17 Inspirational Prince Songs

By PC Muñoz

Three years ago this month, I learned of Prince’s passing the 21st century way: first via inquisitive texts from close friends, then halting and dubious social media reports, then the dreaded onslaught of official confirmations. As a Gen-Xer who was a teenager during Prince’s first major pop breakthroughs and then a young professional musician when the Minneapolis maverick began his fight against unjust music industry practices, it is difficult to overstate his towering influence on me personally. His overtly and covertly imparted philosophies and aesthetic values are imprinted all over the work that I’ve chosen to do, the sounds that I love, the artistic standards I attempt to achieve and the way I view an artist’s place in the world. I know this is the case for many other recording artists and musicians of multiple generations and backgrounds. He was an artist’s artist, a musician’s musician, an unrelenting example of the potential for the sublime in popular music, and the greatest live performer of this generation.

When I logged into my social media accounts after the news was official I saw jazz cats, classical music stalwarts, Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials, avant-garde folks, headbangers, funkateers, country crooners, indie hipsters, laptop kids, hip-hop heads, pop aficionados, performance artists, singer-songwriters, classic rockers, and everybody else from all around the world sharing their thoughts, memories, and favorite songs. We all loved him, especially artists of all kinds, because in addition to his famous charisma, he also oozed integrity. We noticed that his bands were made of women and men of different races. We heard about his donations to people like Marva Collins. We watched when he changed his name to a symbol and took all kinds of mockery and heat for it. We perked up when he was one of the first artists to offer downloads via his own website. We witnessed with envy and admiration when he racked up platinum status for his Musicology album partially by including a free CD with every concert ticket sold in 2004. We were not surprised when he turned up in Baltimore in 2015, offering a song and a “Rally 4 Peace" in the midst of upheaval and heartbreaking events. Like the similarly idolized and gone-too-soon Bruce Lee, Prince also held a special place in the hearts and minds of people of color, as someone who intently asserted his independence and identity in the face of misguided preconceptions and prejudice, and who staunchly held his ground in menacing David vs. Goliath industry matches. 

We have now lived in a world without Prince for three years. It’s tough to imagine, since he so thoroughly helped to shape contemporary pop music production. The influence of his drum machine work, singular guitar stylings, funk-face synthesizer sounds, and penchant for sonic experimentation can be heard in multiple pop, R&B, hip-hop, and EDM tracks daily. His fearless stare-downs with behemoth entities attempting to exploit musicians are legendary, and referenced virtually every time a contemporary recording artist takes a principled stand for the rights of artists. From the control room to the board room, Prince left no aspect of the music business untouched by his genius.

As we reflect on the past three years without Prince, it is important to see past the obvious--- our grief---and locate the ways in which his example as an artist and humanitarian can continue to inspire and bring joy to our lives and our work. Prince himself once said that “inspirational music” was probably the most appropriate category he could think of for his work. With that in mind, I’ve put together a 17-track list which highlights a few particularly inspirational moments in Prince’s very inspired career.

 1. “Uptown” from Dirty Mind

The first of Prince’s many rallying cries for diversity and freedom.

2. “Free” from 1999

Piano-drenched reminder to not take one’s liberated state lightly.

3. "God” (B-side to the “Purple Rain” single) 

Like many artists who grew up in a religious milieu, there was a fierce push-and-pull in Prince’s work between the carnal and the spiritual. This striking track is an example of one of the first times he went straight for the latter.

4. Dance Electric from the André Cymone album AC 

Prince wrote this devastatingly funky and apocalypse-obsessed track for his childhood friend and former bass player, spreading the love after the massive success of Purple Rain. This link is to the released version by Cymone.

6. “Sometimes it Snows in April” from Parade.

Though cryptic and forlorn, imparts a home truth that can’t be denied.

7. “The Cross” from Sign ‘o’ the Times

Unabashed testifying accompanied by hypnotic guitars and drums.

8. The entire Lovesexy album

A joy-filled, energetic set espousing his beliefs and philosophies at the time. Prince designed this album to render as one long track on CD, so including it here is not cheating...

9. “Stand Would Stand All Time” from Small Club (unofficial)

Riveting live version of a gospel-ish track that would end up on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack.

10. “The Sacrifice of Victor” from Love Symbol

Funky, surprisingly revealing and ultimately uplifting tale about some of his childhood experiences.

11. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World(single)

Women were clearly an important muse to Prince. This single is inspirational on a couple of levels: as a deeply felt love song, and as his first (and very successful) single as an “indie artist”, without Warner Brothers support.

12. "Goldfrom The Gold Experience

Though most people associate Prince with that other color, this powerful track from his last Warner Brothers album is sterling in its own right.

13.  ”Comeback” from The Truth

Loving and hopeful reincarnation reflection, dedicated to his son who was born with Pfeiffer Syndrome and died shortly after birth.

14.  “Everywhere” from The Rainbow Children

Frenetic drums and rousing choir parts frame this track from this Jehovah’s Witness-informed album.

15. “Colonized Mind” from LotusFlow3r

Challenging, deep-thinking stuff from an often overlooked guitar-based album.

16. “Beginning Endlessly” from 20Ten

Serious metaphysics over an industrial synth-funk groove.

17.  Way Back Home from Art Official Age

Poignant (even more so now) about the ultimate journey.

 

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Black History Month in San José

By DEM ONE

To be Black in San José is to be a minority amongst minorities. As our numbers have declined, spaces where we can see ourselves and each other have also become scarce. That is why I was excited to perform at the 4th annual Black History Month Spoken Word Festival with my RIGHTSTARTER co-conspirator PC Muñoz.

We always say that RIGHTSTARTER aims to present a guttural artistic response to the current political moment. The historic First AME Zion church in downtown San José, its walls clad with African-American historical artifacts, provided the perfect backdrop for presenting some of our newest work. Our set included the spoken word piece “Physical Science” which deals with the enduring legacy of segregationist ideas, and “Betrayed”, an edgy screed in the style of our musical forbearers Public Enemy. In a synthesis of past, present, and future my son Ellis Marcel sat in with us and played bass for a couple of tunes.


We closed the evening with a jam session featuring all of the incredible poets and musicians who performed that night: breakbeat poet McTate Stroman, the vocalist duo Consonance, and performance poet Venus Jones. Props to Venus Jones, Al Farley, the African American Heritage House, and First AME Zion church for providing such a welcoming platform for Black artistic expression.  

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Finale

w/DEM ONE, Venus Jones, Consonance, and McTate Stroman

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Starting it Right

RIGHTSTARTER w/Ellis Marcel and Venus Jones

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The son

Ellis Marcel guesting on bass

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4th Annual African-American Spoken Word Festival, 2019

RIGHTSTARTER, Venus Jones, Al Farley, Consonance, McTate Stroman.

Photo courtesy Venus Jones

The Future is Not a Rock Star

Historians agree that the human voice was likely the first musical instrument utilized by prehistoric peoples. Tens of thousands of years and multiple technological shifts later, the voice remains the most powerful, expressive and personal of all our musical tools. Every day around the world for hundreds of reasons, people lift their voices and sing regardless of their level of training, talent or professional aspirations. If all human-made instruments were to suddenly disappear from the earth,  music could still be made through the power of the voice.

Prior to the dominant era of recorded music in the American pop music continuum, many families of various means kept a piano and a stack of sheet music in their parlor for post-dinner bonding and entertainment. In those days, singing popular songs was not a dreamy vehicle for stardom; it was an enriching pastime to share with loved ones. There were surely professional musicians in orchestras, touring shows, churches, and other institutions, as well as popular interpreters of song on the radio and in the movies, but the point was the song, not the singer. The star-making machinery had not yet been set in motion.

Spike Lee: American Original

Veteran Brooklyn filmmaker Spike Lee is everywhere these days, rightfully soaking in the glow of his first Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations. 

BlackkKlansman, the 2018 film which earned him those nods, is just the latest in a rich and eclectic career that has spanned over 35 years. In that time, he has often garnered equal amounts of praise and scorn for his films, which, in their most pointed moments, deal directly with issues of race, culture, sex, and ontological corruption.

While this new film is the first to earn notice from the Academy, Mr. Lee has several masterpieces in his cinematic canon already. Get on the Bus might be his most perfect film and Inside ManHe Got Game, and 25th Hour are also powerhouses.  No other filmmaker has captured sibling dynamics and the pain of playing music to an empty house better than Lee did in Crooklyn. His undisputed classic Do the Right Thing, starring a sweltering New York City summer, turns 30 this summer.