The Career of a Musical Legend: Remembering Prince
Published Apr 22, 2016The arts and music world was rocked yesterday (April 21) by the news that the legendary Prince had died at the age of 57. Details are still developing, but the artist's body was discovered at his Paisley Park compound in Minneapolis. He had been suffering flu-like symptoms this month, though the cause of his death has yet to be reported.
It's hard to sum up the impact of Prince, whose musical genius and tireless work ethic helped put his signature stamp on the pop world via 39 full-length albums that bound together elements of funk, rock, R&B, hip-hop, jazz fusion and more into a paisley swirl. A renaissance man, he was not only a pop favourite for several decades, but a master producer, an actor, an energetic performer, and so much more.
The Birth of Prince
Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, MN, the artist's first name was given to him by father John Lewis Nelson, who had played jazz under the stage name Prince Rogers. His son would take to music quite early, forming a high school band called Grand Central, which would also feature future collaborator Morris Day of the Time.
Prince's recorded debut was with Pepe Willie's funk unit 94 East. Prince played guitar in the band and recorded tracks including "Just Another Sucker" and "If You See Me." At the age of 17, he ventured off on his own, produced two solo demos and signed to Warner Bros., with whom he'd hold a long and often contentious relationship.
Prince's solo debut, For You, was released at the end of 1978 with little fanfare. Displeased, he quickly recorded a self-titled set, which he delivered in 1979. This second release was more critically acclaimed and landed Prince a No. 1 hit on the R&B charts with "I Wanna Be Your Lover." His career picked up steam with the almost-entirely self-performed Dirty Mind from 1980 and 1981's Controversy.
1999 to Purple Rain
Prince's career exploded in 1982 with the release of breakthrough collection 1999. The double album's electro-funk title cut was a call against nuclear war, but its awaiting of the apocalypse was presented as a fun-as-hell party track. Other exquisitely swerved classics from the collection include "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious," while B-side "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" was an era highlight later covered by Alicia Keys.
Building off the success of 1999, Prince would next issue his most iconic entry, Purple Rain. A soundtrack to Prince's 1984 feature film of the same name, the record was the first to credit his backup band, the Revolution, and yielded hits like "Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry," his first No. 1 hit on the pop charts. To date, the album has sold in excess of 22 million copies worldwide. It would go on to win two Grammys and an Oscar for Best Original Score.
The film and its imagery would forever brand the musician the Purple One, its iconic poster presenting Prince straddling a plum-coloured motorcycle. Of note, the glyph Prince would later adopt as his name for a brief period of time is painted on the ride.
Mid-'80s Prince would deliver two more albums with the Revolution (Around the World in a Day and his Under a Cherry Moon soundtrack Parade) before disbanding the unit. He'd deliver 1987's acclaimed Sign o' the Times solo.
No stranger to salacious songs, Prince had also plotted out an ultra-sexed-up record called The Black Album. He would ultimately abandon the project due to its overtly erotic and violent lyrics on tracks like "Bob George." While promo copies had been pressed up, the record would not be issued officially until 1994. Instead, Prince cast off all but the record's "When 2 R in Love" and drafted it into a new album called Lovesexy in 1988.
Batman and "The Artist"
Following the commercial disappointment of Lovesexy, Prince would create the soundtrack to Tim Burton's Batman, which produced the memorable "Batdance" medley and a video that found Prince dressed as a composite Batman/Joker figure. He'd start the '90s with Graffiti Bridge and introduce his the New Power Generation backup band for the following year's Diamonds & Pearls.
He'd reteam with the group a second time for 1992's Love Symbol, an album famous for Prince abandoning his familiar title to the unpronounceable symbol that graced its cover. Some opted to label him "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince." Prince had done this to protest Warner Bros., with whom he was in a financial battle. He would be seen in public with the word "slave" across his face and would issue a series of experimental, elongated efforts in this time, including 1996's Emancipation, a 36-song release issued through his own NPG Records.
Prince and the Aughts
By 2004, Prince returned to the mainstream with Musicology, which was recorded at Mississauga, ON's Metalworks Factory. It, too, nabbed Prince a pair of Grammys. Purchase of the CD could also be put towards a ticket to any show as part of Prince's Musicology tour. This wouldn't be the only promotional gimmick Prince would roll out in the 2000s, having given away copies of 2007's Planet Earth with copies of UK newspaper Mail on Sunday. Causing more label woes, Prince's then label of Sony/BMG stopped promoting the collection in the UK.
Prince's Relationship with the Internet
While definitely a musical trailblazer, and an early adapter of in-studio electronic sequencing programs, Prince wasn't a fan of all modern technology. The musician had a well-known distaste for online piracy and programs like YouTube, which is why you'd be hard-pressed to find much in the way of officially sanctioned videos through the latter service — or any, for that matter.
The streaming generation hasn't really been able to enjoy the New Power Generation either, with Prince having removed his songbook from major services like Spotify and Apple Music, though it is available through TIDAL. His resistance, however, was tied to artists rights, with this dating back to his battles with Warner Bros.
Prince had attempted to maintain a profile on Facebook and Twitter, but he would occasionally delete his accounts. He did, however, restart his Twitter account and hit us up with a bunch of memes and career-spanning headshots on his official Instagram account last fall.
3RDEYEGIRL and Prince's Final Years
The back end of Prince's fabulous career found him jamming it out hard funk style with three-piece backup band 3RDEYEGIRL. He'd tour and record with the band, delivering Plectrumelectrum in 2014. It was a prolific time for Prince, who had also issued a solo release called Art Official Age that year and the two-part HITnRUN album the next.
Prince had also made political waves in 2015, staging his "Rally 4 Peace" concert in Baltimore following the deaths of U.S. citizens Michael Brown and Freddie Gray at the hands of police.
This year, Prince was staging a series of intimate, "Piano and a Microphone" solo concerts around the world. As it had been throughout his career, the concerts had him performing a mix of favourites, rarities and covers. He performed two sets at Toronto's Sony Centre on March 25, marking his last Canadian performances.
Last week, a medical emergency forced Prince's private jet to land in Illinois. It was later explained that the musician was battling the flu, and he performed the next day (April 16) for a crowd in Minnesota. This was Prince's final concert.
At the time of his death, he had been preparing his memoirs for a 2017 release.
Prince led one of the most prolific and electrifying careers of modern times. He will not be forgotten.