By Shershah Ahmed: Prince Rogers Nelson, best known as ‘Prince’ but also known as ‘The Purple One’, ‘Joey Coco’ and ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince’ was an American singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist and actor. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince was known for his wide vocal range, diverse work and ostentatious stage presence. Widely regarded as the pioneer of Minneapolis sound, his music drew inspirations from all sorts of genres such as funk, rock, R&B, soul and pop. One of the best selling artists of all time, selling well over 100 million records, as well as being a multiple Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar winner, Prince passed away on April 21 2016 after a few weeks of reported illness.
Born to parents who were themselves musicians, Prince was exposed to music early in life which lead to himand his sister developing a keen interest in music. The musicalgenius hidden within him was apparent from an early age, having written his first song at the young age ofseven. With the loss of Prince on Thursday, goes one of the most acclaimed and wide reaching musical artist of the last half century. Barreling out of Minnesota, Prince crafted the Minneapolis sound as a prodigy, having released his first album ‘For You’ at the age of 20 in 1978. The sound, consisting of staccato beats, synth and funky laden bass lines has been inspiring artists over decades, including Lady Gaga and Sia to this day. With a career spanning over 40 years Prince unleashed a barrage of hit singles and albums. Singles such ‘Kiss’, ‘Little Red Corvette’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’ gained wide acclaim but it was not till one of the best selling albums of all time ‘Purple Rain’ in 1984, that firmly cemented his place in music history. Though he gained wide recognition and fame for his work, he never succumbed to the lure of commercialism. His allegiance to being uncompromising to his soul and classic rock roots was prevalent up until the present day. Bolstering his own musical juggernaut was his exhilarating stage persona and charismatic stage presence which astounded audiences.
Not content by merely being a rock star in his own right, he also produced and released material by under appreciated artists on his own record label, as well as writing and composing chart smashing hits for the likes of Sinead O’ Connor and The Bangles. However his main focus was always on pushing the boundaries of his own work, which was not always met with enthusiasm by the censors. His albums such as ‘Dirty Mind’ from 1980 and ‘Controversy’ from 1981 became the target of the Parents Music Resource Centre, which deemed the albums too offensive. Undaunted by this, Prince continued to play up his androgynous side which made audiences love him even more.
There wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play, a style he couldn’t write in and a song he couldn’t imbue with more funk, which spoke volumes about his skills as a musician. On stage and in the studio he unleashed his hypnotizing guitar work, with guitar solo after guitar solo filled to the brim with genius and compositions that achieved his desired effect of astounding the mind. His on stage performances were also chock full of spontaneity which was a far cry from the rigid choreography in pop shows of that day and age. Musical instrument mastery aside, his vocals were stuff of legend, with him being able to transition seamlessly from authoritative baritone to operatic falsetto in a heartbeat something that few male singers could match.
What was also more relevant was that he kept the quality of his work high, even as the quantity increased with no less than 37 albums released over decades, which is a rare sight to see in music these days. Apart from the music, Prince was key in breaking color lines and made his way into the top playlists of MTV and rock radio back in the day, where few African-Americans were showcased, unfortunately even to this day. Being one part of the holy trinity of pop back in the 80’s, consisting of himself, Madonna and Michael Jackson, Prince held on to his commitment to art over commercialism and his great technical chops also set him apart from the others.
From the very beginning his art was paramount to him, an exception in a world filled with cliches and sell outs. Though coming from humble beginnings like most artists who have cemented themselves in history do, Prince stayed true to his culture and roots and never compromised on his sound. Artists with such integrity are a rarer and rarer sight these days and the world will miss the man who could play a song and make anyone, anywhere dance.