Prince Was Unapologetically Black Before It Was Cool To Be So » VSB

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Prince Was Unapologetically Black Before It Was Cool To Be So

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Thursday night, I attended a screening of the Roots reboot at the Tribeca Film Festival. While in the van on the way to the post-screening reception, I met Alondra Nelson — Dean of Social Sciences at Columbia University — and a conversation about Roots segued into a conversation about her work in genealogy, which then segued into the current relevance and popularity of unapologetic Blackness. We both agreed that, for various reasons, it seems almost trendy to be a conspicuously pro-Black Black person today. Perhaps it is disruptive and dangerous to exist that way in White spaces, but now the possession of a high degree of wokeness when among other Black people isn’t just nice, it’s necessary. Expected. Shit, even Beyonce seems to be on board.

Of course, the news of the sudden and shocking death of Prince loomed over the entire evening, like music blaring through stereo speakers; pulsating, vibrating, and reverberating sounds you could either choose to attempt to ignore or acknowledge. And when his death was broached, of course there were acknowledgements of his artistic impact and the sheer surreality of this news. But something else was brought up (repeatedly) as well. Prince was Black as fuck.

To be unapologetically Black in 2016 isn’t just to fully embrace Blackness. It’s to do it without a concern of how this Blackness will be perceived by people — White and Black — who don’t necessarily believe unapologetic Blackness is constructive, aspirational, or even necessary. And, if possible, it’s also to maintain your agency. To be and to keep as much as yourself and your personhood as possible. And Prince did this — all of this — at a time when doing all of this wasn’t the zeitgeist du jour. He was fearlessly himself — and unwilling to give any of that self up unless it was on his specific terms — when that type of fearlessness was revolutionary. Prince was, in the pro-Blackest sense of the word, woke. 

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

Previously

RIP Prince.

  • He really was…. when you tell a conglomerate to kiss your high yellow ayus because you don’t HAVE to release music to eat…. YOU ARE A BLACK GANGSTER.

    Oh and FIRST!

    • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

      Tabernacle and Amen. He was also a very giving, philanthropic person. He gave people help in private too seeking no fanfare.

    • Chazz A

      Now that’s what I’m talking about. Feel free to drop the Mic at this time!

    • Mary

      Tell it girl!

    • caligirl

      !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • nef05

      Just a tiny point. He was the first brother. Gino Vannelli (opened for Stevie by Stevie’s request, 1st white boy performer on Soul Train and was a regular, all before Prince even started his career) after his mega Brother to Brother (79-80) tour, told them (and Clive Davis) to go get fucked when they said they wanted him to only release Boston, Journey, Eagles, REM, White boy type formulaic music.

      They sued him for everything he had and everything he would have made while under contract. He still didn’t break. He was so broke and was black balled by Clive Davis to this day – why you think you don’t hear about him. Black folk LOVED him. You know, we know good music when we hear it!!!

      Vannelli is also a singer/songwriter/composer (did a 4 part symphony at age 23 recorded by London Philharmonic), arranger, producer, performer, musical director and multi-instrumentalist who also played all the instruments on his albums. He was also the first who used the synth to layer sound to sound as a whole band (easily verifiable).

      When it was over, he did hid first Jazz CD Yonder Tree, with Gregory Hines doing a tap/percussion intro as a friend, for simply a cigar. Gino could have used any percussion, but like Prince he wanted something different and innovative!

      I’m not taking ish away from Prince. I loved that man’s dirty draws. But, he wasn’t the first. He PERFECTED it, but he followed a path that was already set out before him. Musically & with Artist’s rights. Other than skin color, these two were musically soulmates. http://www.ginov.com/close-encounter-with-gregory-hines/

      • I know who he was… but we were talking about black folks.

  • Courtney Wheeler

    He did whatever he wanted..when he wanted…in some stunning high heel boots…

    RIP BAMF

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Unapologetically Black but also unapologetically masculine in a time where people never wanted to define a distinction in masculinity. Especially for Black men. He opened a whole new lane to just….be ourselves.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      This is what intrigues me about him moreso than anything; how he was able to transcend definitions of masculinity (well past the 70s and early 80s when his style was more acceptable from men), and no one fervishly challenged or questioned it (at least not to my knowledge).

      • Quirlygirly

        He got the women! That is why dudes did come at him too tough. And they wasn’t just regular-shegular women..They were drop dead gorgeous women from all races.

