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NPG Records: Prince biography

By Goldies Parade

Part 5 – My Name is Prince


Embarking on the Jam of the Year Tour in 1997, Prince decided to remain on the road until the expiration of his contract with Warner Bros. Records (31 December 1999). During this time, Prince focused resources to selling music on the internet via his label NPG Records. Distributing both his recently written and archive music through this channel and directly to his fans via their own computers eradicated his dependency on recording contracts and industry middleman, and in result boosted his future royalties from 20% to as much as 70% per sale. Now responsible for his own marketing, Prince sought to tighten the intellectual property on the use of his trademark male/female love symbol: Prince love symbol. In 1998 Prince sued nine fan-site, citing inappropriate use of the glyph, official photos and for promoting bootlegged recordings. It a polarising move, in which turned both the press and public opinion, and many fans also, against him. The case was later dropped, but not before great damage and ridicule had been done to his reputation, for Prince himself was in a period of great personal change. He set up a charity, Love4oneanother, to aid the homeless, and through the spiritual guidance of Larry Graham gave up his signature cussing and lubricious lyrics. Prince instead focussed efforts on re-moulding his legacy into a more thoughtful, calmer, more artful-artist, and relieve himself of the pressures to rely on chart success as the measure of financial success. Prince would divorce himself from the music industry, which he saw was run by accountants than genuine curators and lovers of music. His band, too, underwent a refresh and the line-up of the original New Power Generation by the close of his mammoth twenty-four month Jam of the Year Tour, was replaced with new band members: notably, Rhonda Smith (bass), John Blackwell (drums) and later, Renato Neto sharing keyboard duties with Morris Hayes. Hayes would become the longest serving member of any of Prince’s bands.

Prince, Crystal Ball
Crystal Ball (1998)

Whilst record labels relied on physical, CD, sales, Prince’s success with his online venture 1800newfunk.com, came as a surprise both to him as well as the industry, for in 1998 e-commerce for music was an emerging medium: Prince, therefore ahead of the rest in making use of the Internet to both reach out to fans and directly distribute his music. Furthermore, and without a single cent spent on advertising, his online internet store sold 250,000 units of his Crystal Ball album, a triple CD set containing mostly recent but previously unreleased material from his fabled vault (recycling the name for the set of an early incarnation of the Sign O’ The Times album). Music for which was now free from obligations to recording contracts, Prince was at liberty to distribute it at the volume and rate he desired. This triple album even contained a companion CD of new acoustic material: The Truth, which had been intended for release by the recently defunct EMI Records. His Internet venture had seen Prince become a pioneer, as the first major artist to embrace the internet as a tool to market and distribute music directly to fans: receiving recognition for his efforts by winning Yahoo’s choice for Best Internet Single for his 1800newfunk.com release of The War – an award he continued to win for the next two years. Prince encouraged other artists to ‘go it alone’ and ’emancipate’ themselves from recording contracts, but Prince would concede the record companies that he had little liking for, were still vital to establish lesser known acts onto the music scene. Prince knew perfectly that his independent NPG Record label lacked the distribution and marketing clout enjoyed by the leading and multi-channel labels, and so began to negotiate a string of one-off album deals with labels which he felt could work with harmoniously in the wake of his positive experience with EMI Records. Like his arrangement with EMI, Prince would impose the proviso on all future deals, that he retain the ownership of the master recordings, and that no physical contract even exist and, quite literally, be akin to handshake agreements.

Prince, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic
Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (’99)

Prince struck individual deals for his next two albums: choosing BMG to the release Newpower Soul in June 1998, and Arista Records for Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic in November 1999. Furthermore, to affirm his distrust with ‘CONtracts’, as he so-called them, in December 1998, even to the surprise of his wife Mayte, Prince announced at a press conference in Spain he was to annul his marriage, citing that the couple needed no piece of paper to tell them they were partners. The fact is, it was at this time Prince met Manuela Testolini, a staff member at his Love4oneanother charity. For on 16 October 1996, Mayte had given birth to their son, whom she named Amiir, however due to complications caused by Pfieffer’s syndrome (type 2), a rare and fatal skull hardening deformity, the child’s life support was turned off just one week later, on 23 October 1996. The tragedy rocked the couple, but after the miscarriage of their second child in 1998 and the growing onset of Prince’s spiritual direction, they drifted apart and separated in 2000. Since meeting Larry Graham in 1997, Prince placed his solace in religion, and under the guidance of Graham converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith in 2001.

