Throwback: Prince

Early Life

As sampled in last weeks ‘Artist You Should Know’, music genius can strike from just about anywhere. Even still, it is striking when possibly the greatest talent of all time was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Not exactly known as a music hub, Minneapolis is prominently known for its milling industry and as a business capital.  One would be pressed to find transcendent musical talent in such a place.  Yet just the opposite is the case for the late musical icon Prince. 

Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince was born on June 7th, 1958.  Both of Prince’s parents, Mattie Della and John Lewis Nelson, were musicians; with his father being a pianist/songwriter while his mother was a jazz singer.  Prince developed his interest for music from this, teaching himself to play numerous instruments at a very young age.  His musical gift became evident early on, writing his first song on the piano at age 7.  His parents eventually split, consequently causing Prince to run away from home to live with family friends, the Anderson family.  However, this did not stunt his musical growth.  He formed his first band in high school with their son Andre Anderson.  While the band never amassed much attention, it was through this opportunity that Prince caught his break.  He was able to procure studio time to put himself out there, and more importantly catching the eye of bigger studios.

Rise to Prominence & Best Selling Albums

The following year Prince produced a demo that made it’s way to the ears of Warner Bro’s Records.  In 1978, he signed with Warner Bro’s and his career would take off from there.  It was at this point he left behind Minneapolis for California to record his first album, For You.  Prince was able to not only write essentially the entire album on his own, he also produced and played all of the instruments on each track.  The album cost him more to make than he was advanced to begin with.  It was met with limited success, with the lead single Soft and Wet receiving limited radio play In 1979, Prince released his sophomore effort, the self-titled album Prince.  Prince garnered much more attention. Led by the single I Wanna Be Your Lover it reached the top 25 of Billboard’s 200.  The album went platinum, putting Prince into the public eye.  At this time Prince had mastered a myriad of genres, flirting with pop, funk and jazz.  His flamboyant stage presence, coupled with his music genius, was hard to ignore.  His lyrics were daring as well, often referring to sex and religion.  

In the following years, Prince’s path to the status of legend began to gain traction.  His subsequent albums Dirty Mind and Controversy were certified Gold and Platinum respectively.  At this time he also secured opening tour gigs for legends such as Rick James and the Rolling Stones.  In 1982, Prince released the album 1999, which would go to be certified 4x Platinum.  The single Little Red Corvette would be one of the first videos by an African American artist to be broadcast on MTV. 

This was all a build up to Prince’s magnum opus, the film/soundtrack Purple Rain.  Released in 1984, the movie became a smash hit, grossing over $70 million domestically.  It bridged Prince’s status to that of a cross over star, as he received an Academy Award as well as a Grammy.  It contained a plethora of high charting singles, such as Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, and the classic Purple Rain. All three reached top 3 position on Billboard’s Hot 100.  It consistently ranks among one of the all time best albums through numerous publications, both critically and commercially.  

Most Popular Singles

 Typically on tribute pieces, we would include accompanying video to the highest charting singles.  However, over the years Prince has fought hard for autonomy of his own music, having all of his videos removed from websites such as YouTube.  Claiming copyright infringement, Prince has successfully kept the Internet clean of any free material referencing his likeness.  

Prince has reached the #1 spot on Billboard five times, twice with singles off the Purple Rain album, Let’s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry.  The video for When Doves Cry received more notoriety not only for it’s unique sound but it’s controversial video.  The video takes clips from the movie Purple Rain and combines them with separately shot scenes of Prince, notably crawling out of a bathtub almost nude.  At the time of it’s release this received a harsh reaction from some audiences who were shocked at it’s content.  MTV, no stranger to controversy, ran it regardless.  Regardless of critical opinion, the reaction garnered it enough attention to place it atop Prince’s already staggering body of work.  

While ‘only’ charting at #2, the single Purple Rain is perhaps Prince’s most well known work.  It’s a classic ballad with Prince on vocals and guitar.   The video itself is the closing scene of the film, with Prince performing it emotionally for the first time after the passing of his character’s father.  

As previously mentioned, Prince had three other single’s reach #1 status.  These include the hits Kiss, Cream, and Batdance.  The latter was a hit off the iconic soundtrack of the 1989 Batman film. While it only spent a week at #1, the video itself is brilliant.  Prince performs and acts alongside numerous actors dressed as Batman.  It was nominated for Best Video at the MTV Music Video Awards in 1990.   

Awards and Honors

As mentioned before, Prince has received numerous awards for his body of work:

Academy Award: 

  • Best Original Score – Purple Rain

Golden Globe Award:

  • Best Original Song – The Song of the Heart

Grammy Awards:

  • Best Rock Performance – Purple Rain
  • Best Score Soundtrack
  • Best R&B Song – I Feel For You
  • Best R&B Performance – Kiss
  • Best Male R&B Vocal Performance – Call My Name
  • Best Traditional R&B Performance – Musciology
  • Best Male R&B Vocal Performance – Future Baby Mama

MTV Music Video Awards:

  • Best Choreography – Raspberry Beret
  • Best Male Video – U Got the Look
  • Best Stage Performance
  • Best Dance Video – Cream

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction:

Inducted in the first year of his eligibility, in the same class as ZZ Top, Bob Seger, and George Harrison.  

Current Status

On April 21st, 2016 Prince passed away at the age of 57.  The official cause of death was a fentanyl overdose, an opioid that Prince had been taking at the time.  Since news of this broke, it has come out that Prince suffered from an opioid addiction for many years.  Following his death, the nation mourned the loss of one of it’s greatest musical innovators.  Following his death Prince became a national topic, and album sales went through the roof. 

Impact & Legacy

‘The Purple One’ will forever be remembered as not only one of the greatest musicians of all time, but as a star that did things on his own terms.  He never let race or gender slow him down, putting himself out there and becoming an act entirely unique on his own. He sang about what he wanted, dressed in any fashion and became a cultural icon unlike any other. He fought the music industry in a time when most artists were losing their rights and never allowed someone else to have control of his lifelong work.  Prince once said that, "A strong spirit transcends rules", and nothing truer could be said in reflection of the career of this music legend.  He was idolized by musicians and fans alike, lending inspiration to generations.