Honoring Prince’s Legacy Of Boundary-Breaking Greatness

By Colorlines Staff Apr 21, 2016

Prince died today

Typical descriptions about deceased music icons—"influential," "game-changing," legendary"—feel clichéd, but the truth is that this language exists so we have words to describe artists like Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince stood apart from his peers at a post-disco, pre hip-pop moment. He soaked up the essences of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Parliament Funkadelic, Rick James, LaBelle, Rufus and Chaka Khan and even his onetime rival, Michael Jackson, and unleashed something so very surprising, soulful, profane and new

Even his relatively conventional 1978 debut,"For You," which he produced, recorded, arranged and performed at age 19, hinted that he had something with him. That something resulted in four decades of music and film that pushed sonic and genre boundaries at least as much as his fashion and visual identity pushed conceptual ones. Prince, who stayed in his native Minneapolis at the legendary Paisley Park mansion, steered a sound that would make the careers of super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, The Time and Vanity Six. Without that sound and look and attitude, we wouldn’t have Miguel, Frank Ocean, Maxwell, Andre 3000, Erykah Badu—and the list goes on.

Our (tiny) editorial staff is still processing this loss. We imagine you are too. Here are some of our thoughts on his legacy. Please join us in sharing your Prince reflections, in the comments or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


"This is still soaking in. But in the immediate, I can only say that Prince changed things. He was literally a change agent, in an almost chemical way. Prince changed pop and R&B music with ‘Purple Rain,’ expanding boundaries and mixing sounds and ideas up when most people stayed in their lane. He changed our ideas about what a man—a Black man—could be with his permed bouffant, lacy shirts, unitards and high heels. Prince changed little-kid me by introducing me to erotica. (See ‘Darling Nikki.’) When he changed his name to that symbol not found in any language to protest his record contract, and he came on ‘The Today Show,’ with ‘slave’ written on his face, Prince sparked a transformational discussion about how record companies treat artists, especially Black ones.

Most recently, in a time of look-at-me, he was still selective about when and where he talked and what he said. He wouldn’t share his love life, but he did show us what was in his refrigerator—yak milk, micro greens and eight different varieties of mustard. Prince was the weirdest, sexiest motherf****er to ever walk the earth. I guess what I’m saying is, this one really hurts." Akiba Solomon, Editorial Director


"I used to have a theory that you were either a Prince girl or a Michael girl. The test? Which song moved you to dance on tables, ‘P.Y.T.’ or ‘Kiss’? I—according to my graduate-school self—was a Prince girl, not rich, kinda cool but ruling the world nonetheless. But as I get older and find myself teaching my 4-year-old the lyrics and video dance steps of my youth, as I have days like this one, when I will remember exactly where I was and who broke the news, I’m reminded that we are all Prince girls. Whether you’re feeling flirty, empowered, woke or lovestruck, his music is ever-present and ever-relevant. I can truly say that without having experienced the gloriousness that is ‘Purple Rain’ or having witnessed the beauty of his cheeky Princestagram posts or having cry-sang ‘Adore’ to myself more times than I’d like to admit, I would not be the woman I am today."Kenrya Rankin, News Editor


"My first recollection of Prince is probably when he appeared on ‘Muppets Tonight.’ I likely thought, ‘Huh? I recognize that guy,’ before playing Game Boy or whatever the hell I was doing at age 7. The Purple One reentered my life in high school, via the instantly classic ‘Chappelle’s Show‘ sketch that established his cool bonafides to this rock-obsessed suburban teen. Needless to say, it took a few years before I fully understood the depth of Prince’s genius and influence on the world in which I currently exist. Now, I couldn’t imagine a world without his (likely boot-ed) footprint. His music, fresh to this day, maps the DNA of every significant contemporary pop, R&B and rock musician. I ask my fellow millenials: Even if you don’t know his songs well, can you imagine a world without D’Angelo, Kanye West, Beyoncé or any other Black artist who pushes every boundary until those lines cease to exist? I can’t. And I can’t thank Prince enough for his enduring importance. Now, excuse me while I go eat some pancakes. Sameer Rao, Culture Reporter