Yeah, I’m a Prince fan. I wasn’t always. When I was 14, I had a girlfriend who loved Prince. She talked about him, wore the buttons, wrote in that easily recognizable 80s-Prince-style shorthand, even dressed like him. As a self-respecting ghetto boy, I couldn’t get with the program. I liked Hip Hop and DC GoGo music, and his Royal Sweetness was too effeminate for my taste. I liked 1999 and some of his earlier albums–but after seeing the video, I was cool off of Prince.
But then, I had my first date.
Purple Rain hit the theaters, and Mustafa Akamo’s first date was that movie–with my Grandfather sitting between us. Hey, it was a different time then! I went, griping about the theater she chose–I sure as hell didn’t want none of my homeboys to see me coming out of that theater. Hell, it was not much different than getting caught coming out of the porn theater! Anyway, by the end of the first song and scene of the movie, I was a fan. And have been ever since.
I don’t know about you, but I was a fan in the biggest way. Being a fan of Prince’s music was something I couldn’t share with my friends. We were ghetto kids, we did manly things like play streetball, football, and boxed. We fought kids from rival neighborhoods. This was DC, we wore lumberjack jackets, Adidas tennis shoes, our hats backwards, and if you liked something strange like David Bowie, Culture Club, or Duran Duran–you’d better keep that shit to yourself. Not that I was a closet fan… It was just something I enjoyed by myself. I owned all his albums, all the 45s, collected magazines with articles and song lyrics (but no posters–I drew the line there–this was an admiration of the music, not a damned crush lol). I even started writing in the shorthand. I wore trench coats, loved purple, let my hair grow long. I had a lot in common with him. We were both biracial Black men (so I thought, turns out–both his parents are Black), loved motorcycles, rock music, identified ourselves as “brothers”. Except I liked my women chocolate and dark, but he liked mixed women. No biggie.
I had four girls during my Prince stage that I was crazy about, but they were older and liked me as a friend and didn’t reciprocate: Lauren Kelly-Washington (who went to Georgetown Prep), Kamalah Lucas (either Duke Ellington or GP), Lisa Ponder and Bernadette Brandon (who both went to Eastern High). I wrote love letters. I called them (during my time knowing them) daily, incessantly. I befriended them and learned how to talk to girls. Prince was there all the time, telling me what to say, even when I might as well have been listening to Chinese Arithmetic, because I had no clue what he was talking about. He accompanied me on dates. He was in the background when I daydreamed about them. By the time I made it to the University of Maryland, I was a well-seasoned Playboy. armed with my ambiguous bilingual ghetto-boy/intellect/poetry-writing street kid persona–and women found me to be an irresistible bitch. I could be romantic, intriguing, and fight two niggas at the same time. Articulate-as-hell-but-carried-a-gun type of interesting. Prince seduced the nation, and he taught me to seduce those I came in contact with, simply by being different, being exotic, being strange and peculiar, and being myself. At a time I was struggling to fit in, I learned through him, that fitting in isn’t always where it’s at. They laugh at me for being different; I learned to laugh at them because they are all the same. There’s power in standing out.
I used to say that three things pulled me back from becoming just another brother on the street: my mother insisting that I was Filipino, my Cuban stepfather who taught me to dress and dance, cook and speak some Spanish, and Prince’s music–which balanced the pull of DC calling me out my racial mixture to join the rest of the brothers. Those who know me know that I am equally Afrocentric and exotic. Many don’t like it; they want me to choose sides. Prince was all about not choosing sides. Shit, that fool wouldn’t even make it known that he was decidedly straight, riding the fence and staying in the gray area is what made this brother stand out. Everybody loved him. Black folks knew he was Black. Latinos loved him because he gave nods to Latin rhythms and music. White folks thought his momma was White, and considered him to have “transcended race” (which happens to be White people’s way of saying “He can’t be Black, we like that nigga too!”).
The brother didn’t leave the race; he wasn’t bisexual. He was just Prince. That’s all. He was who he was, and the place he loved to hang out was right there in the middle. And in the middle where everybody could identify with him and appreciate him. He was kinda White, kinda Black, kinda Latin, kinda Hip Hop, kinda Rock, even kinda Country, kinda straight, kinda gay. He taught those who loved him to get past their own limited tastes and biases and just appreciate him for who he was: an awesome musician.
There are people who are “fans of Prince’s music”, but then there are “Prince fans”. Prince fans got into more than just the music; we learned as much as we could about him. We still bought all his albums, even though he hadn’t had a #1 hit since 1989–and went to his concerts religiously. We dressed differently, we talked differently, we wrote differently. We enjoyed his music, then studied the lyrics asking, “What did he actually mean by that?” We categorized dates and life events by whatever Prince songs we were jamming to at the time. He wasn’t just making albums we loved; his music was literally the soundtrack to our lives. And now, he’s gone.
There was a joke about his Royal Badness–that he was the only guy who could wear a headwrap and eyeliner, and STILL take your woman from you–and it’s true. He is probably the only guy a very straight man, even homophobic ones, would admit comfortably was a Sexy Mother Fucker and still feel masculine. Like I said, there will never be another.
This was our Elvis, the Black man’s 9/11. He taught us to say screw the mainstream, screw status quo and do your own thing. For that, I’m honored I had the pleasure of being a Prince fan.
June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016
From Him we came, to Him we return. Till we meet again, Prince Rogers Nelson. Rest in peace, my brother.
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