Warner Brothers meanwhile continued to monetise Prince’s unreleased catalogue, that which predated 1996 – the music they still owned. To go towards recouping the lost advances for Prince’s contractual payouts, The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale was released in August 1999, and followed by a second greatest hits compilation The Very Best Of Prince in May 2001. Prince would delay his world tour to March 2002, so that he would not be construed to be promoting or endorsing the compilation’s release. In March 1999 Prince advertised the Newfunk Sampling Series, his own plan to commercialise and make available over 700 royalty-free audio samples created in his Warner era catalogue, to allow DJs and record producers mix these into their own music. However, the release of the sampling series, a $700 seven-disk set, was suddenly and without reason withdrawn very close to its release date, along with the permission for artists to use samples of his music.

The advent of the Millennium brought about a resurgence, but not unexpected, interest in Prince’s apocalyptic single 1999. Warner re-issued the original single (charting in Billboard’s top ten) but Prince created his own re-mastered and rival version 1999: The New Master – since he was unable to re-release any of his Warner era himself, unless he re-record and add a different artistic slant to the music. The New Master was distributed by NPG Records and, because Prince was still under the name of the unpronounceable Prince love symbol, glyph, the release is credited to the Revolution in reference to whom the original 1982 single was credited. Prince’s animosity towards Warner’s ownership of his back catalogue found the two over the course of the ensuing decade countering each other’s release with their own: the new music from Prince; Warner, the popularity of his greatest hits. Whether intentional or not Prince’s new found notoriety over the name change to a glyph unearthed a master stroke of brand creation, since everyone both inside the industry, fans, and the wider public, were equally aware of and fascinated by this bizarre change of an individual’s moniker. The Artist Formally Known As Prince was often the butt of jokes, but nonetheless, it was Prince’s name rather those of his contemporaries that had become subliminally embedded into the mindset of popular culture, even in the spheres of public likely otherwise to never have known of him. References were made across TV and print advertising, which after all deflected the joke of the name change back to the perpetrators of the mockery, than upon Prince himself. For curiosity in him spawned a surge in interest, not only in Prince’s back catalogue, but also elevated public awareness his campaign for the music industry to improve the rights of artists.

npgmusicclub.com, 2001-6
npgmusicclub.com (2001-6)

Once the contract with Warner had finally expired on 16 May 2000, and to much joy The Artist Formally Known As Prince announced he would take up his birth name and be known once again as Prince. With the music he had stockpiled when denying Warner Brothers the songs he wrote during his embittered dispute with them, his now former label, plus his long term desire even to offer it freely and directly to fans, Prince was keen to completely divorce himself from the conventional music industry that he had become to distrust, and leverage the Internet as the primary medium with which to distribute his music. In July 2000 he founded NPGOnlineLTD.com a pioneering hub for fans to subscribe and download to their content his latest and previously unreleased music. In March 2001 the venture evolved into the NPG Music Club, a website entirely dedicated to make available to subscribing members (each paying a one-time subscription of $100) the many tracks that would otherwise have languished in his vault. The club offered many benefits. In addition to swathes of unreleased songs and live recordings, it gave members exclusive CDs and access to front row seating and sound checks at his concerts. The website attracted some 5,000 subscribers and saw Prince recognised as the first major artist to embrace the Internet as a legitimate medium of music distribution.

The Rainbow Children (2001)

Following a year out to recuperate, Prince shed his much of his animosity toward the music industry and became increasingly at peace. He joined the Jehovah’s Witness in 2001 and with that adjusted his entire musical outlook. Prince was no longer interested in writing radio-friendly hits but wanted to experiment new avenues for his output, now free from the past constraints in his creativity and the need of mass appeal required for a $100m recording contract. Prince turned his focus to jazz fusion and instrumentation in his next projects. In 2001 he released what became perhaps the most experimental and spiritual album in his career The Rainbow Children. This was followed in quick succession by One Nite Alone… (piano album, released in 2002) and after the resulting theatre tour, came Xpectation and N.E.W.S. (purely instrumentals) in January and June 2003. These albums had been available only through his subscription website NPG Music Club and although three were subsequently released through traditional channels through smaller, independent outfits, Internet sales at that time were illegible for Billboard’s charts. Not that Prince cared about charts. Because of a resulting and lengthy departure from the charts and his reluctance to appeal to them hardened, and the jazz fused The Rainbow Children, which due to its musical depth enjoyed paeans of praise from critics, marked also the first album by a major artist to be released on the Internet ahead of its physical commercial release. Its resulting limited distribution and experimental vein achieved only moderate commercial impact, and Prince’s subsequent One Nite Alone … Tour in 2002 was untypically for Prince a low key affair.

