Prince is widely considered one of the greatest musicians and artists of all time; not only a master of lyric and instrument, but also an activist of all causes including artists’ rights and world peace, silently donating millions and hosting benefits for numerous causes.
Prince, who died April 21, 2016 at the age of 57, began his career at the precocious age of 18 with his debut single. “Soft and Wet” of 1978 not only became a critical hit, but also, eventually, became a pop culture staple with a sampling by MC Hammer in the song, “She’s Soft and Wet”.
From there, Prince’s career skyrocketed, with many of his big hits coming within the next decade, including songs such as “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “1999,” “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette” and, most famously, “Purple Rain,” arguably Prince’s signature song, which came out in 1984.
These songs, however, were different from those of his contemporaries such as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Phil Collins. Whereas these artists typically only played two instruments at the most and had a certain electronic feel to their music, Prince took an old-school approach, taking cues from artists such as Stevie Wonder, Larry Graham and Sly and the Family Stone. Every instrument you heard in a Prince track was played by the artist himself, and every lyric, well, almost every lyric was written by Prince.
“That spirit that drove him gave us an incredible reservoir of music. He loved funk, so he really needed to know how to make things funky. He loved jazz, so he needed to break down what made things truly swing,” Stevie Wonder said in a Rolling Stone tribute May 3, 2016.
Even after Prince became a huge star, and when he could have stopped making music all together and been completely selfish, saving all of his best work for himself, he did the exact opposite. Some of Prince’s best songs were not even sung by Prince. Songs such as “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me” and “Round and Round” were all written by him, but famously sung and became massive hits for Sinead O’Connor, Alicia Keys and Tevin Campbell respectively.
His love and devotion stretched beyond giving songs to other artists. As an artist himself, he was strongly against the songs he wrote and sang being owned by the record label and the record label alone. He could not receive any profit from his own songs unless he was signed to the record label, and as a result, changed his name to an unpronounceable name that he would go by from 1993 to 2000 as a result of his feeling that his given name, Prince, was now owned by the same record label that owned his songs. He would eventually go back to using the Prince name in 2000 after successfully obtaining the rights to his own work, notoriously avoiding publishing his work to iTunes and cracking down on people on YouTube who used his music without prior consent.
His work ethic, influence on stage and musical style has been heavily embraced by both his peers and the offspring of his work. Justin Timberlake said after Prince’s death that Prince was “more than a ‘once in a lifetime’ artist… Just a ONCE IN FOREVER ARTIST,” recalling also that the first time he had heard the singer was at the age of four.
Beyonce recalled her initial shock that she would be on the same stage as Prince and how she was comforted by him before their first performance, saying, “Right before, he whispered, ‘At the end, make this face’ — we did it, and that moment was so great. He kept saying, ‘Don’t be scared, c’mon, belt it out.’ He could see that I was holding back in rehearsals — but I let it out when it was time!”
Even Michael Jackson, the King of Pop and arguably Prince’s biggest competitor of the 1980s, famously named two of his children after the artist.
It is hard to believe that nearly a year without The Purple One has already passed. However, it is easy to conclude that while he may be gone, his tremendous impact on the music industry will guarantee that, even from up above, he’ll always see us laughing in the purple rain.