Without fail, one of my older male cousins would come over to all the children outside, usually with a beautiful woman on his arm in, door knocker earrings, bright red lipstick, a pair of Reebok Princesses and a French roll, and declare, “Alright it’s time for all little kids to go inside. It’s grown folks time. Prince is on!” I didn’t know what exactly was happening outside, but I knew that whatever was going on, the mood completely shifted gears based on music. It was at this point in life, I realized the true power and transformative nature of not just music in general, but SPECIFICALLY music by Prince Rogers Nelson. A prince who was destined to become King.
Before we go any further let’s put it out there… Prince was petty.
Prince had time for pancakes, basketball, pants with the ass cut out and Vanity. The rest of us were just along for the ride. We are talking about the man who once kicked Kim Kardashian off of a stage for not knowing the words to his song and reprising her role in her video with Ray J by standing there motionless like a bump on a log. A man who wore his shades indoors because we mere mortals were not worthy of looking him in the eye. A man who took one listen to Justin Timberlake’s dialed in performance of “Sexy Back” and asked how Justin could bring back sexy when it never left? When God made him, he made sure to place a set number of fucks in his life to give. And when Prince ran out, that was it and it was evident. When he was impressed you never knew, but when he wasn’t, it was clear. We loved him for it.
Prince was the definition of a Carefree Black Boy.
In a world where Black men are given set rules of conduct defining how one must live, act, sleep, walk, dress and breathe in order to be considered a man, Prince colored outside the lines in purple. He took those boundaries, got butt naked, licked them, did splits on them in purple sequined bell bottoms and then shattered them all while keeping his locks luxurious, silky and intact. Prince could play 30 instruments, write a masterpiece, sing the masterpiece, steal your girlfriend with one strum of his guitar, put on your girlfriend’s heels after he stole her from you and then steal your sister while wearing those heels. He proved that there is no one way to be a Black man. He pushed the envelope of gender and sexuality and helped so many people become comfortable in their own skin in a society that tries to tell people time and time again that they must conform.
Prince was a philanthropist and an advocate for human rights.
He stood up to the evils of music industry executives who treated himself and other artists like slaves. He used his music as a platform to speak about societal ills by changing his name to an unpronounceable yet iconic symbol, performing with the word SLAVE written across his face and naming his albums “Controversy” and “Emancipation”.
He was an activist.
In his song “I Would Die 4 U”, Prince sung “I'm not a woman. I'm not a man. I am something that you'll never understand.” Prince may have towed the line on many societal norms and forms of self-identification, but his pride in being a Black American was always ardent, clear and conspicuous. Prince supported efforts to aid and honor the families of Freddie Gray, by penning the song “Baltimore” and Trayvon Martin, silently donating money to his family, and proclaiming that “Albums, like books and Black lives, still matter”, in front of the entire world at a recent Grammy Award appearance. In a time where his level of celebrity would have enabled him to play coy and embrace a more universal racial identity, he remained unapologetically Black and vocal about the issues plaguing our community.
His influence is everlasting.