Prince, One Nite Alone... Live
One Nite Alone… Live! (2002)

Playing only to theatres and finding many industry insiders believing this signalled Prince’s farewell outing, the tour was viewed as Prince’s retirement from mainstream music. He was deemed as an artist basking in the decline of his relevancy, for musical trends had changed. Upon the tour’s conclusion even Prince took an uncharacteristic step of releasing his first ever live album One Nite Alone… Live and accompanying DVD Prince: Live At The Aladdin Las Vegas containing footage of the tour’s final show; further fulling speculation of a pending retirement. The release of a live album was noteworthy, in that Prince had ended a lifelong vow never to release an album of a live concert, because doing so was to his mind would necessitate choosing his definitive performance. The tour was a resounding success both with critics and at the box office. Playing to small venues again gave him new vigour, and the experience renewed Prince’s confidence in that he could become a chart success once more.

You can dance if you want to.

Taking the unusual step to allow fan club members into every sound check, the intimacy of the One Nite Alone… Tour provided a rallying boost among his fan base. He left everybody baying for more. Yet even more importantly, the stripped back production kept the financial overheads of this tour at a minimum, boosting the profitability earned. Opposed to the Lovesexy Tour whose entourage amounted ninety, the One Nite Alone… Tour set Prince a personal precedent to employ only local and minimal crews and cutting his travelling entourage to just his band and a handful of staff. The experiences of this tour would inadvertently begin a new evolution in Prince’s touring career.

On the home front, however, events had struck a more sour note. His father John Lewis Nelson died on 25 August 2001, shortly after he and Prince reconciled over their fractious relationship which had lasted since his childhood – Prince dedicating the One Nite Alone… album to his memory. His mother Mattie also passed, on 15th of February the following year. There was still some cause for celebration, Prince secretly married Testolini in Hawaii on 31 December 2001. So secret was this wedding in fact, only when filing for their eventual divorce in May 2006 was their marriage able to be confirmed. Yet for the meanwhile, Prince seemed energised and happy enough to return to writing radio-friendly music once again and even dare think about the previously unimaginable – a return to the top of the charts and rekindle his success of old.

Part 6 – Welcome 2 The Dawn


Prince, Musicology
Musicology (2004)

2004 witnessed a surprise turning point in Prince’s career. The release of N.E.W.S. in the wake of The Rainbow Children and Xpectation appeared to underline Prince’s creative departure both from popular music and commercial success in favour of his embracement of jazz. Despite being his lowest selling album to date N.E.W.S. still met critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Yet the combination of his nomination and the coincidence 2004 was the year marking also the 20th anniversary of Purple Rain, Prince was invited to perform alongside Beyoncé at the 8th of February Grammy ceremony in a special and rocking duet of Purple Rain. This appearance became a viral hit and in March Prince was also inducted into the US Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The events galvanised public appreciation of Prince and his popularity soured. Furthermore, to the delight of fans his next and as it would be 28th studio album Musicology heralded Prince’s return, after a lengthy and self-imposed exile, into and to the top of the Billboard charts. Full of radio-friendly tracks, Prince had begun to look at himself less seriously than previously and fell more at ease writing popular, catchy, hooks and tunes once more, rather than focus on the less accessible, more artful releases of late. Prince had been more concerted in his post-Warner life to escape the shadow of his own past success; “My only competition is? Me in the past” he acknowledged in the song Don’t Play Me. When writing Musicology Prince seemed to have shed his ghosts. Released by Columbia Records that April, the album went double platinum and to the surprise of many, most of all Prince, it peaked in the charts at number 3. Musicology delivered Prince’s best commercial success since Warner’s Diamond And Pearls, and its supporting tour was also so popular it drew Prince’s biggest attendances since the Purple Rain concerts of 1984. The Musicology Live2004ever tour grossed $90m from the 1.47m tickets sold across its 89 shows. Musicology also won Prince his fifth and sixth Grammy’s (Call My Name and the album’s title track Musicology, his first gongs since 1986) and cemented the industry’s acceptance of his return to music’s mainstream. Although Prince would later deny this was any form of comeback – because he had never been by definition ‘away’ and that he was uninterested in chart success anyway – 2004 nonetheless witnessed the revitalisation of his career and the resulting success since. The ‘comeback’ also rekindled Prince’s former confidence that his current output was still able to ride high in the charts as well as confirm his musical relevance, now into his fourth decade of his career.

