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Bert: “Wow, you drew me. Ok I’ll draw you, and I’ll give you a rad thumbs up and a big heart because I can tell you have a big heart” 

Prince: A Eulogy

Just how bad was Prince Rogers Nelson?

So baaaad you were your own Joe Jackson, for starters. Whipped your own ass into that ready-for-the-world-stage-worthy state we first met on tour in 1981 with The Time in D.C. Most of your audience, representing young Chocolate City’s fashion-forward New Wave pansexuality, appeared to have been awaiting you for — well, if not forever, then a mighty long time. You, this intercontinental ballistic missile of danger and derring-do, blown into our path from the very unfunkybutt boondocks of Minneapolis. A place with a colored population of barely 10 percent when you were born. Black enough, though, that you show up at 19 years old a ready-made grand master of all our music’s core instruments, romantic vocabularies, and progressive sonics. And unlike our insanely permissive and mollycoddling present — when any young negro with half a hook can be a shooting star and expend their 15-minute final quarter flaming out in front of Apollo Legends — U had the nerve to come storming in from the outback demanding dining rights in their Olympian arena. Meaning you came into the game when Stevie Wonder, Rick James, David Bowie, Weather Report, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Jackson Five, and Earth, Wind & Fire were still in their prime. So not a drill, not an audition.

How cocky was our oven-fresh embryonic young Prince? So cocky you turned down lucrative record deals that would have permitted Maurice White or Quincy Jones to be the in-studio bosses of you. Because you already knew, back when the band was Grand Central, then Champagne — Jimmy Jam on bass, Morris Day on drums — and yawl were cutting your ambitious teeth on every talent-show, hotel-lounge, or chitlin-circus gig the Great White American heartland had to offer future Funk & Roll / Black Rock Stars as bodacious as your rambunctious and anomalous selves.

So baaad that back when the entry exam for upstart  contenders in black popular music was more akin to today’s NBA than tomorrow’s TMZ, you blew in with stacked heels, mascara, a supermodel mane, Egyptian kohl, and that puckish grin, telling the league’s gatekeepers, I’m starting five, or Funk You. And I’m floor-coaching myself from day one.

Ain’t a lick been played on the radio, nary a beat dropped in any arena, no Berry, Stevie, or Diana had cosigned your insurgent antics. Last time anybody had seen balls that Gigantor, his name was Sly Stone, from just as booty a backwater — Vallejo, Cali. Ex-DJ, ex-gangbanger, ex-choirboy, ex-conservatory nerd who woke up one day and decided to challenge the Memphis Motown James Brown Abbey Road Brill Building regimes by his lonesome. “You Can Make It If You Try” was his mantra, too. A studio-savvy multi-instrumentalist like Stevie and you, fluent in English poetics, equally advanced about ethnic and gender democracy to boot.

The No. 1 model for copious notes on what to do and not to do — eclectic-craft-wise and chemical-wise, too. Which is another reason the sketchy and suspect narrative we’re being given regarding your exit befuddles us.

Given the loyal opposition, your 1980s breakthrough was as wildly improbable as Sly’s 1968 one, not least because  you weren’t out to just secure a foothold. Nope — you saw a crack in the window  of apartheid-oriented American rock radio and wanted to bust that bitch wide open, upsetting your nation’s still-dreaming-of-desegregation race, sex, and dress tolerances with the taunting debaucheries of your Dirty Mind. We also can’t overlook that this hoodoo child of the Corn Belt busts out of L7 the year after punk broke, the fabled “Summer of Hate” which would beget the second British Invasion of our lifetime and New Wave, too. So: legends of funk and soul to your right, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, and Devo to your left, and a deluge of L.A. hair metal in the gooey midsection of early music television’s rotational bandwidth.

How bad was Prince Rogers Nelson, when his starship landed on the nigga-denying shores of an MTV still busy sweating Van Halen’s jockstraps?

Bad enough that your “Little Red Corvette” will vie neck and neck with MJ’s “Billie Jean” for a shameful distinction — first video by a black artist allowed on the network. Michael took the lead, Prince a close second, both following crossover tactics 101 held over since the days of minstrelsy. All in the service of a Basquiat-like pimpwalk of black avant-garde-ism through the front door, while the rest of us 1980s avant-negroid #BlackRock furthermuckers were scheming on how to sneak our ra-ra through the servants’ entrance.

We past masters of code-switching, the mask that hides and grins, got techniques for these mother-rapers — blackface, whiteface, WTF kind of racial-facial the funk calls for. We been knowing how to disguise our Trojans and ride white horses. Getting over on The Crossover been a Negro specialty since a cork-greased Bert Williams first stuffed himself in a bootylicious rooster suit. And don’t even get us started on the history of slipping behind enemy lines by defusing tension with The Conk, The Relaxer, and That Nigra Prince Valiant. When there’s a million soldiers in gold medallions and tracksuits, you can go full frontal hip-hop, but when it’s just your priapic high yella buttcheeks out there, you might need to pass until the Afro is unsafe again. [Read More]