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Black History Month: Prince, the Iconoclastic Artist, Transcended the Rules

At the peak of his powers, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, widely regarded as the pioneer of the Minneapolis sound, penned and composed one song a day. One of the bestselling pop artists of all time, the highly prolific multi-instrumentalist whose influence spanned over 35 years, died Thursday morning, April 21, 2016, in his home at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, Minn.

The multi-genre rock star had been hospitalized for flu-like symptoms after an emergency landing in Illinois on Thursday, April 14, after undertaking two back-to-back stellar performances in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958, the trailblazing musical polymath began writing music at age seven, releasing his first of many recordings at age 19. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 for his idiosyncratic sense of melodic flair, impeccable pop craftsmanship, androgynous sexuality and profound lyrical misterio, the Purple One went on sell over 100 million records worldwide in his lifetime– making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. Ranked on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest artists, Prince had received seven Grammy Awards and earned 30 nominations, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “Song of the Heart” in the 2006 animated film Happy Feet, and an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for the 1984 film Purple Rain.

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During his legacy, Prince released 39 albums, scoring more than 50 top 40 hits around the world since his 1979 major label debut, including such songs as “When Doves Cry,” “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Raspberry Beret.” Five of his singles have topped the charts, 14 other songs hit the Top 10 and four of his albums were registered on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, beginning with Dirty Mind (released October 8, 1980) and continuing with 1999 (released October 27, 1982), Purple Rain (released June 25, 1984) and Sign o’ the Times (released on March 31, 1987).

In 2012, his magnum opus Purple Rain, which become the sixth best-selling soundtrack album of all time from what is widely considered one of the most influential music films ever, was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Prince’s legacy was cemented early in his career when his 1983 single “”Little Red Corvette” was one of the first two videos by a black artist played in heavy rotation on MTV, alongside Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

Influenced by James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Little Richard, Santana, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Sly and The Family Stone, The Isley Brothers, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon of The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, the trailblazing musical polymath fused rock, R&B, soul, funk, hip hop, disco, psychedelia, jazz, and pop, bridging the gap of underground high art and mainstream MOR in fantastical and futuristic ingenuities.

The result of much of his legacy has greatly permeated to the eccentric agitpop of the indie R&B sounds of such artist as (Janet Jackson (Control) Beyoncé (on various songs on 4), D’Angelo (on various cuts of Brown Sugar, Voodoo and Black Messiah), Miguel, Weeknd (Beauty Behind the Madness), Janelle Monáe (most cuts off of Electric Lady) and Bruno Mars, to name a few. He had a particular unique influence on Lenny Kravitz, whose “retro” melodic style became to encompass elements of rock, blues, soul, R&B, funk, jazz, reggae, hard rock, psychedelic, pop, folk and ballads, after seeing Prince in concern. The artist’s influence on Kravitz can be seen on albums like Mama Said (1991), Are You Gonna Go My Way (1993), Circus (1995) and Baptism (2004).

A lifelong advocate, in the days following the Baltimore Riots in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray by police, Prince came to Baltimore for a “Rally 4 Peace” concert to debut his new song “Baltimore.” A classic provocateur of nuclear Dionysian proportions, Prince proved once again that he was a human rights activist who believed we could be our best selves, whether it was in our day-to-day or in the privacy of our bedrooms where no doubt played his music in our most intimate moments.

Illustration by Michael White.

Article by Marcus Scott


Artist from NEW YORK, I've dedicated my life to creating Art and letting my imagination lead me. Nothing is impossible, to be creative is to breathe beneath water.

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