By Paul A. Bromley, Esq.
As a child, I learned very quickly that in order to get by in life, you needed money. I also learned that money was earned by having a job. However, as a 6-year-old, child labor laws stopped me from being great.
“They” don’t want us to have jobs.
So I did what any self-respecting 1st grader would do when faced with the necessity of Warheads and Cracker Jacks, I asked my mama. Sometimes she would give in, but most of the time, I was given the well-established warning prior to hopping out of the back of her blue 1986 Buick LaSabre and heading into 7-11 of “When we go into this store, don’t ask for nothing, don’t touch nothing, don’t look at nothing, because I’m not buying you nothing.”
Lucky for an entrepreneurial and enterprising young man such as myself, I grew up in an era of yard parties where I learned that my mother wasn’t the only adult who had money.
Someone would fire up the grill, sodas and beer were always chilling in a deep tub of ice, in the middle of it all sat a table and folding chairs that soon became a spades tournament for the ages and of course….the music. THE MUSIC is what made the party. I soon found out that nothing made a group of Black women happier at a cook out in the early ‘90s than a wine cooler, Frankie Beverly and Maze and a little bad ass hyper kid (me) who could do the running man with fervor and zest when the beat to “Poison” dropped or perform a half-assed, yet spirited, moonwalk when “Billie Jean” blasted from the speakers. And in return for your entertainment, guess what….THEY GAVE YOU MONEY!
My get rich quick scheme was foolproof. I would collect quarter after quarter from my cousins, aunts and their girlfriends… until the night drew near… and the tone of the music began to change. And it always began with one song, “Adore” by Prince.
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.
Without Prince making “Kiss” and “1999”, Lenny Kravitz would never have been able to make “American Woman”. In fact, there would be no Lenny Kravitz. Without “Erotic City” there would be no “Blow” or “Rocket” by Beyoncé. D’Angelo would never have been inspired to write “Untitled”. Rihanna would have never taken off Tyra Banks’ second string wigs, cut her hair or taken the fashion risks necessary to make her the icon she is today. Frank Ocean would never have been able to write the album “Channel Orange” with the bravery to explore the themes of sexuality and love that he did without Prince taking so many of the blows and laying the foundation for him. Janelle Monae would not be able to bend gender lines, toy with androgyny and stand confidently in control of her music, image and message. Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” would not exist. TLC, Janet Jackson, Eric Clapton, Maxwell, Miguel….his influence on their music and images is undeniably pervasive. Prince birthed every person we deem to be future icons.
“Adore”. “Insatiable”. “Darling Nikki”. “Do Me”. “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. “Erotic City”. “I Would Die 4 U”. And of course, his magnum opus “Purple Rain”. Prince’s music oozed sex, sensuality and urgency. Layered in technical levels of musicality or simplistic and poignant, when Prince sang, he took you on a climatic journey with him. You felt every emotion, pain, happiness and subtle and not so subtle eroticism he sought to convey. As the last living member of the holy trinity of music that is Prince, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, Prince’s death shocked the world the most because none of us saw it coming. Although the world loved, adored and treasured him, we took for granted the ever looming reality that no man knows the day nor the hour of his last day on earth. We expected Prince to always be here. We believed Prince to truly be immortal. The Purple One. Purple being the color of royalty. Through his music, Prince not only lived up to his status as royalty, but he transcended genres, race, religion and gender.
To live a life without boundaries is a beautiful life indeed. A life many of us will never have the privilege or bravery to lead. We should all be so lucky. Prince defined himself. He was a welcomed enigma, energy and an example that proved that the Beautiful Ones always succeed in life by being true to themselves first and answering questions when and only IF they felt like it. Thank you for sharing your life and your gifts with us carefree Black boy. Nothing compares to you.
Paul A. Bromley is a contributing writer who has written for The Huffington Post and his own blog on Medium.com. For more of his writings check his personal blog HERE