It’s been one year since Prince’s death.
For many of us, his songs will always represent inescapable sadness, bright sparks of joy, metallic moments of excitement, and all the emotions in between.
But what’s also important to remember is that Prince didn’t just create music; He fought for it.
In his book, I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, cultural critic Touré detailed Prince’s groundbreaking life and career. And what struck him as pertinent was Prince’s refusal to be pigeonholed into a genre or have his race determine his stardom.
What Prince and Michael Jackson did, was they said, ‘I don’t want to be just famous within the black community, I want the world. I want everything.’ … Prince came in, and he said to the labels, ‘Do not try to just put me with the urban group; I want the world. I want to be with the pop staff. I’m going to make rock and roll, as well as soul, as well as funk … I don’t want to just go to Soul Train, I don’t want to just open up for Rick James, I want to be on Dick Clark.’
Touré makes an important point when it comes to appreciating Prince’s legacy.
When Prince began his career in the late ’70s, the music industry was segregated (as is still true today). Black artists would often get stuck into the “urban” genre because of the color of their skin. And that meant less budget, less marketing, less attention. Prince fought to become a pop star, to become his own artist. He refused to be treated as someone who was less than other (usually white) artists.
Prince’s ownership over his music also manifested itself in fights with his record companies, with YouTube, and with streaming services. He even once compared one of his contracts to actual slavery. The relationships he had with his record companies were no doubt contentious and filled with acrimony.
But without Prince’s ambition to shrug off a label, to fight for the best opportunities available to him, and to take his destiny into his own hands, who knows if he would have been the legend he became.