Many words come to mind when I think of Prince: legend, genius, icon, visionary, forward-thinking, and purple. With Prince’s passing on April 21, 2016, the world painted itself purple in remembrance of a talent that we may never see again in this lifetime. Although Prince has released 39 solo albums and a film that grossed $80 million, won 7 Grammys, an Oscar, and sold over 100 million records worldwide, his impact in music, fashion, and society is immeasurable.
Prince challenged society’s definition of what it means to be a man or woman (barring sexual organs) through his clothing and his androgynous and amorphous onstage persona. In his number one song, “I Would Die 4 U,” Prince said, “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand.” He revolutionized sexual expression through his music and even helped with the formation of the “Parental Advisory” label after the release of his fittingly titled fourth album, Controversy. With songs like “Little Red Corvette,” “Darling Nikki,” and “International Lover,” Prince trod the line between raunchy and slyly coy to international superstardom.
Musically speaking, Prince’s legendary magnum opus, Purple Rain, changed the music industry. As an artist who was always apathetic towards music videos, Prince shocked everyone by releasing a full-length semi-autobiographical film to theatres with an accompanying soundtrack that produced three number one singles and sold 13,000,000 copies in the United States alone. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. The film’s influence can be seen today through Beyoncé, who released her T.V. movie and accompanying album both titled, Lemonade, on April 23, 2016.
Furthermore, Prince’s emphasis on the album rather than singles separated him from his peers and elevated him to a level of iconicity that has yet to be challenged. The influence of this way of thinking can again be seen through Beyoncé and her eponymous 2013 album, which was released with no prior morning in the middle of the night.
Not to be overlooked, Prince’s humanitarian and philanthropic efforts are incredibly admirable. Prince publicly supported Black Lives Matter while presenting the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2014 and donated $1.5 million to the movement. He also, quietly gave money to Trayvon Martin’s family for legal fees, launched YesWeCode, an initiative to teach 10,000 lower-class children how to code, and marched and released a song in Baltimore in remembrance of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
Ever since I first dipped my ears into the vast ocean that is Prince’s expansive discography, I’ve always thought of him as a cool, unconventional uncle. Prince taught me that there was no right way to be a man, that I could express myself in literally any way possible. Whether it be through a symbol or a color, however, you chose to express your being is good enough and worthy of acceptance. Prince had his flaws, homophobia being one of them, but nonetheless, he was a person that we didn’t deserve. We didn’t deserve everything he had to offer and we still haven’t completely comprehended his musical genius. A visionary, an icon, a genius, a humanitarian, a legend, a philanthropist, we will never forget the heart, soul, and mind of The Purple One.