Presented at Pop Conference 2021

C. Liegh McInnis, Kamilah Cummings & De Angela presented a panel, Prince: Disrupting Notions of Blackness, at Pop Convergence 2021 on Friday, 23 April 2021. Our panel was moderated by Michaelangelo Matos.

Pop Conference 2021— the longest-running music writing and pop music studies conference of its kind—brought together the world’s leading pop scholars, journalists, writers, musicians for three days of virtual events exploring pop music’s role in mirroring and shaping one of the most chaotic and disruptive moments in modern global history, from 22 to 25 April 2021. The conference was hosted by NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and Tisch School of the Arts and was free and open to the public.

De Angela presented “Controversy: The Blueprint of Prince’s Musical Transformation and Disruption.” Kamilah Cummings presented “Purple, Lace, & Race: Prince and the Art of Protest.” C. Liegh McInnis presented “The Art of Double Disruption: How Prince Worked in the Tradition of Jean Toomer and Richard Wright to Rebel Simultaneously against White Supremacy and Black Self-Limitation.”

Our Panel Description:
Prince’s legacy as a Pop music icon is undisputed. His influence on popular culture is endless. In addition to being one of the greatest entertainers of all time, he was a groundbreaking songwriter, musician, arranger, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. Prince was also the ultimate disruptor. In a career that spanned five decades, Prince challenged systems, spaces, and sounds. In the process, he disrupted widely held notions about what it meant to be a black artist, activist, and, ultimately, a black person in a society that remains at odds with its own concepts of blackness, freedom, and equality. Through analysis of his music, lyrics, and individual acts of protest, this panel seeks to expand the discussion of Prince’s legacy by examining his role as a disruptor.

My Presentation Abstract:
In the 15 November 1981 Baltimore Sun article, “Whites Are Missing Good Rock By Blacks,” Geoffrey Himes proclaimed, “As young and talented as Prince is, he has a better opportunity to demolish the rules about black rock ‘n’ rollers than anyone else.” Not only did he accomplish this three years later at the pinnacle of his commercial success with 1984’s Purple Rain film and its accompanying soundtrack, but Prince would also go on to create a genre of music labeled the “Minneapolis Sound.” However, by 1988’s critical masterpiece Sign O’ The Times, Prince was his own genre, often copied, but never duplicated.

While Sign O’ The Times would encapsulate everything Prince was as a singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, and producer, the linchpin of Prince’s discography is 1981’s Controversy. The album is the perfect amalgamation of Prince as a disruptor. Although its predecessor 1981’s Dirty Mind would shock fans and critics alike with Prince’s sexual explicitness and sociopolitical awareness, while adopting punk’s aesthetics and ideologies, Controversy is where all the themes that Prince would revisit throughout the rest of his career–race, sex, gender, politics, spirituality, duality, and love—and a bricolage of musical genres–rock, pop, soul, r&b, new wave, and rockabilly—were woven together in a quilt of his authentic voice and sonic palette.

In this talk, the deconstruction of Controversy reveals that the album as a whole would ultimately anchor the trajectory of Prince’s career, while also serving as the blueprint of constant transformation and disruption for the rest of it.