Rolling Stone magazine, 2008
Rolling Stone magazine (2008)

Having virtually decamped from Minneapolis, to Los Angeles where he rented a home, in 2006 the name of his next album, released this time by Universal Records, was named after his new home’s street number – 3121 Sierra Alta Way, West Hollywood. Critics hailed 3121 his best work since the 1980s, and the record buying public thought so too, sending it straight to number 1 in the Billboard charts – his first album to hit the top spot since Batman in 1989. Prince had always been able to produce a hit at times when it mattered: Kiss was written to restore the momentum lost with Around The World In A Day; and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World came about only out of a snub to a Warner executive whom told Prince he had no more hit records left in him. Yet capitalising on this newly discovered momentum was Warner Brothers again, preparing their release of a third greatest hits package. Called Ultimate it contained Prince’s biggest hits from 1979 to 1993 and devoted a second and entire disk to their extended versions, in the attempt to ensure that even Prince’s most loyal fans would purchase this compilation of what was another repackaging of hits they already owned. Ultimate was scheduled for a March 2006 release, however Prince filed an injunction to delay this since it coincided with that of 3121, but so close to its street date many copies of Ultimate could not be cleared from the shelves in time and consequently ended up on the black market as sort-after items. Because many fans had now already purchased their copy through unofficial sources, by the time Ultimate was officially released that August sales were much diluted in result and the set achieved only moderate success in the charts. Prince’s 3121 release came out the winner, and gave cause for much reason to celebrate, for he was about to become the centre of some quite enviable exposure.

Turning to a new project and requiring too much effort to run, NPGMusicClub.com closed suddenly and permanently on 4 July 2006. That November Prince was inducted to the UK’s version of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and in that very month he began a run of highly lucrative revue shows at a major Las Vegas hotel, The Rio. Performing a revue of his hits twice weekly in his custom built Club 3121 – complete with adjoining restaurant, the Jazz Café – the shows were highly successful and well received: extending its run through to the following April. This concept of a series of single-venue shows inspired Prince to undertake another ‘residency’, but on with more grander scale. Whereas the capacity of Club 3121 permitted a nightly attendance for approximately 800, Prince’s plan was to run no less than 21 shows at London’s newly opened O2 Arena, boasting capacity for 23,000 fans per show. Such an undertaking on this scale required the sale of almost half a million tickets and all in one single venue. Without a hit album to support, and that his last major chart success was as far back as 1995, with The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, even his ability to draw crowds at this number could more likely prove that Prince’s star appeal was instead on the wane, the venture was high risk and audacious, even for an act of his calibre.

Earth Tour, 2007
Earth Tour (2007)

But Prince had begun 2007 with a major boost to his esteem. A fifteen minute performance during the halftime slot of the 4th of February’s Super Bowl XLI in Miami – the most coveted and, with over 140 million viewers, the most watched event in the American TV calendar: he played a medley of five songs, and the performance went down into history as the best halftime show ever. Coupled with a Golden Globe win that January for the track, The Song Of The Heart, which he wrote and performed for Warner’s animated movie Happy Feet (first new material he’d given his former label since 1996’s Girl 6), the summer hosted Prince’s long-awaited return to Europe with his sell-out 21 night London residency, The Earth Tour. Comprising an unprecedented run of 21 of sell-out shows at the 23,000 capacity O2 Arena, he fulfilled a decade long desire to ‘free music’ by giving away for free its accompanying album Planet Earth to every attendee at the concerts. Although he had done this already with Musicology, including it in the price of the tickets to the attendees of his 2004 tour, Planet Earth would in addition to its free distribution at the concerts, become the first ever new album to be given completely free by a major artist as a cover mount on a national newspaper. It was released with The Mail On Sunday in the summer of 2007 in the promotion for the London shows. The Earth Tour was highly unusual in that the accompanying album was in effect a tool to promote the tour, rather than the traditional purpose of the tour to support the album. This move infuriated the music industry, particularly Columbia Records, the label with the deal to distribute the album. Columbia in response refused to commercially release it in the UK since it was freely given away to the half million attendees of the London shows and the readers of the Mail On Sunday. To Prince it did not matter. The album was highly acclaimed and in 2008 the song Future Baby Mamma won Prince his seventh Grammy.