        • Word – it wasn’t the picked over women. he had YOUR pinup model favorite on his D.

          • Cleojonz

            I saw Carmen Electra posted something. I TOTALLY forgot she belonged to his harem for a little while.

            • CozyVon

              It’s easy to lose track, lol…His Royal Badness had many, many wimmins.

            • miss t-lee

              Yeah…for a whole minute.

            • Betty’s Babygirl

              He gave Carmen Electra that name. Her birth name is Tara Leigh Patrick.

          • Conrad Bess

            And EVERY woman he had was an upgrade to the previous. I’ll admit to some low key jealousy, but it’d all be forgotten once Cream, When Doves Cry or insert Prince song here came on and allowed a brother to get his grind on the dancefloor with a lady.

            • Mary Burrell

              His women were a mirror reflection of himself.

        • Gibbous

          Not only that, but he showcased talented women in his band. Sheila E was the first woman percussionist that I remember seeing in a rock band!

          • Cheech

            Lenny followed with Cindy Blackmon. Whom he auditioned over the telephone. Tole her to put the phone on the floor and go play, and she did, and got the gig.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I guess when you hit a certain benchmark and have women just clammoring for you, despite the naysayers, the proof just speaks louder

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        Part of that was because it was known that Prince was pulling the hottest women on cue.

    • Cleojonz

      It is the most puzzling thing about him, but the sexiest thing about him. He was feminine in so many ways but he just oozed male sexuality. You never heard anyone refer to him with any slur, not that it should matter, but so many artists are plagued with that stuff but he just didn’t care, he was going to be who he was regardless.

      • miss t-lee

        Confidence is always sexy.

        • Quirlygirly

          Sure is!! Especially if you have decent looks to go along with the confidence.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I’m nowhere close to a Prince fan but I can appreciate the man for what he’s done. And growing up as a Black nerdy kid who wasn’t acting like alpha male, him being who he was is one reason I started to learn how to be comfortable with myself despite other people not feeling the same.

        He learned to leave this galaxy and its stupidity behind.

      • Mary

        You’re right. He could be as feminine as he wanted to be and yet questioning his masculinity or sexuality didn’t cross your mind. I never heard anyway doubt his desire for the ladies and that’s pretty amazing.

    • To paraphrase Yung Maris, Prince didn’t so much open up spaces for men but rather opened up spaces for women to PUBLICLY acknowledge that they liked different sorts of men/masculinity.

      • ChokeOnThisTea

        Niiiiicccceeeeee. Well said. I don’t want those types of men (lol), but he’s right–some women do and that’s fine for them.

      • Ari

        That’s deeeep yooooo…lol.

        But seriously, I never thought of it that way.

        • Sheilarbold

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce139ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce139n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsGiftGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ce139n….,..

        • Phyllis Hughes

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce684ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce684n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsFishGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ce684n….,..

      • Mary

        Word.

      • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

        Absolutely! He gracefully shatted on the idea that sexuality determines masculinity / femininity. And vice versa.

        • Anitalmaroney4

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce336ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce336n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsSpinGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ce336n…

      • MrsRobot

        Yet when I tell my guys friends that I would date a Prince type of guy before I date a “hard” type, they think I’m lying. Not at all! That confidence is sexy. Plus I could wear his clothes ;)

    • Mary Burrell

      He was secure in his masculinity even when people questioned it.

      • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

        Exactly. He loved black people and he wasn’t ashamed of his own personality. I just found out that Tamron Hall was one of the close friends of Prince.

      • TomIron361

        Does that mean you think he wasn’tafaggot?

    • TomIron361

      What will his entourage do for a living now?

    • Lara

      Prince wasn’t all that masculine.

  • brothaskeeper
    • uNk

      Prince wouldn’t approve of this message from above lol

      • brothaskeeper

        Right…but…..it just doesn’t feel right without him around, yanno?

    • Cleojonz

      Yeah, I don’t really think that would be what he’d want lol.

      • brothaskeeper

        Maybe I’m just too demanding.

        • Cleojonz

          Maybe you’re just like your father too bold.

          • brothaskeeper

            Maybe I’m just like my mother. She’s never satisfied.

    • Tambra

      Enjoy your life of celibacy then BK.

    • Naw bruh. I got one in..IN HIS HONOR.

