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Why Prince matters

Friday 22nd April 2016

A look back at Prince’s extraordinary career.

 

 

Photo: AFP

While details are still emerging about his death, one thing will be clear when the tributes for Prince roll in today: his impact on music is incomparable.

The 57-year-old, born Prince Rogers Nelson, died suddenly today at his Minnesota home. He was an incredibly prolific songwriter who leaves behind a discography that stretches across 39 albums, including four released in the past 18 months. His songs, which include unforgettable hits like Purple Rain, Cream When Doves Cry, Little Red Corvette and Kiss, clocked up over 100 million sales.

Prince broke down, or just plainly ignored, any boundaries that existed between rock, pop and R&B. He was a provocateur who defied genre, but he was an extremely generous artist too. From Sheila E, to Sheena Easton and Vanity 6, he championed women in music throughout his career.

He also made a point of standing up for musician’s rights. His famed dispute with Warner Bros saw him change his name to a symbol in 1993 and he became commonly referred to as the “Artist Formerly Known As Prince”.

That fallout was eventually settled, but his unwillingness to back down from major label pressure was well known. He urged other artists to stand up for their rights and went on to say that being signed to a record contract was comparable to slavery. 

Through it all, he never stopped performing. Prince’s recent solo run of concerts brought him to New Zealand barely two months ago, and he played his final show in the US only last week. In Auckland he delivered two stripped back piano-driven concerts, running through four decades of material that make up his back catalogue.

RNZ Music’s Sam Wicks was there and said that the shows, which marked Prince’s first time in the country, were really something special.

“He was very playful with these songs. A super pop song like ‘Pop Life’ would become a kind of bluesy, gospel affair. He was having fun with these songs and rebuilding them as he went.”

As music critic Marty Duda told RNZ’s Morning Report earlier today, it was this type of creativity and unconventional approach that helped him eclipse others in his field. 

“Prince just did what all the great artists do. He did whatever he wanted to do or what he was driven to do. I put him right up there with Dylan, Bowie and those guys who just surprised everyone [and] didn’t pay attention to what was popular at the time.

“He annoyed his fans from time to time because they didn’t understand what he was doing. But if you look back on his whole career, he knew what he was doing.”

On ‘1999’, Prince famously sang, “I don’t wanna die / I’d rather dance my life away”.

Few artists have had such a distinct impact on the history of music, but there's still some things we can all relate to.



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