Prince (born Prince Rodgers Nelson) is an American singer-songwriter and musician, known for his groundbreaking, eclectic style and flamboyant stage presence. He is multi-talented artist who plays a variety of instruments and is known for his genre-bending songs with predominantly sensual lyrics. Most of his popular songs are his hits during the 80s music era: “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Kiss,” “Sign o’ the Times,” “Batdance,” and so many others. One of the songs that he wrote for his side band The Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a worldwide hit for Irish singer Sinead O’Connor in 1990. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide and has won seven Grammy Awards. Prince is considered as the pioneer of the Minneapolis sound.
Early life and career
Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 7, 1958. Music ran in the family, as his father was a pianist and his mother was a jazz singer. Naturally, he and his sister Tyka were both keen in pursuing music.
Prince joined a band formed by his cousin named 94 East. After a stint with the group, Prince began writing and recording his own songs and sending demo tapes to various record labels, many of which rejected them. But with the help of his manager Owen Husney, Prince was finally able to secure a recording contract from Warner Bros. Records.
Prince’s first two albums For You (1978) and Prince (1979) were solid if undistinguished, funk-pop. But they did quite well commercially, with For You and Prince peaking at #163 and #22 on the Billboard 200, respectively.
Rising to success and fame during the 1980s
However, Prince’s next record Dirty Mind (1980) finally established him as a Casanova and musical genius, presenting diverse styles such as post-disco funk, pop and hard rock. The follow-up album Controversy (1981) was more of the same erotically-charged songs and and genre-bending tendencies. The two albums produced singles that seemed to become regulars on the Billboard’s top 10 of the dance chart: “Dirty Mind,” “Uptown,” “Controversy,” and “Let’s Work.”
Prince’s next album 1999 (1982) displayed remarkable brilliance. It became his first album to reach the top 10 of the Billboard 200 (it peaked at #9) and featured the title track. “1999” may have missed even the Top 10 by the time it was released (it only landed at #12), but it eventually became an anthem to ever year-ending party. Prince himself would play this song at a New Year’s eve concert in 1999.
1999‘s other hits include “Little Red Corvette,” (#6 pop) and “Delirious” (#8 pop). This album was also the first to feature Prince’s band The Revolution.
Although 1999 was Prince’s breakthrough album, his next release Purple Rain (1984) would establish him is a major international star. Purple Rain is a soundtrack album to the movie of the same name, which was also Prince’s film debut. The film was a box office hit, earning $68.4 million.
The hit singles made Purple Rain to become a massive critical and commercial success, selling over ten million copies in the US alone and spending a total 24 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. Purple Rain was adjudged as the “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal,” “Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media,” and “Album of the Year” by the Grammy Awards in 1985.
Around that time, Prince became one of the top male artists of the 1980s, only to be rivaled by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.
Purple Rain is Prince’s most pop-oriented album ever during his lifetime and career. But Prince didn’t want to subject himself to becoming an accessible artist, so he turned his music into a stranger territory when he released the neo-psychedelic Around the World in a Day. The album didn’t release any singles until a month after, because Prince wanted his fans to listen to the entire record first. Despite the lack of any hit singles, Around the World in a Day (1985) became nevertheless a certified hit, shipping over two million copies.
The following year Prince released the even more bizarre Parade, which became more ambitious than anything he had ever done just yet. It featured the sparse-funk song “Kiss”; despite Warner not expressing its desire not to have it released as a single, “Kiss” was nevertheless issued and became one of Prince’s most famous hits. It went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100; it would be also included on the Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs,” ranking at #461. The success of “Kiss” helped the album to sell over two million copies.
Prince disbanded The Revolution and released his first “solo” effort again, Sign o’ the Times (1987). Its title track became a hit single, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 and would rank at #299 on the Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs” list. Blending various genres such as funk, pop, rock, psychedelia made Sign o’ the Times another one of his masterpieces.
