When Prince Rogers Nelson died on April 21, 2016, a chasm was left in his wake.
The pioneering multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer and bona fide style icon touched millions of souls throughout his prolific career, none more than his fellow creatives. His sounds vibrated through genres seemingly without prejudice, and his influence on rap, house, techno, experimental music, R&B and pop is almost too massive to properly take into account.
FACT reached out to a number of artists – musical and otherwise – to find out exactly how Prince informed their creative journey. We spoke to King Britt, who was lucky enough to meet with Prince on two occasions, D∆WN, The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, Seven Davis Jr. and more.
My mother introduced me to his music. He was at Essence Fest [in New Orleans] when I was about 13. I saw him perform and it was spiritual for me. I started to do research and listen to all his records and go to his earlier work. After that I was inspired and I never looked back — it was Prince forever. My father was a musician, but my parents were educators, so they told me music wasn’t necessarily going to be a job, it was something that you loved, it was an escape. There was a sense of freedom with Prince that I really loved. Growing up as a kid, I was the peg that kinda didn’t fit. He gave me a reason to feel like I could fit with his music. He had his own voice, his own expression and I could relate to that.
There was this sense of respect and camaraderie that he had with his band. You saw that with him using them in Under the Cherry Moon and Purple Rain, and using them consistently in his films and when he would accept his awards. There was an appreciation of the band. There’s an appreciation that I use in my aesthetic, as well – with anyone that I work with, whether it’s producers or my band, there’s this appreciation of a conglomerate.
Even the outrageous fashion and the androgyny. I really was inspired by his use of pushing the envelope of genderlessness and blending that whole aesthetic. If you know me, you know I push that line of being a tenor and a bass and then going into falsetto and playing with the idea that there is kind of a push on the gender roles in music.
There was a moment of spirituality in his music and those, to me, resonated the most. Those are my favorites. There was a sense with Prince that sexuality and spirituality are the same. He figured out a way to speak on sexuality and things of lust and sex in a spiritual way, which made loving the body and another person seem spiritual. There’s a connection there that most people can’t actually do. It feels blasphemous. But that’s Prince: you saw him wearing ruffles and having this kind of femininity to him, but he was very much masculine and very much sexy and you couldn’t leave your girl around him.
Ever since seeing Prince’s 1999 tour in 1983, at The University of Penn Ice Skating Rink with Vanity 6 and The Time, I was changed forever musically, then later business-wise. The control he possessed over the crowd (and my mom) was mesmerising, and I really understood in those moments the power of music, if done with true intention. Years later, in 1993, I met Prince. He came to a Digable Planets show at First Avenue. He said, “So you’re the King, huh?” I laugh ’til this day. He was a huge supporter of positive black music.
We met another time in LA at Marques Wyatt’s Deep event where Spinna was playing, it was a quick hi. I’ve seen him perform seven times, and each time it’s mind-blowing and inspiring. When I worked with Wendy and Lisa on the ‘Sweet Suite’ remix I kept thinking of all the history they had leading up to that moment in the studio. I hope he got to hear it, the words are so appropriate for this situation. I also learned to control my destiny and own my masters from him. Until we meet again.
Seven Davis Jr
I respect Prince not only musically but I respect his mind, his decisions and his life journey. When he took down my cover of his song ‘Controversy’ from YouTube not long ago, I wasn’t even mad. I was happy I made it onto his radar. He made the kind of music he wanted, the music he felt inside, and he was unapologetic because (I imagine) he knew that no matter what style of music he was making, the source, the message came from a higher place.
His true fans stayed with him even when critics turned on him. That’s what I would like my fans to do, stay with me as I journey, but if not, all good. I can relate to this – being a multi-genre artist I get a lot shit for doing “uptempo” on one hand, then I get shit for doing “downtempo” on the other. Then when I’m blending genres, some people just can’t hang. I get that but it’s not my problem. I learned this from Prince and learned that negative critics don’t mean shit.
For him it was truly about the music and it is the same for me. I have so much more I could say but I’m writing this in the airport and don’t want to start crying again. To summarize, he was my hero in more ways than one. When people have said I sound like him, it makes me happy because he taught me a lot without ever meeting me, and I’m glad I understood his work.
Dave Okumu (The Invisible)
Prince saved my life. It sounds melodramatic but it’s true. I was 11 years old when I bought Sign O’ The Times, his socially conscious, playful, psychedelic, futuristic, spiritual, post-revolution odyssey. It was a time in my life when nothing felt safe or made sense. The ground I stood on seemed to be disintegrating beneath me and I felt lost, confused, as if I didn’t have place on this planet. There were moments when I felt it would be easier not to exist. Then I heard this record, an unequivocal testament to the beauty and legitimacy of human expression, borne of a riotous freedom of imagination and an unparalleled level of craft. I would listen to it everyday for years to come.
It’s impossible to quantify the impact it had on me as a person. It seemed to reach a place deep in my spirit with a simple message: be yourself. Through this music I was comforted, reassured, guided, challenged. Even though it felt like it came from a higher place, I discovered my own legitimacy in its reflection. I began to learn not to fear excellence or to see boundaries, to embrace uniqueness and idiosyncracy, to remain permanently connected to all sources of inspiration. The capacity of this music to empathise and simultaneously transport gave it an otherworldly quality. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, yet somehow I recognised in it the deepest parts of myself. I can’t really begin to express the depth of my gratitude for this sensation, something I continue to seek in everything I create and everyone I engage with.
