Prince‘s music is burned into the collective consciousness of fans and musicians worldwide; which is why his sudden death at the age of 57 came as such a shock to so many. His songs and albums were innovative and important, helping to form a generation’s soundtrack via hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Diamonds and Pearls;” and they showcased his remarkable artistry on fan favorites like “Joy In Repetition” and “Jam of the Year.”
Prince’s ongoing musical legacy should be obvious to anyone who’s paid attention to the last few decades of popular music. There are traces of Prince in tracks from artists ranging from Ciara (“Promise”) to Jay-Z (“03 Bonnie & Clyde”) to My Morning Jacket (“Highly Suspicious”) and countless others have built careers on channeling Prince-isms (looking at you, Dream.)
In the final part of our “Deconstructing Prince” series, we take a look at his influence on generations of artists who followed his creative, musical and artistic example. Here’s a look at why he was so important to so many who topped the charts in the 1990s, 2000s and today.
Prince’s Dirty Mind was a major influence on a young Kravitz when he was trying to determine the kind of artist he wanted to be. And it’s easy to see why: a self-contained musician equally informed by classic funk and rock sounds a lot like what Kravitz would strive for in his own career. “The first time I went into Virgin Records with my demo tape I was granted a five-minute interview,” Lenny told Rolling Stone. “I’d been trying to get a record deal and I’d already written ‘Let Love Rule.’ Jeff Ayeroff, Jordan Harris and Nancy Jeffries gave me a five-minute meeting since it was a Friday and they were leaving. They were writing things back and forth as they listened and I later learned one of them wrote, ‘Prince meets John Lennon.’”
It’s virtually impossible to imagine the kind of artist D’Angelo would’ve been without Prince. The singer-songwriter was often compared to Marvin, Mayfield and Sly in his early years, but one listen to Voodoo‘s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and the Purple One’s influence becomes more apparent. D’Angelo also covered Prince’s underrated “She’s Always In My Hair” in 1998 and his vocal inflections owe a lot to Prince’s vocalizing. D’Angelo paid tribute to the legend with a moving performance of “Sometimes It Snows in April” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
When Timberlake initially split from his ex-bandmates in N*Sync, the singer’s early solo material showcased a clear Michael Jackson influence. But upon teaming with superproducer Timbaland for 2006s acclaimed FutureSex/LoveSounds, he moved away from MJ-isms and planted himself squarely in Prince-esque digital funk grooves. Though the man himself seemed lukewarm to JT’s adoration, they spent some time together. “It would be silly to say that he has inspired our music… It’s beyond that. He’s somewhere within every song I’ve ever written.”
The dynamic duo from Hotlanta started out rhyming over southern-fried soul courtesy of superproducers Organized Noize; but as Andre and Big Boi evolved, musically; a wide palette of influences began to creep into their music. And one of the most obvious of those influences was Prince. The thumping bassline, heavy synths and background crooning on “Ms. Jackson” echo Revolution-era Prince, and Andre 3000’s The Love Below disc was so Prince-ish that it even impressed Prince himself. ‘Kast was asked to induct Prince into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Miguel has been getting compared to Prince virtually since the moment he broke through majorly with Kaleidoscope Dreams. And it’s not hard to hear why. The backing falsetto, punchy rhythm guitar and synth-drenched production of “The Thrill” are heavy Prince-isms as are the seductive groove and backing guitar on “Arch and Point.” And 2015s Wildheart dove head-first into Dirty Mind era Prince–with cuts like “the valley” referencing spirituality and sex via raunchy lyrics and over a production so Princely the Purple One should’ve claimed royalties.
Maxwell may easily evoke more comparisons to Marvin Gaye, but don’t sleep on how much Prince is in the soul singer’s repertoire. Throughout his career, the ladies’ man has tapped into the more seductive side of Prince’s balladry. The elegant strings and aching falsetto of “Know These Things:Shouldn’t You” sounds like Prince at his most mournful and heartbroken and the heavy guitar and dance groove of “Temporary Night” also back some of Maxwell’s most Prince-esque vocalizing. “We just lost the greatest musician in the world,” Maxwell told the audience at the New Orleans Jazz Fest shortly after Prince’s death. “He was one of the most beloved, one of the most special… Everyone is up on this stage because of him. Prince was not just once but he will forever be the greatest [musician in the world].”
Like Kravitz, Janelle Monae wasn’t just influenced by Prince, artistically; she literally worked with him. Monae collaborated with Prince on “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” on her The Electric Lady album and Prince had become a mentor to her.
“Truthfully, I am in a state of shock & disbelief that my close friend, my confidante, & hero has passed,” she tweeted. “This is a different kind of pain.” At Jazz Fest, she channeled her grief into a set totally dedicated to the man who’d inspired her. “He stood for the weirdos. He stood for the unique and he stood for those who couldn’t stand up for ourselves,” she said. “This is a time when we have to protect ourselves as human beings. Not black or white. As human beings.”
Bilal has a wide range of musical influences and he’s been able to channel them all into his own sound throughout a critically-acclaimed career. On A Love Surreal, his Prince jones was in full flight; with the singer employing a number of musical tropes culled from the catalog of His Royal Badness. A standout was the gorgeous ashtray, a great example of how Bilal can make it clear where his inspiration came from while still delivering a tune that feels like Bilal. That production, that falsetto, that melodic guitar–it all screams Prince.
One listen to the Neptunes’ inescapable early 2000s hits and it’s clear that Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo were students of Prince’s sound. The skittering percussiveness of Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U” (not to mention that funky spelling) clearly evokes Prince’s slinkiest grooves a la Vanity 6’s classic “Nasty Girl.” The Neptunes remixed Prince’s “Greatest Romance Ever Sold” and as N.E.R.D. they embraced the musicality of Prince’s classic records on tracks like “The Way She Dances.”
This may seem like a reach at first, but 2Pac tracks sampled Prince’s music a lot. From the “I Would Die 4 U” outro providing the haunting intro and background of “Heartz of Men” to him spitting some of his best pick-up lines on “What’s Ya Phone #” while backed by the Time’s classic “777-9311,” to “Live & Die In L.A.” using a slick sample of “Do Me, Baby”–Death Row-era Pac was heavily indebted to Prince. And the two artists shared a similar affinity for the ladies–informed by both sex and sensitivity. “I love women…I love women with a passion. Sometime I just wanna call Prince and be like ‘can we hang?’ cuz I love women like he loves women,” Pac once told MTV.