His follow up album, issued to mark the anniversary of his 21 date London residency, Indigo Nights, featured recordings from two after shows he performed in O2’s adjoining club, IndigO2. The CD came as an sleeve insert of the book 21 Nights, a behind the scenes photo documentary of his record-setting London stint.

Prince, Lotusflow3r
LotusFlow3r (2009)

Buoyed by the unconventional means with which he distributed Musicology and Planet Earth and still averse to signing a conventional recording contract, other than with ad-hoc single-album arrangements, Prince continued to explore ever new channels to distribute his music. In March 2009 his next venture was a triple-disk set containing two new studio albums LotusFlow3r and MPLSound plus a third disk, an album featuring his latest protégé and girlfriend Bria Valente, titled Elixer. Although originally intended to release them separately, they were combined as a packaged set and released through an exclusive deal the North American discount-retail chain-store giant Target. Even despite this limited release (it was unavailable abroad) the set still managed to almost top the Billboard charts in the US and reach number 2. His resounding success in 2007 and that he was again able and willing to aim for and return to the top of the charts, allowed Prince to content himself with mainstream and musical relevance. Unlike his extravagances of the 80s and 90s, Prince had now got his spending under control, purged of his vast entourages of the past, and kept distribution arrangements short lived and to one-off deals that guaranteed unit sales as rely on the turbulent and unreliable income of royalties. Having agreed a fixed fee with the UK’s Mail On Sunday in 2007 to distribute Planet Earth as a free cover mount, Prince followed suit in 2010 for this 35th studio album 20Ten, forging similar deals with an array of European newspapers to freely distribute it throughout July that year. Although the plan to distribute it as a retail disk in the US never materialised, Prince’s discussions with Warner to distribute it with them as a deluxe edition, yielded green shoots of reconciliation and the showed that the door had finally reopened for collaboration with his former label.

Rolling Stone magazine, 2010
Rolling Stone magazine (2010)

Having struck a deal to distribute 2.5 million copies of 20Ten in the UK alone as a cover mount on the Daily Mirror, and rather rely again on the outcome of chart success and the anxiety and uncertainty that presented, especially in an age dogged with diminishing CD sales (Prince was unimpressed with Universal for their promotion of 3121, and Arista for theirs for Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic) plus the ever increasing spread of ripped material on the Internet, Prince’s frustration with piracy and of the digital music it espoused spurred to him withdraw from online avenues completely, closing down his subscription website lotusflow3r.com on 23 March 2010. Against the backdrop of his frustration over the Internet’s facilitation of pirated material and how the explosion of digital music had replaced analogue, he declared shortly after the release of 20Ten that had no intention to record another album again. He declared also the Internet was ‘dead’ and he had no place in it, and instead dedicated much of 2011/3 to touring, chiefly in the US, with what was strictly a collection of smaller tours under the umbrella Welcome 2 America. This lengthy tour evolved into two single-venue residency style stints – Welcome 2 Chicago and the 21 Nite Stand – as well as encompassed the Welcome 2 Canada and Welcome 2 Australia micro tours and a headlining tour of European festivals – involving his first ever appearance at a UK festival (snubbing Glastonbury, the obvious venue and despite their many invitations, by choosing a younger and lesser known rival, The Hop Farm event in July 2011 instead). For the Canadian leg of the tour Prince released the digital single Extraloveable – his first use of the Internet since closing lotusflow3r.com the previous year.

