Written by by Dave Helem & Martin Morrow
Martin Morrow: On April 21st, the world lost one of the greatest musicians and cultural icons of all time. Prince transcended genre and style. He had a pot on the stove full of dreams, art, sex, rock, pop, R&B, funk and classic musicianship, but his influence goes so far beyond music.
Dave Helem: As a performer, Prince knew who he was inside and out and never toned down his image to conform to what people thought he should be, even when his androgynous style initially came off to many as a deal-breaker -- too feminine, too soft for an African-American man.
MM: I grew up poor in a single parent home in Birmingham, Alabama, attending majority white schools from elementary grades through college. I had years and years of identity crisis issues and problems trying to fit in with people who had preconceived notions about what made for a "real" Black man based on media, stereotypes, and experience. For them, I didn't fit any of those molds. I was skinny, played trombone and liked wrestling. One Christmas, I got Michael Jackson's Bad and Limp Bizkit's Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water in the same stocking. I tried to wear bigger clothes, I tried out for the basketball team, I tried changing up my vernacular...but it wasn't me. It was hard for others to comprehend who I was, and I was constantly bullied as a result.
DH: Coming up as as a South Side Chicago comic, I struggled with my identity at first. I was a kid from the suburbs who went to a private high school and a private college breaking into a scene where I was told, "You might wanna change your outfit." Comedy venues had me searching for who I was. I actually went to the mall to buy gear that would "translate" to the audience I was performing in front of.
MM: One day while searching around our basement, I found some of my mom's then-boyfriend Mr. Foy's CDs. In the stack, I discovered 1999, Purple Rain and Sign o' the Times and was instantly hooked. I played them every day during the car ride to school while my mom told me how when she was in college, she saw Purple Rain fourteen times and got to see Prince live. It bonded us even more than I thought we could be, and Prince's image as a whole made me reject the idea of what I thought I was "supposed" to be. I let go of the baggy clothes-the No Limit Soldier-and realized what made me distant from the norm isn't what made me an outcast, it was what made me unique and special. I learned that from Prince. He truly was comfortable with himself in every aspect, and it wasn't some gimmick.
DH: Prince did what he wanted to do. It was that level of artistic integrity that stood out to me as a comedian and directly gave me the confidence to be able to dress how I like to dress and tell the jokes that are funny to me. He helped me realize that who I am should be represented by my brand, my material, my point of view. Since I made those choices, I've felt free. I feel free to let the world unapologetically know what I am and who I am, and not what you or anyone else thinks I should be.
MM: Prince holds a special place in the hearts of many. He bonded families. Friends. Artists. If you've been able to talk about sex on stage in music or comedy, it's because Prince paved the way. If you've been able to create content about something out of the box, it's because Prince helped build that road. If you have been able to talk about love, politics, or the constructs of society, it's because Prince gave us opus after opus delving into what we didn't know how to work through ourselves. Prince is a voice. Prince is a heart. Prince is a universe all of his own.
DH: Prince Rogers Nelson was a beacon of light that showed me the importance of being me. That light will be missed at the end of the day, but if we can learn one thing, I hope that lesson is that it's okay to be who and what you are at all times.
MM: Prince, thank you for your sacrifice of being okay with being yourself. Hopefully one day, we'll get to see you in that purple rain.