I never really understood why people got upset when a musician passed on. Yes, I understood that we attach ourselves to the songs and whatever memories those songs evoke, yet I always figured, we never really know an artist on a personal level.
But when I heard Prince suddenly died. I was genuinely affected. Sure, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston affected me yet Prince’s passing felt more personal.
I came to discover Prince through my cousin in Grade 10, she chastised me for not knowing one of the greatest songs ever – “Purple Rain” of course. From that day, I set out to hunt for the man’s music because my life could never be the same the moment I first heard “I never meant to cause you any sorrow”.
From then on, I familiarised myself with his genius. You see Prince was the ultimate icon. He embodied every facet of what diverse is. His incomparable versatility was hard to ignore. He sang about love-making with the same fervour he tackled spiritual-themed songs. Prince sang, wrote, produced, and played tons of instruments on most of his songs. Only a few artists can actually attest to such complete ownership over their creations and expressions.
Another reason I’m highly affected by his passing is the simple fact that I will never see him perform live. I literally had “see Prince perform” as one of the things on my unofficial-official bucket list. He was the ultimate performer, known for his intense, theatrical performances. Oh, who can forget those timeless guitar riffs that he delivers with a certain acrobatic flair that is not in the slightest offensive.
With one of the most extensive discographies spanning over 30 years you are bound to find a Prince song you’ll enjoy – I guarantee it. Every note, every synth and every harmony seems purposeful. His strong penmanship was evenly matched with his innate musicality that enabled him to tell stories of love, sex, pain, God and heartbreak effortlessly. From sensual “Do Me Baby” to gospel-tinged “You Make My Sun Shine”, Prince wrote songs that tackled the entirety of the human existence with a fearlessness no artist can ever embody.
This brings me to why I took Prince’s passing so personally. Prince genuinely changed my life. As an awkward, weird teenager, Prince made it okay for me to be slightly offbeat. In a world that only aims to box black boys into stereotypes, he floated through and toppled all the giants that aimed to keep us in those boxes. From his colourful outfit choices or pioneering videos that left us, frankly, confused but highly intrigued, he made it okay to be that person that danced to the boom of their own 808s. He was unapologetically himself all the time and audiences across the world fell in love with him. It taught me that people respond to authenticity, regardless of how weird you may be. He was unapologetically himself every day and owned the greatness of his gift. As his sombre “Sometimes It Snows In April” blasts through my headphones, I’m grateful for the grand spirit that he was. He remains the cornerstone of pop culture, who provided the blueprint for all those that followed.
He taught me to be bold, to be me, to be purple. Always.
Thank you, Purple One.