Prince debuted his first self-titled album in 1979. I got here in 1982. In that respect, I grew up alongside Prince, in every variation of name, the entirety of his career. Today, the genius was silenced.
See this cover? It still hangs on the basement wall of my childhood home in Queens, N.Y. Not quite the image you’d think a two-year-old would see every day, but I did. While my uncle, a NY DJ, would transition ’80s soul jams in our basement, I’d cue up 45s on my Fischer-Price record player beside him, blending Madonna’s “Borderline” with Michael Jackson‘s “Bad,” and rounding out with “Sign O’ The Times” for the big woke finish.
A very unlikely pairing, Sleeping Beauty and Purple Rain were in constant rotation in my VHS player. I loved Sleeping Beauty for the fairies and the beautiful princess; I loved Purple Rain for the music. The funk and genius guitar melodies wailing together, was just as unlikely a pairing, in an industry where rock was purely White, and funk was just for Black people, called jungle music, so stereotypically. But that was before Prince made it a combo so irresistible, everyone had to put race aside, if only for a little while.
In first grade, I was the kid who loved Prince more than Michael. My friends would say I was totally crazy. Did you see him literally transform into a panther in “The Way You Make Me Feel?” That’s some competition when it comes to recess convo. But I’d argue that Prince wrote, produced and performed all of his music, even played all of the instruments. Just look at the liner notes of any of his albums. Although my generation continued to rock with both MJs (and I thought they were pretty cool, too), Prince was my man.
By sixth grade, I was introduced to my second love: dance. For a routine, I perfected moves to “Baby, I’m A Star.” And even though we practiced perfectly, my tap shoe fell off during the performance. I remember kicking it aside, and completely doing The Bird with no abandon. After watching Prince completely ball out of control every single time he hit the stage, I had great inspiration. And then there were the love songs. The sensitivity of “Diamonds and Pearls” made it the song I’d always warm up to in ballet class. It was beautiful, elegant, and viscerally passionate… everything that dance brought out of the shy kid who didn’t talk very much, but could glide through ballet moves with a long slender body. Years later, I’d see friend and inspiration Misty Copeland, perform his Purple Rain hit “The Beautiful Ones” with him in Europe, living out every young ballerina hopeful’s dream.
But the song that lived throughout the course of my 33 years, has been “I Would Die 4 You.” It took a couple of decades for me to realize who Prince was exactly talking about. “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man/ I’m something that you’ll never understand...” And that song truly defines a masterful legacy. Prince was an enigma, with a genius that defines all mortal comprehension. His artistry is the kind you witness once in a lifetime… once. A divine talent that’s godlike.
The man with the deep voice, and the highest falsetto, has transcended space and time. He’ll never be forgotten. I will always adore you.