On April 21, Prince Rogers Nelson died of undisclosed causes at his Paisley Park home and studio in Minnesota. To try to define Prince is both an easy and complicated task; after all, he dedicated his life to preserving control and individuality in the world of pop culture, something that compelled him so much he famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. He was a true pop star, one of the biggest to grace music history, but he was far from just another singer. Nothing Prince ever did was short of grandiose.
Prince was a prodigy who could make everything look and sound easy. A virtuoso who could shred on any instrument he laid his hands on, he recorded several of his albums on his own, commandeering production, engineering, and arrangement duties. While it sometimes seemed as though he had gone off the deep end, he never sounded self-serving, instead making grooves and melodies that sounded familiar the instant you listened to them for the first time.
Although he was more than capable of taking full responsibility for his artistic vision, he regularly collaborated with other artists. He started bands with whom he toured, wrote, and recorded, such as The Time, The Revolution, New Power Generation, and 3RDEYEGIRL. He mentored tons of emerging artists, wrote for veterans and newcomers, and jammed with anyone he deemed worthy, sometimes during the afterparties of his own shows.
Prince was a champion for many unheard voices, especially those of women artists, many of whom were Latina. Apollonia – born Patricia Kotero to Mexican immigrants – was the female lead in Purple Rain, and also the lead singer of Apollonia 6, for whom he wrote and managed.
Of course, there was also Sheila E., one of the most talented drummers of her generation, who toured for many years with his band in addition to handling her solo career. Now she’s considered a legend on her own right.
In the second half of the 80s, Prince found a collaborator in Ingrid Chávez, who contributed to his Lovesexy album, played his love interest in the film Graffiti Bridge (it was during this time that she co-wrote Madonna’s “Justify My Love,” one of Madge’s most controversial songs), and collaborated on a spoken word project. In 1990, Mayte García joined the NPG as a dancer, and served as Prince’s muse for many years afterwards, even contributing vocals in both English and Spanish. Their relationship blossomed into a marriage that lasted for two years, and tragically involved a child that passed away a week after being born.
Nothing Prince ever did was short of grandiose.
Additionally, he wrote songs for Martika (of “Toy Soldiers” fame) in the early 90s, which resulted in her hit “Love…Thy Will Be Done.” Most recently, he launched the career of Bria Valente, recording her album Elixer and including it with his own two albums Lotusflow3r and MPLSound as a 3-CD set in 2009. He also involved a few actors in his musical endeavors; when he re-released the song “1999,” it included a spoken word element featuring Rosario Dawson (he called her “the voice of a generation”), which blossomed into a friendship that years later saw them collaborating on charity-related projects. In 2006, Prince tapped Salma Hayek, no less, to direct the video for “Te Amo Corazón.”
In his videos and movies, Prince embodied the sexual power of a ladies’ man while simultaneously embracing stereotypically feminine presentations of gender, most visibly through his love of makeup and high heels. In turn, he became a role model for queer and non-binary people, especially people of color. He destroyed stereotypes of what a non-white person could do, inspiring a younger generation of boundary-breaking artists that includes figures like Venezuelan producer Arca. He gave people who didn’t feel like they belong a prime seat at the table, and the confidence to strut their stuff. He was transgressive without being aggressive; his modus operandi wasn’t about breaking through, but breaking out as your true self.
Musically, it’s difficult to think of pop music without his impact. To this day, his exhilarating funky and catchy fusion of genres keeps informing popular music across the globe. Latin music is no exception, especially where deep grooves and shimmering synths meet. It’s undeniable that songs by icons like Soda Stereo, Café Tacvba, Illya Kuryaki and The Valderramas, and Fobia can be traced to the influence of His Purple Majesty. Most recently, his daring pop spirit can be found in the music of Helado Negro, Algodón Egipcio, and Dënver.
In Latin America, Prince was a cult icon, an artist that defied categorization and almost served as a litmus test for who was really down in the music world. He only played three shows in Latin America, all in 1991: Two dates at the second Rock In Rio in Brazil and a set at Argentina’s Rock & Pop festival at River Plate Stadium.
These performances are as mythical as most things Prince ever did; his rider for Rock In Rio included 200 towels that wound up being tossed into the crowd, a request for his dressing room to be painted purple and a request for a white grand piano to be placed in his hotel room. The late Luis Alberto Spinetta witnessed his soundcheck for the Argentina show in the empty stadium, and later testified that it drove him absolutely crazy; the show fell short by many concertgoers’ standards, but included high points like a piano rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Rumors were circulating that Prince was set to tour in Chile for the latter half of 2016.
Prince destroyed stereotypes of what a non-white person could do.
We look up to people who are head and shoulders above their peers, who singlehandedly overcome odds and obstacles to become successful, yet often, those people are expected to follow a cut-and-dried path to fame. Prince never considered taking the road he was supposed to take. He fought fiercely and publicly to be his own person, to live life on his own terms. He showed us that perhaps what we have been told is not always the truth. He brought the spirit of punk to the mainstream. He preached freedom and compromise, self-love and discovery, asking us to make the best of art and life. Prince embraced his eccentricities, but his humanism shone brighter because of it. He taught us lessons while he tried to seduce us, and did so with joy and flamboyance. For this, we’ll remember him as the one and only Purple Majesty.