Earlier this week, more than three decades after its release in movie theaters, going to see "Purple Rain" seemed like a natural way to celebrate his life. Back then, my only regret was being too young in 1984 to join my bigger brother and older cousins in NYC to catch opening night and really appreciate the fictional reality of what Prince and writer/director Albert Magnoli touched on - romance, family scars, jealousy and of course, showcasing what God-given talent truly is! As the world mourns, and all the conspiracy theories try to interrupt his legacy, it's hard to JUST mourn an artist such as Prince without having great celebrations like this, which surround the music he left for us to enjoy, and that now connect us all much stronger. Dwelling solely on what might've happened on April 21, 2016 a week ago at his Paisley Park Studios right outside Minneapolis, seems unlike Prince's vibe. That much I knew about the man, one that's guaranteed to have you waiting 'til 3 a.m. before he then decides it's time to now start his private 3-hour 'jam session'! Hey, just be lucky you're invited in the first place, right? I wasn't complaining then, and now I'd wait another lifetime to experience him jam like that again.
I can't consider myself a huge fan compared to the countless fanatics that have all gone crazy, delirious and seen purple for Prince - no matter the place, price or sacrifice throughout his career. But that isn't to say, I've not had my share of exclusive experiences seeing him live (2nd row, floor seats) in Los Angeles at Staples Center in 2004, as well as being amongst some dozens to be invited to his 2008 post-Grammys party and 'jam session' at Carlos Boozer's mansion in West Hollywood, which Prince rented for months, temporarily of course. Regrettably, I've never had the opportunity to sit down, or do a phone-interview in an attempt at getting to know him, for you. And I'm sure if I asked him to crack the mystery on what a lot of us continue to be curious about, he probably won't answer and open up either. Why would he? He'd spoil his mystery. After all, he's Prince -- master of creativity, cross-pollinating religion and sensuality, genre-fusion, gender-bending, and unpredictable originality.
— Hassan (@purplehassan) April 26, 2016
However, through the ones who worked close with him, there's much to be revealed that few journalists can gather. Take for instance, his recording engineer -- Ian Boxill (2Pac, Babyface, Quincy Jones, Christina Milian), who worked exclusively for him from 2004 to 2009, recording and mixing most of his songs in that time period. Through his good friend/mentor Dave Hampton, Ian was originally brought in on a job to update and renovate Prince's Paisley Park Studios for several weeks, while The Kid was traveling on tour. When Prince returned to Minneapolis to begin new recordings in his studio, Ian ended up being the guy to hold his hand so to speak. But before I get into revealing more about Prince through his then newfound relationship with his recording engineer, let me reminisce myself. There would be the occasional sightings at clubs in Los Angeles such as his very own Glam Slam (West) nightclub downtown in the 1990s, before DTLA was cool. Then, in the 2000s at "Deep" or "Kiss N' Grind" he'd slip in, corner himself in VIP -- surrounded by females of course, while you'd feel embarrassed (c'mon it's LA) to change direction on the dance floor to catch a glimpse.
My fondest memory though, was seeing Prince at his Grammys after-party, laced in satin-silk pajamas laying on a bed with two females laying next to him as I tried to conceal my piercing eyes zooming in through his bedroom's glass doors from across the pool area. No one but myself, my brother and led by Ian had access to pass the security personnel to walk in that area. I couldn't tell who those ladies were, except for maybe one. Sorry I'm not telling. And no they weren't naked! No 'freakish behavior' going on either. Not at least when I was able to get a good view into the bedroom! This is all the while, as celebrity guests such as Mariah Carey, Trent Reznor, Bruce Willis, Common, Chris Tucker, Sanaa Lathan, Taraji "Cookie" Henson, Morris Day & The Time, Goapele and too many more to name, were pulling up to valet around 11p, eager to mingle and catch a glimpse of some purple funk. Little did they know that it wouldn't be until around 3a that Prince would gather the band, and jam! In between that time, he was seen gliding freely across rooms in those same pajamas, disappearing again back into some other room, then appearing again in another outfit, hanging out in the kitchen exchanging jokes with his chef, or highly complimenting Mariah on her outfit, and even meeting yours truly, introduced of course by Ian. Security was everywhere, but once inside these walls, money didn't matter tonight and you could've felt that pop life! I wish I had at least two true diehard, random Prince fans off the street with me that night. Sure, everyone there were fans, but they themselves had their own fan base too, so it's just not the same. But with my brother by my side almost all of the time, and Ian as our best insider guide, it was a night like one's first kiss, that I will never forget. Here's a much more in depth look -- by chatting with Ian Boxill after Prince's untimely death, into Prince - the cat who's 'not a man, not a woman, someone you will never understand' and probably the only artist who made a color famous and distinctly associated with his legacy.
