At the beginning of the eighties, a new force of nature entered my home at a party for my dad, his friends and his soon to be second wife.
Prince Rogers Nelson was in my home dancing in thigh high boots, an open and freely flapping trench coat and yes, horror of horrors, a g-string.
My parents and their libertine friends were horrified.
Was this a man? A transvestite? Was he black? Mixed? On drugs?
God forbid was this creature (lean in for the whisper) gay?
All I knew was that he seemed to be enjoying himself: he let other people wrestle with labeling him and he upset my parents.
As a 13 year old, I was hooked.
I rarely saw my parents get riled up about anything.
Prince got them riled up.
Prince gave me a new definition of black male artistry and masculinity.
If a black man could be this flamboyant and talented then anything was possible.
As a young black kid struggling with identity,oppression and ongoing homophobic assaults, seeing a black male take up space and offer the world the “finger” was needed and welcomed.
Prince let me know that it was ok to be talented and different.
I would need this assurance.
Just around the corner was disease and stigma that would wipe out difference, creativity, passion and talent.
Prince let the world know that through a great hook any subject could be spoken of and to: sex, nuclear war, AIDS, love, obsession, joy.
It is not often that someone this gifted is granted the opportunity to influence the world and pop culture for thirty years.
I can vividly recall where I was and what I was going through when I listen to his catalogue.
Dirty Mind– an eight grader curious and frightened by the world and determined to seek it out anyway.
Purple Rain– I remember my best friend singing “Darling Nikki” during one of our Summer outings and I thought “wow”. “Somebody is talking about masturbation on a record ?”
I also remember running to my record player and turning it down when he got to that line.
Purple Rain, the movie, caused major pandemonium when it was released.
Many of my friends bragged about having seen it 10,15 and in some truly bizarre cases, 25 times.
My parents constantly griped about why we needed to see the movie so many times and play his records repeatedly.
That is until they heard a couple of B-sides, namely “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” and “She’s Always in My Hair”.
Once they got a load of those ditties, they quit asking why we were so unremittingly under his spell.
In my obsessiveness, nothing the purple one did seemed wrong or a misstep.
What I believed scared and enthralled so many people(regarding his genius) was the ability to not “give a fuck”.
Black male musicians were limited to certain forms of expression.
R&B male singers were expected to be smooth, calm, sexy and not too intimidating.
They were expected to be boring and in most cases, predictable.
As an artist who wrote, produced and recorded his own music, Prince provided no predictability.
Having mastered some 40+ instruments, Prince could easily genre hop in ways that no artist has done before or since.
Whether jamming with Chaka Khan until the wee hours of the morning; performing with Miles Davis and Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest or simply sitting on a stool with a guitar playing an acoustic medley of his and other artists’ hits, here was a man that owned his life and determined what it would look like.
As a black male living in this country, musically roaming was another large “no-no” that he ripped through with abandon.
Whether discussing drug addiction, government apathy or violence among our inner city youth, Prince shared with us where we were heading if we didn’t make changes.
I urge all artists to step up and be 1/10 the artist he was.
Can you imagine a conversation between Prince and James Baldwin?
While he wasn’t for my parents generation, he maintained a relevance and level of productivity that younger generations should wisely adopt.
My parents generation were a group of folks overly concerned with what people thought and most importantly what they said.
My parents were always frightened of any person who brought too much attention to themselves.
Prince teased us with world straddling and caused the older generations much grief.
In my eyes, he was a hero.
Black men were not allowed to rock high heels, be uber talented and not give a shit about what people thought or said about them.
We need black males secure in their manhood who give themselves over to their gifts then self create a sustaining vision of themselves and also rock high heels.
Where are artists and men like Prince Rogers Nelson?
Where are the gutsy, ballsy not giving a fuck artists?
If I see one more nitwit talking about being an artist and then crank out the same shit as everybody else, I will lose it.
As a young closeted queen, I had no black male role models who were as fearless as the Purple One.
I’ve known black males who either got crushed by White Supremacy (my grandfather) or never got a handle on their genius(my uncle) which means he never fully realized it.
Prince became a symbol of black male genius in its glory- unapologetic, relentless and unrestrained.
Thank god I was introduced to this wonderful bellwether.
I would have never survived high school without his talent and music.
I want the genius with me and I want to believe that this human was more Christ like than any of us will ever know.
When he started rocking the brutally honest and historically troubling word SLAVE across his cheek, I was not yet committed to a life of creativity and the mind.
My naivete allowed me to think that since he was rich and famous and putting out his own music that there weren’t people attempting to control him.
As I began producing work and releasing it to the world, his insistence on being free made sense.
Since we now live in a world that encourages us to not take a stand about anything, a man who stood for something was a welcome and invigorating entity.