Prince’s untimely death last week shocked us all. As a music fan, guitarist, black male, Christian and a millennial, I’ve felt a special, but different, connection with Prince and his music. By the time I was born The Revolution, the band Prince is most known for, had been disbanded. By the time I came of age, Prince was no longer in regular rotation on the radio. By the time I learned of the wonders of the internet, Prince and his lawyers were actively deleting videos of his performances off of YouTube, and trying to stop anyone from downloading his music. In essence, it felt like I showed up a little late to the party, which I did to some extent. But around the time I was 14-15 years of age I became slightly obsessed with, and fascinated by, Prince. Around this same time my middle school classmate and good friend, Tarick, became interested in Prince. We both graduated from High School together, and like most of you all know, you tend to lose contact with some of those people. But, we stayed in contact, in large part discussing Prince and music in general.
So, when Prince died there was one person I wanted to talk to – Tarick. Here’s our conversation:
Stanley How/when did you become a Prince (stan) fan?
Tarick i know exactly when and how i became a prince fan/stan. usually fan precedes stan mode but they both happened simultaneously lol. let’s see, i must’ve been like 14-15 in middle school and one night purple rain was on BET. for years my parents loved oldies and jazz and r&b and i loved michael jackson and all that as a kid all the while listening to rap or whatever was hot back then. but i never really paid attention to Prince. This one particular night tho, something happened. this type of story has been told before but man listen, the shit changed my life lol idk what it was but after watching that movie, not only did i respect Prince all around i had to and wanted to find any and everything the man ever did. even outside the music, i wanted to know about his gear, his women, how he was as a person, etc. with that, came me searching for other things. i had to find all the music he wrote for other people, protege albums, rare and unreleased music, etc. i also went and had to find any and everything prince has been known to listen to or quoted as liking. he led me to miles davis. he led me to the beatles. he led me to jimi hendrix and santana. he led me to sam cooke, james brown and parliament funkadelic frontman George Clinton.
Stanley I think my fandom started around the same time, or least in a similar manner – seeing Purple Rain on BET. Similar to you the music my parents listened to kinda prepared my ears, but I think, for me, it was the gospel element I could hear in his music. All of those long funk jams he performed for his live shows felt like old gospel songs, they felt like “shout music.” I think I started taking guitar lessons around this time too, and my guitar teacher is a huge Santana and Hendrix fan, which made me a Santana and Hendrix fan…lol. So, through my teacher I was able to make the connection between Prince, Hendrix, and Santana – the way they used distortion and the wah pedal, the way they used the minor and blues scales, how they all used the Blues as the basis for their music. Hearing all of those connections made his music accessible and relevant to me, even though I got to his music well beyond his prime.
Stanley You got to see Prince live in concert a few years ago, what was that experience like?
Tarick well…i did get to see Prince live. you were supposed to come with me lol but yea. I traveled all the way to Connecticut to see Prince and the NPG/3rdEyeGirl live at the Mohegan Sun arena/casino. It was night 3 of a 3 night run. It was extremely surreal. It was everything i expected. Janelle Monae opened up for him and Doug E. Fresh was the MC of sorts and had an ol skool part in between while they were setting the stage up. anyway, my seats weren’t the best but it didn’t matter. i could see him shockingly and i could see the video screens. now, this prince isn’t the prince from 1984 or 1988 but he was still electrifying. Nothing compares to him. He never just phones it in. He preaches real music by real musicians and he gives just that. No DAT tapes, no prerecorded vocals or lip-syncing and he’s never really out of breath. idk how he does that. He’s always in top form. The crazy thing is he does it so effortlessly. None of his concerts these days are the same. The setlist is unpredictable. He played mostly hits, added some new stuff, rarities and even a cover or 2. Most of this has been said in every one of his concert reviews since 1978, lol. As cliche as it sounds, he truly puts you on a purple high. I wish i got to see him more and even back in his prime. Man i can only imagine seeing the Purple Rain tour or the Lovesexy tour. After the concert, i got stranded and had my own adventure trying to get back to Philly but i’ll save that for the book.
