It’s pretty difficult to communicate through grief, especially when you feel yourself crumbling and unsure what words could possibly save you from yourself. 2016 has been a strange year of sudden voids that we’ve had to cope with, the passing of Maurice White, Phife Dawg, David Bowie, and Natalie Cole hours before the year began. And now that our beloved Prince Rogers Nelson has returned to the constellations, I hope this light that he burned into the world guides us all closer to the real revolution that his artistry laid bare for all of us to see.

But life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.

It’s important to recognize that Prince single-handedly pushed the boundaries on sexuality, race, gender norms, and artistry in the mythology of the American Dream. Playing every single instrument on For You, his debut album may not seem so revolutionary for our generation of creators and makers who have learned to be jacks of all trades, but Prince was not only the jack of all trades, he mastered them.

prince for you
Photo: denise huxtabook

He grew up in the racially integrated neighborhood of Minneapolis during the 60s and 70s, a time in American history hotly contested on the issues of civil rights, but also booming with the cultural impact of funk, rock, and jazz musicianship. Inspired by Minneapolis local, Sunny Thompson, another musician who played every instrument, Prince took on a sense of blending and recreating all of the music that had shaped his formation, and let it be his guiding intention in everything that he touched. He did it when he was getting his symbolic beginnings with the funky 94 East band, to when he stunned record executives as the 17yo kid from Minneapolis who was the sole personnel on his demo, which was so eclectically impressive it eventually led to several record label interests but ultimately landed him at Warner Bros..

From the musicality, to the aesthetic, to the bands he put together that quintessentially showed us what real diversity and inclusion looks like, his genius was apparent. He was a man of excellence, so excellent that when Prince hit us with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” we were down, and not many cared what that meant, black, white, man, or woman…we just wanted to be loved by him.

Prince – I Wanna Be Your Lover (Official Video) by Prince-Official

For all the creators out there, from the artists blending the sounds that they hear on the inside, to the creators building worlds on the outside where we’re all represented in the narrative — whether in social justice, film, tv, books — we are indebted to Prince for this moment to be able to do so. His wokeness about humanity stretched beyond the collective vision of progress, and showed us what it means to be a walking revolution. And while his unconventional approach was met with controversy, whether it was his erotic nature or his leveling of racial confines, we can acknowledge that the 80s was his entire hair flip to people unaware of what it meant to be human, or attempting to deny its elasticity. The Revolution, New Power Generation, Sheila E, Vanity 6… Prince basically defined the 80s music scene with the artists and the groups that he put together, and created the blueprint of a new American Dream, an alternative American culture that’s become an ideal, and attainable, reality for more millennials than in any other generation.

In the 90s, when he dropped his name for the symbol, and subsequently forced the record company to send out floppy disks with the typography so that publications could accurately print the artist’s custom combination of male and female symbols (levels, beloved), his artistry went through many transformations. After the less commercially successful albums Come, The Black Album, The Gold Experience, and Chaos and Disorder, along with the dissolution of his contract with Warner Bros., Prince took hold of his career in a way that would pave the way for artists like Beyoncé to step out on their talent, and not just define it or creatively control it, but to own it. And when Emancipation dropped in 1996 under his label New Power Generation Records, beloveds, Prince electrified us with a new face of liberation and creativity. Experimenting with different genres, inspired by his recent marriage to backup performer Mayte Garcia, Emancipation was a defining 3-disc album in Prince’s career, and for the music industry as a whole, because whether it was good or not by the critics’ standards, it was his album, his story.

Photo: madamenoire
Photo: madamenoire

By the 2000s, his name returned to the six-letter moniker of royalty, and while solidifying his musicology, Prince’s performances would introduce him to a whole new generation of listeners, but it was also the stories that people would share of meeting the legend that would shape his legacy.

Whether it’s the stories of his exclusive concerts at his Beverly Hills home, or Charlie Murphy recalling Prince’s impressive basketball skills, or Questlove or Jimmy Fallon sharing the evasiveness of a Prince invite to do something like roller skating, or playing ping pong, he had a lasting effect on anyone who was in his presence. And the shade he threw…I mean listen.

Prince was more than an artist, he was a creator in every sense of not just being the vessel, but designing it too. When you create and authentically express yourself, you’re carving out the space of your existence. Needless to say, the space Prince just carved is everlasting (which is why I’m, like so many of us, are shocked by the revelation of his mortality). But he’s still here, reverberating through the artists he’s impacted, and the soundscape he’s cultivated, just by telling his story in music. And it was more than just entertaining us or shaping our culture, he was enlightening us, and liberating us, and just reflecting our souls back to us. He said sometimes it snows in April, but who would have ever thought he meant like this.

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last