He had plans to release his next album The Black Album but decided to scrap it as he saw it as too immoral. So he released Lovesexy (1988) instead, which became a commercial flop. The following year he recorded songs for the Batman soundtrack and the album got him back to the top of the Billboard 200; one of its singles “Batmen” went to #1 on the Billboard pop chart in the same year.
Career in the 1990s
A little-known Irish artist by the name of Sinead O’Connor released her version of the song “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song that Prince had written and performed with his side project The Family many years back. It became an international breakthrough hit, and its iconic music video won the MTV’s Video Music Award for video of the year (1990). However, O’Connor’s brief encounter with him became less than savory, as she alleged that the row between her and Prince turned a little more violent.
Prince formed a new band, the New Power Generation and together they recorded and released Diamonds and Pearls (1991), where Prince reaffirmed his command over contemporary R&B. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and went to #1 on the R&B singles chart.
In 1993, Prince did the most bizarre move in his career: legally changing his name “Prince” into an unpronounceable glyph symbol, known as the “Love Symbol.” During that time he was mostly referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” or just “The Artist,’ but his new symbol was not wholeheartedly embraced by fans. More so, he was ridiculed because of his name change.
In 1994 Warner ceased its partnership to with Paisley Park Records, the longtime distributor of Prince’s records. Two weeks later “The Artist” released “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” on an independent label Bellmark Records; it went to #3 on the Billboard pop chart and #2 on the R&B singles chart.
Despite this, his relationship with Warner only worsened with another legal battle. He proclaimed himself as a “slave” to the label and refused to release the next album The Gold Experience. Fed up, Warner had agreed to a compromise which allowed him to release the album plus one final album. When The Gold Experience was finally released during the fall of 1995, it wasn’t a big commercial success despite the rave critical reviews.
For the rest of the decade he released few more albums: Emancipation (1996), Chaos and Disorder (1996), Crystal Ball (1998), The Truth (1998), The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. As the millennium was approaching, Warner re-released the single “1999” as well as the album 1999.
Prince in the new millennium and beyond
After years of relative obscurity, Prince returned to the limelight in 2004 to appear at the Grammy Awards together with Beyonce Knowles. There, he performed one of his signature songs “Purple Rain” along with Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” In March that year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
His recent appearances re-captured the interest of his old fans as well as earned him a new following. In the wake of this new-found interest Prince released Musicology in the spring of 2004, and kicked off with a tour which became a top grosser in the US.
In 2006 he released 3121 which went all the way to #1 on the Billboard 200; it had a more polished sound compared to the prior album. That same year he also wrote and sang “Song of the Heart” which appeared in the animated movie Happy Feet; his efforts won him a Golden Globe.
In 2007, the follow-up Planet Earth went to #3 on Billboard pop albums chart. In 2009 he released the three-CD set LOtUSFLOW3R, which went all the way to #2 on the Billboard 200.
He went on to release albums up to the recent years, all of them having done well critically and commercially: MPLSound (2009), 20Ten (2010), Plectrumelectrum (2014), Art Official Age (2014), HITnRUN Phase One and HITnRUN Phase Two (2015).
Illness, later death and legacy
In early 2016, Prince embarked on a rare solo tour Piano and Microphone. However, the tour was cut short due to illness, and he flew back to home to Minneapolis. On April 21, police were summoned to Prince’s Paisley Park recording studio, where he was found unresponsive. They tried to revive him, but a paramedic said that he had been dead for six hours. He was 57 years old. His death was ruled as an accidental overdose of fentanyl (a narcotic analgesic and sedative). The world mourned for another loss of a music legend — considering 2016 has seen the departure of other music legends such as David Bowie and Glenn Frey.
Prince did not only have the reputation of being one of the pop’s sex symbols, but also being a perfectionist towards his craft. And he was highly protective of it (that explains why people couldn’t get a decent video of some of his songs on YouTube due to copyright issues, at least when he was still alive). His songs, while not really that “classic rock,” also introduce some rock elements as part of his eclecticism. His material will never grow old, as both oldies music fans as well as new generation of music listeners will be able to enjoy and appreciate his music and sheer artistry.