Stanley Man, I still feel terrible about not going to that show, especially now. It was well worth being stuck in Connecticut. But, I think had I gone I would've been in awe! Just from hearing stories about the his grand performances from the 80s, watching videos of performances, hearing about how he would do these long performances late into the night, I just know I would've had a great time.
But it's kinda funny, having seen derivative artists in concert that he clearly influenced - D'angelo & Miguel - I know I would've lost my mind. Like, seriously. When I saw D'angelo last summer he didn't do any direct covers of Prince songs but he basically ripped him off for 2.5 hours (respectfully lol). At the end of The Charade, D'angelo, Jesse Johnson, and Sharkey all stood back-to-back-to-back with each other playing this heavy rock riff. A few months later I stumble across P's performance at Capitol Theatre from '82, and Prince, Dez Dickerson and Brown Mark were doing the exact same exact pose/riff 30+ prior at the end of Uptown. Unbelievable.
Tarick as a straight black man, what did Prince mean to you (look, lyrics, etc) and what do you think Prince meant to the black community; specifically black men and why do you think he always got a “pass”?
Stanley That’s a big question…lol, but here’s my take: I think what Prince did for me, and a lot of other Black males - straight, gay, cisgendered, queer - was push the envelope and expand the presentation and performance of masculinity; challenged the status quo and the overall image of what we can "look like." So, in short what Prince meant, and means, to me is saying that it's okay to be you - as weird, high-heel or Jordan wearing, du rag or scarf, perm or fade - you can be you. And if someone wants to judge you, well....oh well, f**k em lol. To me, he challenged the narrative and expanded the base of what Black men can look like and how we can perform masculinity and sexuality.
And as far as getting a "pass" - I think Prince made some people uncomfortable. They weren't sure if he was gay or straight, black or white, etc (Controversy). They didn't know how to label him, and people, especially the music industry, likes labels; boxing people in. He was/is boundless and unboxable (autocorrect is telling me that's not a word lol but you get it). So, there's the initial challenge.
Secondly, he appealed to so many people, even those that may have been uncomfortable by his appearance, because he was SO confident in himself and his craft. Confidence breeds attention and attraction. No matter what people may have thought about him, people were still drawn to him because he believed in what he was doing. People like being around that. So, even if you didn't want to give him a "pass" you had to because he believed in himself, his craft, and God. That's powerful to me. So, Prince performed his masculinity in really unique ways, like you eluded to. How do you think Prince helped shape the image of today's artists, specifically black male artists?
Tarick black masculinity is a very interesting thing. we are/were conditioned to be and think how we do and are. that’s a whole different conversation in and itself lol but as far as prince is concerned, he was never seen as masculine at all when he might be the most masculine man ever. here he is a light black man, with good, straight hair, dressing in eyeliner, makeup, lace, sometimes no pants, and in 4 inch heels. how is that possible and why is/was it ok? He still had the baddest women in the world; Vanity, Sheila E., Mayte, just to name a few. He sang about sex and partying and God all the time. Even outside of all that, he knew who he was and knew who/what he wanted to be from day 1. he never compromised himself or his art. he didn’t care about awards or what people said about him. he did him and if you didn’t like it, well that’s too bad. He had a crazy confidence. if that isn’t masculine, idk what is. that’s something that i took from him. be who you are and not care. that’s why i am the way that i am. do i dress like him? hell no not in the slightest but idc what people think of me. idc what they think about what i listen to or the artists i like or the fact that i can cook, clean and dress nice but at the same time play sports, fix things, etc. as somebody once said, the way they think about me says a lot more about them than it does me. on top of it all, Prince was cool (similar to the song HE wrote for the Time) i mean look at how he walks…in heels mind you. it’s just cool on some pimp shit lol he went against the norm. he walked at the beat of his own drum. he is/was the polar opposite of what it meant to be a black man with no remorse. i think that’s also why black dudes respect/respected him. i know that’s why i do. that’s why when people look at me crazy when i said i dig Prince, i just shake my head and laugh. you don’t know what you’re missing. if she doesn’t like Prince or at least isn’t open to listening, she ain’t the one and it will never work, lol.