Part 7 – Status Symbol


Prince, Art Official Age
Art Official Age (2014)

Four years would pass before Prince released his next studio album. Taking to Twitter under an anonymous account bearing the profile ‘international art thief’ he built momentum for his new and all-female backing band 3rdEyeGirl – Hannah Ford (drums), Donna Grantis (guitar) and Ida Nielsen (bass) – and launched his first website since 2010, 3rdEyeGirl.com at the outset of 2013 to release their recordings. Inspired by this fresh band their introductory Live Out Loud Tour performed two shows nightly along the west coast USA throughout the spring of 2013. In this promotional tour 3rdEyeGirl expanded shows to the festival circuit later in the year but by the spring of 2014 Prince set out to promote their debut album: Plectrumelectrum. The first phase of their 2014 tour formed of a series of ‘guerrilla’ concerts across London, where that February the quartet began with a series of hit and run shows in a variety of iconic venues, announced barely a day before and sometimes even on the day of the event itself. The second phase of the tour returned to the UK in May, billed as the Hit And Run Part II it performed in larger venues. However last minute the shows were announced they instilled the sense of occasion into every performance and the longevity of the tour was purely due to the excitement created, to whom Prince responded in kind. When Plectrumelectrum was eventually released on 29 September 2014 it was unexpectedly joined that day with Art Official Age – Prince’s first solo album in four years. Maintaining his unique tradition to employ ever new avenues to release and promote his music, the double release came under exclusive license to Warner Brothers Records. The reconciliation between Warner and Prince was much welcomed among fans and rekindled a return to the partnership of old, which had forged the halcyon years of Prince’s career: both albums peaked at 5 and 8th in Billboard’s chart.

Prince, HitNRun Phase Two
HITnRUN Phase Two (2015)

In 2015 Prince continued to pursue alternative outlets for his music, and for his next album HITNRUN Phase One he released that September with TIDAL, a premium streaming service to the consternation of many fans (and possibly for this reason) it was later released on CD. Like with Art Official Age, HITNRUN (in a nod to his ‘Hit N Run’ concerts of 2013-5) a follow-up album appeared on TIDAL that December: HITNRUN Phase Two. Both albums were co-produced with Joshua Welton and marked the first occasions in his 40 year career that Prince had produced his albums with someone else – arguably under the intent to reinvent his appeal and reach to new and younger audiences. Tragically HITNRUN Phase Two would be Prince’s final album.

In 2016 Prince embarked on what became his final tour. Postponed from late 2015, The Piano & A Microphone tour was a series of stripped down shows with simply Prince on a piano and a microphone. The shows were launched at Paisley Park in January 2016 and took began in Australia on 16 February. Its format was open and honest, and some say it was his best tour in his career, but Prince would never complete it.

Piano & A Microphone... Tour Gala
Piano & A Microphone Tour

The year and tour started in a period of great personal reflection by Prince. On the tour’s opening night he received word his former girlfriend Denise “Vanity” Matthews died aged 57, the news crushed him. The tour then headed to America, and what became it and indeed Prince’s final ever shows took place in Atlanta on 14 April 2016. The shows had been rescheduled from two cancelled concerts Prince was due to perform there on the 7th, for which he apologised to the audience on the 14th that he had done so due to feeling “under the weather”. Some, however, thought he was covering up a more serious illness and sparked a wider concern over the state of the star’s health. During the subsequent return flight to Minneapolis in his chartered 1988 Dassault Falcon 900 jet, departing Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 12:51am on 15 April, and joined by best friend Kirk Johnson and singer/girlfriend Judith Hill, Prince suffered a seizure and lost consciousness. At 1:12am the plane put in a request to make an emergency landing at Moline, Illinois, a mere 48 minutes from Prince’s destination airport. Upon its arrival an emergency call was put and paramedics boarded the plane whilst it was sat on the runway, treating Prince with an opiate revival shot Narcan and transferred him by ambulance to Trinity Moline Hospital. Prince recovered and discharged himself three hours later and resumed the flight home at 10:57 that morning, quickly telling concerned fans he received emergency fluids for flu-like symptoms.

Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.

Many were far from convinced that a plane would undergo an emergency landing for case of flu, and believed something more serious was at hand. Concern over Prince’s health had been bolstered by uncharacteristic behaviour in the previous months: he had begun to write a memoir, cancelled the entire European leg and the original dates of the Piano & A Microphone tour; a tour that was a seated performance and the most introspective shows of his career. On the 16th, Prince hosted a dance party at Paisley Park studios and, whist he did not perform, he appeared briefly to scotch rumours that he was gravely ill. Telling the audience to “wait a few days before you waste any prayers”. However over the following six days he made frequent trips to a local Walgreens pharmacy, where he obtained powerful prescription painkillers. He subsequently relapsed and sought urgent medial advice but his health deteriorated before that was received.