Although I am devastated by the loss of this extraordinary creature, this polymath enigma possessed of a universal accessibility and alien humanity, I am deeply comforted by the indisputable fact that his legacy will continue for generations to come. I am so sad never to have had the opportunity to express my gratitude in person, but I am selfishly comforted by the fact that he enjoyed some of the work I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in. Stitched through my creative DNA and that of countless others, he will remain an infinitely powerful beacon of purple inspiration to us all forever.
Me being a drummer and pianist, Prince was just a real talented inspiration. He was always killing the guitars, and the style of his music was just different. He was in the same lane as Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix and I was definitely influenced by them.
Of all my musical influences it was Prince that left the biggest mark on me and from the earliest age. As a child growing up in the ‘80s, I can still remember the first time I heard ‘1999’ and thinking at the time that this music was so modern, so futuristic – and 1999!? That was nearly 20 years away – I felt like that year would never arrive. But then it did, and then we passed it. And Prince’s musical influence stayed with me always.
It’s his fault that I love the sound of the LM1 more than any other drum machine. He was the first person to tune electronic drum samples to the key of his songs, even risking that the drum sounded unnatural, but were musically perfectly in key. This gave his songs even more of a signature. But his musical universe is so big that the many aspects of it are totally enveloping. Not only did he create countless iconic songs in the mainstream, he also stayed creative and experimental and true to his musical voice. As an artist I tried to pay homage to him in my songs ‘Feel of Love’ and ’58 BPM’.
Manuel Sepulveda (art director, Optigram)
I was 19 when I saw Prince play live. It was on his back-to-basics Nude tour in 1990, and me and a friend had come up to London from Cornwall. The show had some brilliant moments – including Prince breaking free of a straitjacket because the pull of the funk was too strong – but it confirmed something I was beginning to suspect: I was too late. It’s always been a regret that I wasn’t able to see Prince earlier, when he was performing with The Revolution, a line-up that was so perfect for him. But in the end it didn’t really matter. His energy, his creativity, his sexuality, it was all in the recordings. And his output was extraordinary. You could collect just his B-sides and it would still be better than anyone else’s album.
It wasn’t just his own music but the music of all his associates too — his influence inspired greatness in so many members of his extended family. He had his insecurities, certainly, and they sometimes manifested in harsh and unpardonable treatment of those around him, but it should never be forgotten how much he supported other artists, particularly women, who he treated as equals and who he was eager to learn from and be influenced by.
Teenagers are supposed to try and imitate their idols, but Prince was so unreachable, so “other”, I knew it would be impossible. All I could do was admire. I used to imagine meeting him at Paisley Park, exchanging a few knowing words in the studio. I still do. He’s touched most aspects of my working life too, be it writing or graphics or radio – and then there’s my record label Citinite, which had Prince DNA running right through it. I can’t think of a single artist associated with the label who didn’t count Prince as a major influence — it simply wouldn’t exist without him. Thinking back on [The Revolution member] Dez Dickerson’s Modernaire record, my mind still boggles at how lucky I was. For me to have been able to put out an unreleased track from the film Purple Rain, which featured Prince on all instruments and backing vocals! It still seems so unrealistic an ambition.
Tyler Blake: [I got into Prince through a] song in the mid-‘90s called ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’. I was kind of really close-minded as a young teenager that just listened to punk music. When that song came out, I remember I had a friend who showed it to me and that song, for some reason or another, connected with me. Once we started listening to Prince, we listened to as much Prince as we could. [He used] all the newest technology for everything he was doing, including all the newest drum machines and making certain keyboards and drum machines his trademark.
Michael David: One thing that really exemplifies Prince is that everyone knows he’s this incredible virtuosic musician, but it’s very rare in music who can play that well, but who are equally well-known for their craft as songwriters. Prince almost stands alone in that regard.
When I was younger, I was working on a recording with a mix engineer named Mike Shipley, who was really famous for making records in the ‘80s. He told me that in 1986, he was working in a studio in LA. Prince was working in the same studio. Mike was working on a Berlin record and he would see Prince there for months. One day, Prince came into Mike’s studio and asked if he wanted to listen to what he’d been working on. Prince walked [Mike] into his control room and played him what was some really incredible music. Mike was blown away and asked: “When is this coming out?” And Prince just said he was just making a record for him and his friends to roller skate to and had no intention of putting it out. It makes me so happy to think there’s potentially so much music that no one has ever heard and maybe they never will.
The Black Madonna
When I heard about Prince, I immediately thought of two people. The first was my mother. The second was Derrick Carter. A lot of DJs play Prince records, but no one does it like Derrick. I remember people talking about Derrick dropping ‘When Doves Cry’ in the ‘90s like we were sitting around a campfire. I had never even seen him DJ and people were telling me about this dude in Chicago playing Prince at a rave. Instant legendary status. Over the years, I’ve seen Derrick play Prince songs many times. It’s always brilliant.
I guess I bring this up because I think Prince’s place as a permanent touchstone in the sets of Derrick Carter, a guy who is unquestionably one of our greatest DJs, says a lot about what Prince means to dance music in general. Prince is in the DNA of house and techno. He is midwest. He is funky. He is gospel. He is electric. Prince is the at the intersection of the sacred and the profane, male and female, gay and straight. He was Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, James Brown, Michael Jackson and so, so, so much more all in one person. He unapologetically kicked open doors for other black artists and tirelessly championed women musicians and engineers. Prince seemed like he would last forever. But I guess he was right. “Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”