Q. Working for Prince, what was a hectic day-in-the-life for you like, if spending 24hrs with him?
The typical day at Paisley would start with a phone call from Prince asking me to come in, usually between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. He would ask me to bring in some blended coffee drink from Caribou Coffee. Then he would ask me to either get some song ready to work on or say we were going to record some musicians he had coming in. Sometimes they came in later at night so I would work on something else before they came in. Many times he had a chef working at Paisley and we would eat around 8 p.m. and usually with wine. Lot's of wine. It was mainly veggies too with the occasional fish. No Shrimp or shell fish. He didn't eat that. We would then work 'til between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Q. So you did actually carry out any work for him at his famous Paisley Park residence/studio? What was that like?
Yes. Paisley was huge complex and he moved in there in 2006 after he had his house torn down. He had a video editing suite there, photography editing suite and huge sound stage to shoot videos.
Q. While working for him, what sort of creations were you witness to? Any classic songs, performances, etc?
The most iconic stuff I did with him there were the Super Bowl 2007 performance which I recorded and mixed pre-show. The 2005 NAACP awards that had then Senator Obama in the front row and the Grammy winning "Future Baby Mama". Also the album, 3121 which was his first album to debut at NO.1 that wasn't a soundtrack. I think the Batman Soundtrack also debuted at No. 1.
Q. Were you witness to any bizarre behavior, or juicy stories to pass onto others from Prince re women, family relationships, errands to stores, religious experiences or late night performances better known as 'jam sessions'?
Well his parties were legendary and for good reason. Seems like everyone no matter how big a star wanted to be at a Prince after-party, or 'jam session'. From Stevie Wonder to Mariah Carey, from Nas to Common. For many of his after-shows in Vegas he would invite a few people back to his suite at RIO for -- wait for it -- pancakes! He used to invite me to many of his Jehovah Witness meetings and I would go just to honor him. I would sit next to him and share his Jehovah Witness book that they were reading from at the time and we would discuss it on the way back to the studio. Larry Graham was always with us on those trips. In LA, he would call me sometimes out of the blue to see if I wanted to go to the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall with him but for some reason I never made it there even though i lived like 2 blocks from it haa! I don't think he knew that.
Q. Since working so close to him, would you consider that Prince was a mysterious artist/person?
I wouldn't describe him as mysterious even though I know that was his public persona. I would go with unique and unafraid to be himself no matter how different to normal it seemed. He did not seem to like following what everyone else was doing. That is shown in his music, his clothes and in other parts of his life.
Q. I remember you telling me he turned down $1 million casually, to perform at the opening/closing ceremony Olympics in Beijing, China? Something in China, I forgot -- did I get that right?
It was 10 million dollars and it was the opening of a casino in Macau I believe, I'm not sure. He definitely wasn't doing anything for no measly $1 million!
Q. What's one thing (or a few) you've learned from working with him that you really detested, yet in the end, saw why he had to operate in a manner that was annoying to you then?