      • brothaskeeper

        *daps*

        Maybe I’m just still in my feelings. Plus, Mrs. BK is out of town, so it’s just me, Handrietta Gripper, and a bottle of baby gel.

        • Tambra

          You should have done a James Brown. Please , please, please, honeeyyy please don’t go.

          • brothaskeeper

            LoL. Her madre wasn’t feeling well, so she went to spend the weekend with her.

            • Tambra

              Oh well, enjoy …* Tweet’s “Oops” plays in the background*

    • Other_guy13

      I’m almost certain he would actually WANT us to get it in his honor. ladies just go up to him and say ” If I was your girlfriend” you could “Do me baby” in your ” little red corvette”….too soon…that felt too soon

      • brothaskeeper

        *Prince smirk*

        • Other_guy13

          I regret nothing!!!!

  • Asiyah

    So I wanted to be in the music industry. I sing and although I don’t play instruments I have an ear for notes and sounds and always felt that if I were more dedicated I could learn to play them myself. I’ve written lyrics since I was little and sometimes do it to this day. I can’t say I’m musically gifted obviously nor would I ever compare myself to Prince because DUH lol. But you can say I had potential.

    Anyway I never pursued a career in music because I hate the industry. I knew I would never belong because I’m a control freak who wants to do things her way and her way is certainly not compatible with the business. And one of my first vivid memories of somebody speaking out against this disgusting industry is Prince changing his name to just a symbol and having the word “slave” written on his cheek. He was unapologetically Black and unapologetically revolutionary. This is what set him apart from artists like, say, Metallica. I remember Metallica’s battle with Napster and all I thought was “gross. What a bunch of money-hungry narcissists.” I never got that impression from Prince. Maybe it’s because I thought he was a lot more humble and I figured it wasn’t about us, the audience. It was about them, the industry. And I get it. I TOTALLY GET IT. You must remain true to yourself. Go on Prince, the unapologetic revolutionary Black man. May God forgive you your shortcomings and grant you Paradise.

    • All singers should learn how to play the piano.

      Also Prince never sued his fans like Metallica did.

      • Asiyah

        Exactly. Metallica made it seem like it was about artistry and control. Please. If it was about that you’d go the Prince route.

        I was teaching myself the piano at one point. Depression hit me hard so I stopped. I’m not super old or anything so I can still pick it up if I choose as a hobby.

        • Quirlygirly

          Yes, pick it up again. An instrument will help you express yourself creatively I tried to learn the piano when I was younger but I just don’t have the knack for it. I wish I did tho..I would have a piano in my house

          • Asiyah

            I’m seriously considering it, especially after seeing Nine Inch Nails in concert two years ago. He also plays multiple instruments, is self-taught, and picked up music because he was depressed and needed to express himself.

            • Quirlygirly

              If you have the inclination and talent for it..DO IT! Never squander your gifts.

            • miss t-lee

              I love Trent Reznor.

              • Asiyah

                I had no opinion of him. And then I saw him live. And I fell in love. HARD. I can’t believe I slept on him for so long. Always knew he was talented but didn’t know how talented.

                • miss t-lee

                  Yup. Madd talent.

          • brothaskeeper

            You are very correct. I started playing the trumpet @ age 12, and I have been playing ever since. I pick it up from time to time and doodle to keep fresh, and I’m looking for an ensemble to become a part of. I have a spare horn that I’ll be restoring so I can give it to my 7-y.o. nephew.

          • Mary

            Don’t have the knack as in incapable of learning or are to endear and rhythmically challenged or just not as talented as you’d like to be?
            If one, well, music probably ain’t your thing, but if two, keep at it just for the pleasure and enjoyment of it.

            • Mary

              I meant tone deaf.

            • Quirlygirly

              I can’t read music but I am good with rhythm and pitch. So I guess I fall in the second category. I just have to enjoy the pleasure of music

        • Cleojonz

          I’m trying to learn how to play base. I’m pretty sure I’m older than you. It’s never too late and keeps your mind sharp. I used to play clarinet though and I sing and have an ear for music too which you think would make it easier, being able to read music but it can be frustrating. You just want to be there already but it take some work.

          • Asiyah

            I think since I’m a little more comfortable with my introversion at 31, it’ll be easier for me to pick it up and just enjoy it, not thinking about how others will take it. I don’t even think I want others to hear my music lol. I don’t think it’ll be easy but I think it’ll be fun!

