For a very long time, I figured Prince was overrated.
Once upon a time, my four favorite people on this earth were Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, my dad, and Whitney Houston, in that order. And just like I thought folks had to choose between 'Pac and Big or Bow Wow and Lil Romeo, I figured I couldn't like both Mike and Prince.
And so whenever my sister would play Prince's "1999," I'd feel guilty. Because I liked that song. A lot. Every time she'd play it, I'd have to temper my excitement, because Michael Jackson was a living human being who was still making hit records. I couldn't be caught liking a Prince song, lest my Michael Jackson fan card be revoked. But make no mistake, 4-year-old me would always be dancing in my head.
Then came that damn Chappelle sketch.
Chappelle's Show is probably my favorite television show ever. Every Wednesday night, I'd park myself in front of my grandma's TV, because if you missed the show, there was no point of going to school on Thursday. Just joke after joke after joke for which you'd have no context. I missed maybe one episode in two years, and that next day at school was all the motivation I needed to never miss another one.
So I caught the Prince episode when it first aired. Season 2, episode 5, February 18, 2004. The Rick James sketch came a week before, and it was unbelievably funny, but the Prince sketch was so ridiculously outlandish. Knowing Rick James was a wild boy made the comedy behind that sketch ultimately believable. But Prince? Not Prince. I cried real tears the entire time.
I still haven't decided the funniest part of the bit. More often than not, it's when Chappelle-as-Prince offers Charlie Murphy and his crew grapes after Prince and the Revolution absolutely wreck them on the court. Underrated moment of the sketch: Charlie's reaction when Prince challenges Charlie to the game. Second most underrated moment: Prince and the Revolution walking on the court in the outfits they wore to the club. You know where you got that shirt from. And it damn sure wasn't the men's department. This is comedy perfection, and for whatever my opinion's worth, the best thing Chappelle ever did on his show. Having missed Prince's mainstream prime, a comedian made me want to figure out just how eccentric 1980s Prince was.
That same year, my stepmother bought Musicology. Having never actually listened to the guy before, I wasn't sure what exactly to expect. And, being completely frank, I don't remember much of the album aside from the first two songs, the title track, and a funky little ditty called "Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance," which tells the story of a young man and an older woman in a, shall we say, mutually beneficial relationship. 12-year-old me had no clue what he was singing about, but the instrumentation was infinite flame emojis. Still, I couldn't be a fan fan. My rationale was dumb. Whatever.
At some point in the next two years, I found out Prince made a movie. My reaction fell somewhere between disbelief and amusement. The dude was a weirdo who at one point started recording as a nameless symbol. I'd never - and still haven't - seen The Wiz, but I was determined to see Purple Rain.
My high-school girlfriend mentioned something about how she loved the movie and was in absolute shock that I'd never seen the thing. Again, as a card-carrying member of the Michael Jackson Stan Club, I had to feign disinterest in seeing it, but I was dying to see Purple Rain.
Spoiler alert: that movie is absolutely terrible. Related: I couldn't care less. Morris Day is a revelation. Every single music scene is a vision from above. Prince's character leads Apollonia's character to a lake, tells Apollonia to "purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka", allows Apollonia to get naked and in the lake, AND THEN PROCEEDS TELLS HER THAT'S THE WRONG LAKE. The movie sucks, but that's one of the ten greatest cinematic moments of all-time, and there's nothing hyperbolic about that statement. The satisfaction on Prince's face when he tells her that's not Lake Minnetonka is priceless. It's never not glorious to watch.
Oh yeah, and the music. The Purple Rain soundtrack is timeless. So is "Little Red Corvette," and "Adore," and "Raspberry Beret," and "I Wanna Be Your Lover." I can say now what I never wanted to admit as a dumb kid: Prince Rogers Nelson was a musical savant, a weirdo who probably needed to be that weird in order to be so brilliant.
There was a time when Prince was considered controversial, and for a man as secluded as he tended to be, he always seemed to court the controversy. I always loved that he made a group with two women he was "dating," only to find Apollonia, make her his main girlfriend, and then appoint her lead singer of the group and his co-star in Purple Rain. And once Apollonia had enough, he didn't leave it at a two-woman group or promote either of them, but he instead went and got a new girlfriend and made her the lead. And neither of the first two ever left. That's sauce beyond measure. I never want that much juice in my life.
Do I still think Michael Jackson is better than Prince? Mike made "Human Nature" and "Butterflies," and Prince didn't, so I'll you answer that question.
But seriously, if Michael Jackson isn't the greatest musical entertainer I've ever seen, then Prince Rogers Nelson has to be the next choice. I've seen two musical geniuses, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, in the past 18 months, and even though I couldn't afford the tickets when I bought them, I decided the opportunity to see them live was worth the temporary poverty. I never saw Michael or Whitney or Luther or Prince. They all died a decade younger than Stevie is now. Never again will I pass up an opportunity to see my musical heroes.
Rest in power, Love Symbol #2. Basketball and pancakes this weekend, in your honor.