz-influenced The Rainbow Children and the three-disc set LOtUSFLOW3r. In February 2004, he joined Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards for a grand performance and over a decade later, rejoined his former record label of Warner Bros. to release a 2014 twofer in 2014’s Plectrumelectrum with 3RDEYEGIRL and Art Official Age. In 2015, he lined up with Jay Z’s TIDAL service, where he released the two-part series HITnRUN and performed the exclusive “Rally 4 Peace” concert in Baltimore.
Among the artists that he influenced, from Beyoncé to Miguel, OutKast and more, was Kendrick Lamar, who earlier this year revealed that His Royal Badness almost appeared on To Pimp A Butterfly for the song, “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” “We got to a point where we were just talking in the studio and the more time that passed we realized we weren’t recording anything,” Lamar said. “We just ran out of time, it’s as simple as that.” Despite the missed opportunity, the pair performed together for the first time during a rare concert at Paisley Park.
But for all his high profile peaks and valleys — the seven Grammy wins, the more than three dozen album releases — one of the barrier-breaking icon’s lasting influence will be his ability at remaining the meadow in the ocean and redefining the term “auteur.” A master at rock-guitar expressionism, a rare breed musical hero, Minneapolis’ favorite son, Prince will live forever as a one of one — that means none before it, none to come.
“It’s not silliness, it’s sickness. Sickness is just slang for doing things somebody else wouldn’t do… That’s what I’m looking for all the time,” he would poignantly mention. “We don’t look for whether something’s cool or not, that’s not what time it is. It’s not just wanting to be out. It’s just if I do something that I think belongs to someone else or sounds like someone else, I do something else.”
Forever incomparable, Prince.