            • Cleojonz

              I’m not even learning with the intent of playing for anybody else lol. I’m sitting in my spare room with headphones on making myself happy :)

        • Kas

          Life’s biggest regrets aren’t any of the things you’ve done, it’s the things you never tried.

    • DBoySlim

      Don’t let your music die. Trust me you will regret it.

      • Asiyah

        I don’t know how I’ll go about it. I also am religious like Prince was (albeit a different religion) so I grapple with similar issues he probably dealt with. I’ll see what I do!

        Maybe I’ll have my own little vault!

        • Quirlygirly

          Yes, have your vault for you to enjoy..Somethings you share others you keep to yourself

        • DBoySlim

          Just write and record. One thing that motivates me is the knowledge of future regret. I know if I don’t put my music out I’d turn into the most bitter human being on the planet. I’m a preachers kid so I also understand your perspective. Don’t let religion get in the way of your spirituality and be the cause of you not expressing yourself. Any construct that denies you the right to be free is a problem.

    • Mary

      Amen. Amen. Amen.

    • Kas

      I read that his fight was over control not money, with the biggest issue being Prince wanting to release albums more frequently than his label wanted to.

  • JayFromJerz

    Beyonce is on board because IT IS trendy. She did the same thing with feminism.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Agreed. But I, personally, don’t care how she got on board. All I care about is the fact that she is because very few mainstream celebrities of her stature were/are.

      • JayFromJerz

        But, itsn’t that an integrity issue? She didn’t embrace it until it was okay to do so. but anywho, this isn’t about Beyonce, it’s about Prince. RIP. I look forward to the Prince music marathon that will definitely be on the radio this weekend as I drive down the NJTPK.

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          On second thought, I think she actually did. Long before #BlackLivesMatter ever started trending, Beyonce made a song called “Black Culture” and “Creole Bounce”– both celebrating her heritage. Furthermore, though she toys with different musical sounds, she usually stays true to her black roots in terms of lyrics and diction.

          I think Bey’s style has always been pro-black and pro-feminine long before she even realized it herself. She just started claiming it after other folk titled it for her.

          And you’re right–this is about Prince. Rest in Purple, Prince.

          • Ari

            This is true. People clowned her for Bootylicious, but I would argue that that song was very pro-woman. I also remember her mentioning n 2013 that her shift into a bolder Beyonce was based on a new sense of empowerment and sexiness she didn’t feel pre-Blue Ivy (or when she was in her 20s). I can personally identify with that statement.

      • I don’t know why people are looking at her growth as an artist/person as inherently disingenuous.

        • Question

          Because she’s Beyonce. We’ve all evolved into our feminism and Blackness, but Beyonce’s evolution must be solely for the $$$.

    • Did she really (re: with feminism)?

      I feel like she’s always been about girl/women power from Day 1, but her “brand” of feminism doesn’t necessarily fit into a school or wave that we can or want to identify with.

      • ChokeOnThisTea

        That’s a good point. Her music was feminist long before she declared the title. Case in point, “Bills, Bills, Bills.”

  • He surely was. And he changed the way some of us view masculinity. to this day, I don’t understand how the man wore a s sless pants and could still make grown women quiver with just a look.

    • Quirlygirly

      But Prince had a nice booty tho and those eyes that when he looked at you..you knew it was on

      • Lol he had the Badu eyes

    • Asiyah

      Charisma. Few men can pull that off, and it’s because they don’t have this quality.

    • miss t-lee

      Prince’s sexiness was never about his physical look(s). It was more his aura, that plus being a talented musician? Flash flooding.

      • It wasn’t until I got older that I understood how an ugly man could pull tons of women. Not saying Prince was ugly, but I think it was his inner lure that did it for him more than anything else.

        His narrative on ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’? Pure s e x in like 30 seconds. I was blushing at work!

        • miss t-lee

          Yup. That’s why I tell my guy friends work on the seduction skills. That will take your places your looks can’t…lol You ever meet somebody that had you literally shook? Like…I don’t even wanna be alone with them too long because I’m scared of what I might do? Yeah–get that down, and you’re golden.

          Oh yes? That song is a fave. I loved his writing, double entendres and metaphors for days.