Stanley Favorite Prince album?
Tarick i hate questions like this lol not anything personal towards you. i just hate questions like this because..it’s so hard to choose. it changes daily. he has over 40 released albums not to mention all the albums he did for other people and the ones he never released that i’m not even supposed to have lol. i’m a stan (whatever the hell that means) but i’ll give both sides. my favorite prince album that was released is and has to be, Sign O The Times. Purple Rain is a close second. Sign O The Times is his Songs in the Key of Life. He touches on every genre of music. It’s almost like a kaleidoscope. Even tho these songs are for a released album, they have almost an unfinished/demo feel at times. The album has my favorite prince songs of all time on it as well: if i was your girlfriend, strange relationship and adore. if i was your girlfriend is a masterpiece and maybe even his best song, once you get past the misunderstood title. Adore by far is the greatest love song of all time. hands down. that’s it. the end. thank you good night. at :32 seconds, the chorus starts and it’s extremely quotable not to mention it’s beautiful. it’s a shame that he didn’t have a “Thriler” kinda night at the grammy’s cause this album is THAT great. He lost to U2 that year. Afterwards he can be quoted saying, "I don't go to awards shows anymore," he says. "I'm not saying I'm better than anybody else. But you'll be sitting there at the Grammys, and U2 will beat you. And you say to yourself, 'Wait a minute. I can play that kind of music, too. I played La Crosse [Wisconsin] growing up, Iknow how to do that, you dig? But you will not do 'Housequake.’”. My favorite unreleased prince album has to be Dream Factory or Crystal Ball. SOTT morphed into what it is from DF which was supposed to be an album with the Revolution before he scrapped them. Crystal ball was a 3 disc opus that was born out of DF but Warner Brothers told him a 3 disc record wouldn’t be the smartest thing after the Under the Cherry moon flop (the movie was actually funny) and the fact that Parade didn’t sell/do that well in the states. You?
Stanley SOTT is top 3 for me too. The Joshua Tree was good, but it ain't no Sign. In my opinion, Sign is his magnum opus, more than Purple Rain. But speaking of Purple Rain…
Cliché alert. So, my favorite song is Purple Rain. I've got a good reason though lol. When I started playing the guitar my guitar teacher would ask me what songs I'd like to learn from time to time, so when given the chance I said I wanted to learn Purple Rain. It's the first Prince song I learned how to play on the guitar. It was (and is like magic) every time I strum that opening B flat major chord. Purple Rain's also 100% of the reason I wanted to get a chorus pedal when I started putting my pedalboard together. Also, I think for me, growing up in the church, Purple Rain reminded me of so much of the music I heard in church, but it was edgier, and had A LOT more distortion. And the end of Purple Rain where the band drops out and it's just the synth? That is, in fact, gospel. I still get chills every time I hear those chords.
Now, my favorite album’s gotta be Controversy. He did it all on that album. He talked politics by addressing the growing tension of the Cold War - telling Ronald Reagan to talk to Russia before it's too late - Ronnie, Talk To Russia addresses questions about his sexuality, and gender performance Sexuality, religion and spirituality, Controversy, and of course the biggest song from the album, Do Me, Baby. And all of it is funky as hell. Musically, the album is a funk guitar master class on wax.
Tarick what do you wish the casual fan (those who only know kiss, purple rain, 1999) knew about prince the artist/musician?
