Prince passed away suddenly in 2016 at the age of 57. Some of his fans still cannot believe he was gone so unceremoniously. Prince was not only a rare musical talent, but he also broke barriers with fashion and blurred gender-bending lines. In this post, we look back at Prince’s legacy to understand what makes him a legend.
Prince was an innovative musician. He took control over songwriting and the entire music business. He brought people in to help him man the ship while staying in control of all the creative processes. He was in charge of every process from his image, to music production. He defied music boundaries and pushed to realise his musical visions.
His music utterances drip with sexuality and his songs rarely fit the typical boy meets girl and fall in love narrative. Even for courtship tales, he wrote about two beings intertwining their essences. He was never content to be known only as a guitarist, a singer, or a bassist. He would show the drummer the beat he wanted, pick up a bass and show the bass player the grooves and how to piece together a song in under 30 minutes.
Prince made musical decisions on musical instruments others would not have made. He decided not to record basslines for songs like When Doves Cry. The single was one of his biggest hits and resembled the cold, mechanical nature of the relationship described in the song.
Breaking musical conventions
Prince regularly creates music that cannot be confined to conventions and categories. His art was about escaping the social identities thrust upon him because he was black, male, and small-built.
Some of his songs contain strong religious impulses fused into a kind of sacred erotic experience with roots in African American churches. He made an appearance on MTV with Little Red Corvette as one of the first black artists. Purple Rain from 1984 made him one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and remains his best-selling album. The album, also a soundtrack to a film of the same name, won the Academy Award for best soundtrack and earned a Grammy Award.
After Purple Rain, Prince continued to produce inventive music of broad appeal outside of the U.S. and he was particularly popular in Britain and in Europe. When he was constricted by his record label for only releasing a single album each year, the prolific songwriter gave his songs to other performers, some of whom he recorded at and for Paisley Park, a studio he established in suburban Minneapolis from where he hailed.
Peerless fashion sense
Besides music, Prince was most well-known for his fashion choices. He expressed his freedom no matter what he chose to wear, whether it was a ruffled blouse, a bell-bottom, or a set of heels. Like David Bowie, Prince experimented with ideas of the femininem the alien, and the race-less in his fashion.
The Purple one experimented with different looks from Little Richard, part Bambi appearance of his 1979 eponymous album. In his second album, he appeared shirtless, sans clothes riding atop a winged white horse. His iconic look was only completed in his Purple Rain album when he worked with designer Marie France: the frilly shirts, stack-heeled platform boots with his hair tightly wound into a rapturous bouffant of dancing curls. Through music, costume, and artwork, Prince created himself into an iconic artist.
Prince represented freedom from conventions with his irreverence for gender conformity to music categories. His style and innovation still ignite conversation about gender and breakthroughs in music today.