          • Like Biggie. My nana would dry out, shrivel up and die before it got excited for Biggie, but women were crazy for him. It’s a special quality to make people feel electricity without ever touching them. I hope to reach that level of zen one day.

            • ChokeOnThisTea

              Lmao!! Money helped him too… ? ? *quickly runs away*

              • He could have Bill Gates money and as soon as I heard that belabored breathing sounding like he was sitting on his own chest, I would’ve ran clean the f away.

                • Ess Tee

                  Yeah, I could never see it for Biggie. Ain’t no number of zeroes in the bank account, fam…

                  • Quirlygirly

                    Maybe Biggie had a way with words..talk you right out your drawers..lol

                    • miss t-lee

                      He had to have had a serious mouthpiece.
                      Faith, Kim, Charli Baltimore, etc? All fighting over him?

                    • Ess Tee

                      True, true. Maybe Biggie did have that “What that mouf do?” game on lock.

                    • miss t-lee

                      Ha!
                      Probably.

                    • Word. That mouf game will get some women got! (And men took, keeping it real)

                    • miss t-lee

                      Yup.

                    • Quirlygirly

                      I have been gotten by mouf game. No need to lie

                    • Ess Tee

                      It worked for Faith and nem like miss t-lee mentioned below lol

                • miss t-lee

                  Why am I hollering?

                • ChokeOnThisTea

                  *Hollering*

                  Girl, you are out of control!!!!!

                • Question

                  So we’re not gonna talk about that eye?

                  • Haaaaaaa… I SEE what you did there.

                  • Lmffaoooooooooooooo

                    I ain’t eem wanna go there lmfaooo

                • Mary

                  *Chokes on water.*

                • Too damn early in the morning to be laughing! You killin me.

              • fxd8424

                Money is a powerful aphrodisiac.

            • miss t-lee

              Biggie? Never, ever, ever in your whole, whole life.

            • Mary

              Much respect for Biggie buuuut naw. Not happening.

        • Quirlygirly

          Pinks!!! Yes there are songs where Prince just talks ie Insatiable.. I am like lordt let me turn this off before I call up an ex..

          • Influencing bad decisions since the 80s!

          • miss t-lee

            Insatiable is one of my faves.
            Lawd *fans self*

        • fxd8424

          He had an aura of mystery that pulled you in, made you want to see what he was about.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Right. He was little and dressed like a woman–two characteristics that would easily disqualify any other man. Lol!

      • And homeboy’s hair was easily sh itting on every woman’s during any era.

        His fro was the juiciest, edges were the laidest, and his short cut put Halle’s to shame. Let’s not talk about his flawless cat eye makeup either.

        • Quirlygirly

          Prince ALWAYS had his hair on fleek!! I remember seeing the Get Off and Thieves in the Temple videos and was like..Why has God forsaken me!! I want hair like that

          • His Farrah Fawcett flips were better than Farrah’s. Hands down.

          • Mary

            “Why has God forsaken me?”
            I give up, you win, girl!

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          Yesterday somebody said his hair was laid like a pack of Alpaca rugs. Hahaha

          • You better blot that sh it! That’s 100% alpaca!!

    • Word. Big and dark as I am, if he took my girl, I wouldn’t be mad at him. I don’t know what kind of mojo he had, but I wish he taught classes.

  • Mr. Mooggyy

    Enuff Said!

  • Eh Prince came up with a generation of artists in the genre of Funk when being unapologetically Black was the norm.

  • miss t-lee

    For anyone who wishes to get their Prince Fix on (sans Tidal)–Minneapolis Public Radio is going to air his catalogue again today, starting at 6pm CST and continuing for 26 hours.
    http://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2016/04/22/hear-princes-catalogue-starting-at-6-pm-friday

    You can also stream it right now, as I am.

    Enjoy!

    #RIP again to the Purple One.

    • **listening to this off and on since I got in from work last night….**

      Going alphabetically tho?!
      Wow.

      • miss t-lee

        Yeah. I’m listening now, they’re up to N. ?

        • “Movie Star” had me dyin.

          Let’s see, body oil, check
          Incense, check
          Environmental records, double check!
          I’ma get some serious drawers tonight, think I ain’t?
          Let’s see, if I tell Gilbert and ‘Rome to meet me eleven then I creep at 10
          That’ll give me an hour of free reign
          Mo’ drawers (Mo’ drawers)

          • miss t-lee

            Also!

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