Stanley For the most part, I think people know that Prince played just about every instrument, minus woodwinds. But this guy was a SERIOUS musician, not just some capo-using, singer-songwriter that uses instruments as a prop for stylish purposes. He had the guitar skills of Jimi Hendrix and Santana, seriously. And he played a huge role in the early development of electronic music.
Musically, I wish more people knew about, it would be the Madhouse albums. Madhouse was a jazz fusion band with Eric Leeds, and a couple of appearances from Dr. Fink and Sheila E. Prince basically played all of the instruments on the albums. But to me those Madhouse albums were so innovative and brave. To put it in perspective, Prince is a mega-star by the time Madhouse started releasing music, and he decides to go completely against the grain and do instrumental albums? Jazz albums? That's crazy! Not many artists have access to musician circles – musical elitists’ lol - and mainstream, pop circles. I think you can put Stevie Wonder and maybe Clapton in that group of artists that could appeal to both circles – both musicians and a mainstream audience. But Prince could hop between any genre, racial group, etc. Everybody dug P.
Something that I’m learning about now is the humanitarian he was. Like, I’m reading about how he provided energy panels to families in Oakland, provided financial assistance to the families and in Baltimore as well as the Black Lives Matter Movement, and how he paid off Clyde Stubberfield’s medical bills. Grant it, he didn’t want people to know about some of this stuff, but I think more people should know about it. As the resident Princeologist...lol, what do you wish non-Prince fans/casual fans knew?
Tarick part of me doesn’t need or want public acceptance for Prince so idc about non fans. Music is subjective. I think everybody should listen to or like Prince but most in my generation don’t. But the other/music lover part of me wishes everybody dug Prince the musician/the man/the performer/the singer and song writer. He can/could do it all. He can play any and all instruments except woodwind instruments (sax/trumpet, etc) he can sing and dance simultaneously. The man was a genius but at the same time he gave back so much. From the beginning when he was putting people (mostly friends) on, writing and recording music to give to other artists, etc. He set trends, had the hottest women, we all know that. later on he was big on control. he was big on owning his music too. most artists weren’t and still aren’t really privy to that. most of your favorite artists don’t own their music let alone their names. he fought a hard fight for all that. he paid a price too. but in the end it was worth it. He owns all his music. Owns his name. hasn’t had a hit in like 20 years but still sells out whenever and wherever he goes to play. people give him standing ovations whenever he walks in a room, on a basketball court or presents grammy’s. even if people don’t really like his music you gotta respect all that he was and did….he didn’t specifically think about or come up with streaming music (apple music, tidal, spotify) but artists getting paid properly for their work, he was the first talking bout that….that’s where the symbol came from and writing slave on his face. he didn’t like his music being on youtube. semi understandable for multiple reasons but because of this, his music, concerts or even officially released videos weren’t up so most people can’t/couldn’t get a taste of who he is/was or what he does/did or why i think he’s the greatest of all time. he is all his great mentors rolled in one. his guitar playing is beautiful. he might be the best guitar player of all time. yes, that is my humble, semi biased opinion. his drumming is timed perfectly. his keyboard/piano playing is amazing and his bass playing is funky as hell. He has a song for everything. when ppl i know/love are feeling some kinda way i’ll give them a lyric or a quote and they won’t know where it came from but 9/10 it’ll be from one of Prince’s songs. His lyrics were some of the most deep and most beautiful pieces ever written. he was just THAT dude.
His passing feels biblically tragic not only for the man, but also for his medium. Prince, to me, represented the last of the self-assembled pop stars. There’s a spectrum of things that contribute to pop stardom: the ability to sing, play instruments, write hits, produce albums, dance on stage or in videos, and all the while look great doing it. Most performers manage to combine a few of those attributes. It’s unheard of, unicorn-like, to see someone be all of those things at once. Even Michael Jackson had the help of Quincy Jones. Prince however, practically embodied the spectrum. It was right there in the liner notes of his first album For You, which read, “produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince."
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