The medication you were given has put you in suspended animation for quite some time.

At 9:43 on the morning of 21 April 2016, the emergency services were called to Paisley Park Studios where Prince was found slumped and unresponsive on the floor of an elevator. He was declared dead at the scene. His body was cremated on 23 April in a private ceremony, organised by his sister Tyka Nelson, and attended only be close family and bandmates Sheila E and Larry Graham. The ensuing investigation by the medical examiner ruled Prince’s death was caused by accidental overdose of the powerful opiate-based painkiller fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and able to be fatal with a dose of just a quarter of a milligram.

News of Prince’s death came as nothing less than an immense shock for fans and media alike. Prince, slight of frame, an avid basketball and ping-pong player, vegan, a non-smoker and teetotaller, was outwardly the picture of health. However, it is believed he became dependant on the drug in order to relieve pain he had long endured in his hips, resulting from years jumping from stage risers and performing splits during his shows. Despite requiring hip replacement in 2009, it is understood he refused surgery because the Jehovah’s Witness faith does not permit blood transfusions. He instead fought off the pain by taking increasingly potent relief medication, and attended public appearances holding a walking stick, which most believed at the time was a mere fashion accessory. His dependency on painkillers destroyed his heath. In consequence of his emergency hospitalisation following his mid-flight seizure, Prince sought help from addiction specialist Dr Howard Kornfeld. Kornfeld, founder of San Francisco-based pain medication addiction clinic Recovery Without Walls, was unable to attend to Prince that day but instead dispatched his son Andrew to assess the star ahead of a meeting arranged for 22 April. Andrew, Kirk Johnson and a Paisley Park employee found Prince dead when arriving at Prince’s home the morning of the 21st – Kornfeld putting the call to the emergency services. It is likely Prince had lain dead for six hours. It was later revealed the concentration of fentanyl in his blood was 67.8 micrograms per litre: death commonly occurs with concentrations of the drug between 3 and 50 micrograms per litre.

Rolling Stone magazine, 2016
Rolling Stone magazine (2016)

Keeping with Prince’s wishes, Paisley Park, his home since 1985 and up to the time of his death, opened to public tours on 6 October 2016. Now a Graceland-style attraction and museum studio complex, fans are able to make a personal journey to the site where Prince had lived and created so many of his hits and brought joy into countless lives worldwide. The Prince Estate is now releasing songs found in his fabled Paisley Park vault.

Prince both shaped and prophesied the demise of the traditional music industry – leading the charge for freely distributed digital music. He possessed the courage to lead an unprecedented stance against the music industry when other artists feared to do so, and fought for – and won – the ownership of his music. Every major artist today is able to exercise their paternal right to their music, as a direct result of Prince’s intervention. He not also transformed the careers of the many artists he supported and nurtured, but had given them their future careers.

He’s a better guitarist than you are. He’s a better singer than you are. He can dance better than you. His songs are better than yours.

Prince, an artist who has written many of most recognizable songs for a generation, at the end of his life was able to become content, in that money and art could after all cohabit in his life. Much maligned, but very much copied by those who malign him, Prince was ultimate showman, and single-handedly shaped the perception of popular music. Yet don’t take my word for it, take it from David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine: “His dregs are better than most people’s carefully calculated product.”

Famously able to survive only with few hours’ sleep a night, and during the day write, record and produce an entire song from conception to completion, Prince who once vowed to write and record as least one song for every single day until his death. He tireless love of music and the perfection of his craft gives the soundtrack to the lives of the millions who loved him. And we all miss him deeply.

RIP Prince. I wish U heaven

Goldies Parade, 2016.

Prince biography »
Delirious: The Warner Era (1958 – 1990) & The Warner Dispute (1991 – 1996)

Chart positions of Prince’s albums

Prince album positions in the official UK and US top 100 charts, and their erratic performance during his era as an independent artist. Only the albums which charted both in the UK and US are illustrated. Prince’s albums on average fared better in the UK than the US, averaging a chart position of 11 in the UK opposed to 19 in the US for the same albums; this comparison does not reflect total units sold.

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