Originally published on Friday, June 29, 2007
The musical genius of Prince was immediately apparent when the teenaged artist released his 1979 hit tune, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
The world was just getting a peek at the young man who would blossom into an award-winning performer, a man whose artistry and influence would span the globe. Prince’s music has spanned myriad styles — from his early material, rooted in R&B, rock, and soul — and he has constantly expanded his musical palette throughout his career, absorbing many other genres, including funk, New Wave, pop, rock, blues, jazz and hip-hop.
Born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson honed the circumstances of heritage as the background for his hit movie and Oscar-winning soundtrack, 1984’s “Purple Rain.” Although wildly popular before that point, from there, Prince’s superstardom was launched.
The famously prolific artist has released several hundred songs, sold nearly 100 million albums and won a half-dozen Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards along the way. In addition to “Purple Rain,” his body of work consists of 20 Top 10 hits, which include “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” “Kiss,” “Cream,” “Diamonds and Pearls” and countless others that remain mainstays among adults, like “Head,” “Erotic City” and “Hot Thing.”
Yet, his achievements where nearly relegated to the B-sides of music history.
Prince adopted an unpronounceable symbol as his official name from 1993 to 2000, thus causing the press to dub him “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” or simply, The Artist. During that seven-year span, The Artist waged a questionably successful war with Warner Bros. Records, scrawling the word “Slave” along his cheeks and demanding his artistic freedom. He released a number of musically uneven CDs that would alienate some of his fans while drawing puzzled reactions from other music professionals.”His stance about how morally corrupt (his record labels) are after “Purple Rain” and “1999” was a bit hypocritical for me,” said saxophonist Branford Marsalis. “I thought it was disingenuous of him to criticize the system that enriched him. I agree that the system is not fair, but the system made him wealthy. It was kind of like Michael Jackson accusing Columbia of racism. It kind of rings hollow. It’s hard to really bolster your case when there’s overwhelming evidence that you are criticizing the system that has made you what you are. But at the same time, I like the fact that he understood the business well enough. The music industry is rather corrupt. It’s hard to know how much money you really make because there are so many invisible clauses.”Or, as music journalist and author, Richard Torres concluded: “It’s very tough to gain sympathy for a multi-millionaire.”When the dust settled from battle between Warner Bros. and Prince, the Artist had a completely new strategy to ensure his future artistic and financial control of his creative output. He was among the first to create a successful global online music presence where fans had exclusive access to his music.
In 2004, the new-and-improved Prince was ushered back into the public conciseness with the one-two punch of his February performance with Beyonce Knowles at the start of the Grammy Awards and his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Two months later, he would independently release “Musicology,” his biggest album since 1991’s “Diamonds and Pearls.”
LISTEN: Prince’s Musicology
“Prince comes in with the reigning diva of the moment, and he reminded America what he had and what he could do,” said Torres. “And then, it kind of kicked of from there. You get to the ‘Musicology’ stuff where Prince basically said, ‘I’m not gone. I’m still here, and this is the stuff you should basically be listening to.'”Part of the “Musicology” chart success was due to The Musicology Live2004ever summer tour, in which concertgoers received a copy of the album included in the ticket price. The tour was an unparalleled hit, with nearly 100 dates — resulting in a handsome profit for the Artist, and a chart-topping slot for “Musicology” due to the sales link.His scheme prompted both Billboard magazine and Neilson SoundScan to change its chart data methodology, stating that for future record releases, customers “must be given an option to either add the CD to the ticket purchase or forgo the CD for a reduced ticket-only price.””He did the brilliant thing, where he went on tour and every person who bought a ticket was given a CD, and the CD was SoundScanned,” noted Marsalis, “so, he was going to be one of the biggest selling records of all time because if 18,000 people go to a concert, maybe a 1,000 of them will buy a CD. He was selling 18- to 20,000 CD’s a night and SoundScanning them, so of course the record companies got together and banned him from doing that because he wasn’t affiliated with a major label.”A bold move like that “undercuts all the other ticks on the dog,” Marsalis said. “When people get lucky and bump into a system that works and the world changes around the system, the good ones change with the times, and the really lousy ones fight to enforce the system they have. Good for Prince for being in the situation where he could benefit and have a little schadenfreude over the sinking ship that is the record industry.”
Prince continued his reintroduction to American audiences earlier this year with a stellar performance before a worldwide viewership of 1 billion in more than 230 countries during Super Bowl XLII.
“He has always been a phenomenal live act,” according to Torres. “He’s from the tradition that is now lost. You may have your qualms with a Prince album, but you know when you go to see a Prince concert, you’re going to see an event.”
Now Prince has a Las Vegas venue at which he regularly performs exclusive concerts, while continuing to perform around the world. Fans new and old are already clamoring for his highly-anticipated July 2007 release, “Planet Earth,” which will reportedly feature a reunion of former band mates Wendy and Lisa.
“Prince reminds you of how great he is and can be, and unlike Michael Jackson, he doesn’t give you that cringe factor,” said Torres. “He’s got the chops of a jazz musician. He’s got the aura of a rock musician. But he has the deep-down, gut-bucket funk of a true Black musician.”