He's got plenty of names (The Purple One, The Artist Formerly Known As..., 2014 ESSENCE Fest headliner) but there's never any chance of mistaking the musical mastermind that is Prince, especially as he strikes a classic rockstar pose on the cover of the June issue of ESSENCE, with his perfectly rounded Afro and signature shades.
In our cover story, Prince After Dark, writer Cheo Hodari Coker chronicles an evening with the star in L.A. in March, before and after another one of his marathon shows. They may not always start on time (Prince "has his own set of rules and his own sense of time") but they often go on for hours as the dynamo works his exhaustive catalog of hits and lesser-known tracks as he gives the audience the epitome of showmanship. The seemingly ageless star (who actually turns 56 next month) says one secret to his success is that he likes to keep his musical life spontaneous and challenging.
"'A real musician is always in creative mode,' Prince says.
He picks up a butter knife and starts cutting the air with it. 'That's what I used The Revolution for,' he says, making a cutting motion. The implication being, they were sharp. Fearless. The baddest, best-rehearsed band in the land.
'But ask them to do what we did tonight? To improvise? There would be a problem. That's what I love about this new arrangement. The energy. They're in the moment.'
He pauses. 'I'm not putting down The Revolution, even though people would love to see us together again. I owe a great debt to them. But I'm doing something else.'"
Prince added another title to his repertoire in this issue, as he interviewed his friend and legendary hitmaker Nile Rodgers, who's been helping light up the charts on songs from Chic's "Le Freak" to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." Prince has also joined ESSENCE and Van Jones in furthering #YESWECODE, a national initiative to help 100,000 low-opportunity youths learn to code computers. With all this going on, there's clearly no winding down going on here.
To read more about why Prince doesn't curse in his songs anymore, his thoughts on record company heads and his full Nile Rodgers interview, pick up the June issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands May 9.