It’s safe to say that Prince was a musical genius and a master of cool. As Black America’s musical darling, rivaled only by Michael Jackson, he oozed sex and sensuality. And, while music was certainly his claim to fame, what I appreciated most about Prince was not his mastery of music (although I loved that, too), but his zeal for living life with intention. Prince was unapologetically himself: bell-bottom pants, heeled boots and all. We loved him without question, but what really made Prince an icon was that whether we loved him or not, he wouldn’t have changed. As a person who is constantly critiqued and questioned for my unconventional thinking and unusual humor, I take pride in Prince’s unashamed stance in his truth. And (from a distance) in many ways, he’s been somewhat of a role model for how I live my life. Here are just a few of the lessons his life and his lyrics have taught me:
He challenged me to be daring.
In some circles, it is still frowned upon for men to don feminine clothing, wear heeled shoes and eye liner because of what it suggests. Prince was progressive for his time. He let his music speak for him and wore what he wanted without caring about how it came across. It was not unusual for him to wear flashy clothing, line his eyes and throw on a fierce heeled boot. He made it hard to ignore him, and ultimately, even those who found his attire less than favorable still counted themselves amongst his fans. He paved the way for other artists and people like me to also go against the norm and be unapologetically themselves.
He taught me not to be sheepish.
Prince was and remains the physical embodiment of someone who let his art speak for him. I admired his sense of conviction and his love and deep sense of understanding of women; evident in songs like “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” His lyrics worshipped women: their bodies and their minds, and praised those who were sexually liberated. I mean, who doesn’t remember that line from “Darling Nikki,” “Thank you for a funky time, call me up whenever you want to grind.” This lesson extends beyond sexuality, it reminds me to always have the audacity to ask for what I want in every aspect of life.
He reminded me to be memorable and know that only I write the book on who I am.
In an interview, Prince once said “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.” Of all lessons, it is this lesson that I cherish most because it is the core thread upon which each of the other lessons are strung together. That statement and lyrics like “she walked in through the out door” in his hit song, “Raspberry Beret” served as a call to action to be daring and proactive in the narration of your life.
There was an irony in his title: “The Artist Formerally Known As Prince” because he became art. Sometimes I think we continued to call him Prince, not merely because it was his birth name, but simply because it was fitting—he was royalty in his own right, and we believed it to be true. I’m grateful for his life and his music, but even more so for the daring woman Prince encouraged me to become.