Well the only thing that really irritated me working with him was that he was all over the place sometimes, and it would feel like we were recording for recording sake and there was no real project or goal in mind. In retrospect, I realize being in the studio was not only relaxing and therapeutic for him, it also was one of the only things he could do to pass the time. He couldn't do a lot of the things we could or had to do, like laundry and chores or just going and walking around the mall and window-shop, you know, regular things like that.
Q. Was he a fan of rap/hip-hop music? If so, what artists did he consider very similar to him, despite their inability to sing or play instruments?
He liked certain rappers for their positive messages like Common and Kendrick Lamar. I think the lack of musicality in a lot of RAP kinda frustrated him and he really wasn't into a lot of it. He once showed me this picture of Lil Jon's high school yearbook picture and we both was rolling with laughter. That's the kinda stuff he would do sometimes.
Q. Outside of music, what's a conversation you remember having with him one-on-one where for a minute he just seemed like a regular guy?
We once had a convo about the prison system and how he thought it was a modern-day slavery system. I told him that slavery was over and then he started on a rant about the prisons incarcerating young black males, then using their labor for certain things. He was so conscious and concerned about the plight of black people in America and the state of the inner cities. Especially the youth. Along the same lines about his hatred of the (record) label system.
Q. I heard Prince was the type that only did things his way, but was their any other person or entity he seemed submissive to? Like his lawyer, agent or a certain diet, or a family member? I hear powerful people usually have a weak, vulnerable side to the most unsuspecting things or people.
He usually only wanted to do things his way even if his way was messed up and dumb. So that was always a constant battle with him. He was there involved with almost all things creative like music videos, live shows, his clothes, and now it seems also his health. Also, he never had pockets made into any of his clothing. I guess he felt he would always have people around him to carry stuff for him. The only vulnerable thing I have seen from him was his submission to his religion and what it required from him. He would do his knocking on doors as part of his duty as a devout Jehovah Witness. He had stopped swearing completely and didn't like anyone using foul language around him. He even had masters of his songs destroyed that had cursing or too sexual of a topic. We once recorded a song called "Elixir" which I thought was close to being a classic hit song but he refused to release or put it on 3121. When I asked him why, he looked at me sheepishly with a smirk on his face. He said he doesn't put out stuff like that anymore or something to that effect. It totally went over my head at the time. Eventually it made its way onto Bria's album as a duet, and as part of the set "Lotus Flower" and I then realized why he didn't want to release it. "Elixir" was really sang and meant to be reiterated like 'he licks her' haa! Classic Prince double entendre. Dirty minded Prince was still somewhere buried deep in this new pious one.
Q. Any ridiculous fan stories you've witnessed?
Prince had the most bizarre fans. One used to show up at functions dressed from head to toe in a white garment. I can't even call it a dress. She would have a veil on and I believed she changed her name to Princess Rodgers Nelson. Madness! When we had the shows at RIO in Vegas, the same diehards would fly out week-after-week from as far as Japan and Italy. During the after-shows, Prince would interact with them and invite them to sing with him or sit down at their table and chat with them. The Japanese lady looked like she was in her late 40s or early 50s. I think she might have been a doctor. Sometimes they would break into a tour bus that was parked on the Paisley Park lot and live in it. We would then have to call the police to have them removed. One other time, this one fan was camping out for weeks and hunting wild animals for food in the forested area behind Paisley Park!
Q. Are you serious? OMG! I'm dying with laughter! What?
I think she was using a bow and arrow to hunt, no lie. Absolute madness. Always seemed like his crazier fans were women too.
Q. Man! Those were crazy indeed! Lastly, I couldn't leave without asking you, what's your top ten Prince songs?
1. "Sometimes it Snows in April"
2. "I Wanna Be Your Lover"
3. "Pink Cashmere"
5. "Little Red Corvette"
6. "How Come You Don't Call Me"
7. "Song Of The Heart"
9. "U Got The Look"
All pictures used by permission, from Ian Boxill.