10 Acts That Owe Prince a Round
In the 35 years since Prince released his debut album, ‘For You,’ it seems as though the Purple One’s minions have sprung up everywhere. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to follow in his little pointy-toed, high-heeled bootsteps? The mysterious and magnetic Minnesota magnate made his name by blurring boundaries — something he still does — and his blend of pop, funk, R&B, psychedelic rock and other styles too numerous and stupefying to mention continues to influence artists in all genres. This list barely scratches the surface, but here are 10 Acts That Owe Prince a Round. Go ahead and make it a lavender cocktail, guys, but just one. Jehovah’s witnesses only allow for moderate drinking.
Melding the carnal with the spiritual has always been Prince’s forte. As it turns out, some of his descendants have been paying attention to this skillful balancing act. Count Tricky among them. In addition to grabbing pages from Prince’s playbook when it comes to vocals, the English musician turns hip-hop askew by injecting occasional elements of mysticism. Tricky’s ‘Passion of the Christ’ (off this year’s ‘False Idols’) is one track that holds its own against Prince’s best spiritual songs, such as ‘The Cross’ from 1987’s ‘Sign o’ the Times.’
When it comes to the whole sexuality-meets-spirituality thing, OutKast totally get it. In fact, they take it a step further, adding their trademark tongue-in-cheek humor, as on the spoken-word ‘God (Interlude)’ off 2002’s modern classic ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.’ As musical satirist Frank Zappa once rhetorically asked, “Does humor belong in music?” Sure it does — and when it works, why label?
Prince and the funky U.K. acid-jazz group Jamiroquai don’t just share an affinity for oversized hats. These blokes owe a tip of the big ol’ brim to Prince, who was busy paving the way back when they were still in nappies. Jamiroquai’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ (from 1996’s ‘Travelling Without Moving’) reveals their accumulation of influences, nodding to both Prince and Stevie Wonder. (Check out Prince’s ‘Sexy Dancer’ for the sake of comparison.)
Rocker Lenny Kravitz doesn’t deny his funk and soul roots, and he’s admitted to loving Prince since his high school days. On its face, ‘Mr. Cab Driver,’ from 1989’s ‘Let Love Rule,’ is an indictment of racism, but it’s hard not to hear a bit of Prince’s ‘Lady Cab Driver,’ from 1982’s ‘1999’ album.
Proof that Prince provides inspiration even in the most unlikely places, bearded frontman Jim James of indie heroes My Morning Jacket cites the Purple Yoda’s live show as one of the best he’s ever seen. In concert, James has covered several Prince songs, including ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.’ And it’s clear the inspiration doesn’t stop there. In ‘A New Life,’ off of ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God,’ James channels Prince’s whispered confessions all the way through his legendary falsetto.
George Lewis Jr. may not have been born with a regal stage-ready name like Prince Rogers Nelson, but once he rechristened himself Twin Shadow, it all came together. Lewis’ slick synth-pop sound and semi-feminine sartorial sense hark back to numerous ’80s greats, not just Prince, but when he hops on the motorcycle in the ‘Five Seconds’ video, it’s ‘Purple Rain’ reimagined as a crazy action flick.
It’s no big surprise that avant-pop provocateur Lady Gaga has heralded our hero as an influence — and not just in terms of her outrageous style choices. Lady G claims Madonna, Prince and German house music inspired the 2011 album ‘Born This Way,’ and watching the extended video for the title track, it’s hard to deny that Stefani Germanotta learned more than a thing or two about showmanship from Prince Rogers Nelson.
No need to call your girlfriend on this one. Engineered specifically for dancing, indie-approved pop star Robyn’s songs grow from bop-friendly soil first tilled by Prince. Start with ‘Stars 4-Ever,’ and you’ll get the idea.
Production duo the Neptunes started out in the hip-hop world and quickly moved on to become massive pop stars, following a trajectory not unlike Prince’s. And to say the Neptunes’ production is heavily influenced by Prince would be an understatement. But if you have any doubts, check out Prince’s girl group Vanity 6’s ‘Nasty Girl’ and then listen to the Neptunes-produced ‘Slave 4 U’ by Britney Spears.
Of Montreal’s ability to turn on a dime musically is part of their charm, and while their influences range from David Bowie to the Beatles to far beyond, lead singer Kevin Barnes has said Prince “opened up a lot of doors for me, intellectually and emotionally and sexually.” This is evident in plenty of their songs, but especially in ‘Sex Karma’ (featuring Solange Knowles on vocals) from 2010’s ‘False Priest.’