The Essential Prince Reading List

Over his decades-long career, Prince granted very few interviews. But that didn't stop journalists, critics, and fellow musicians from writing about him.

1. Hilton Als, "I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love," Harper's, Dec. 2012

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"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world. Or, more specifically, the world of one black man loving another. How freaky is that? And who's on top in that kind of mind fuck? (Probably Prince, given that he's capable of articulating this basic truth, as he does in his 1992 song 'Sexy M.F.': 'In a word or 2—it's u I wanna do/ No, not cha body, yo mind you fool.')"

2. Kurt Loder, "Prince Reigns," Rolling Stone, August 1984

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"With music, Prince seems to find his most perfect union. Apollonia remembers seeing him in the studio, her oblivious mentor, lost in sound. 'It looks like he's in there in his own spaceship, his own capsule, just taking off, and the sky's the limit.'"

3. Robert Palmer, "Is Prince Leading Music To A New Biracism?", The New York Times, Dec. 2, 1981

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"How rigid are racial categories in contemporary pop music? Prince recently found out when the Rolling Stones invited him to open several West Coast concerts on their 1981 tour. The suggestions of androgyny in his fluid body movements and flamboyantly minimal stage costume were more than a little reminiscent of some of Mick Jagger's early performances, but the almost entirely white Stones audience apparently failed to make the connection. They pelted Prince with fruit and bottles, causing him to cut his sets short. Similar reactions from white radio programmers have kept Prince's records off most FM rock stations; it's the stations with black music formats that are playing them."

4. Ann Powers, "One Night With Prince," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8, 2009

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"Prince's personality seems to be governed by two oppositional impulses: the hunger to create and an equally powerful craving for control. Intense productivity battles with meticulousness within his working process. Others might not anticipate his next move, but it is all part of the chess game for him."

5. Marc Bernardin, "Prince Gave Black Kids the License To Be Who They Wanted To Be, Not What Society Thought They Should Be," Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2016

Virginia Turbett / Redferns

"If Prince could be a black dude who played rock, who looked as feminine as the women who flocked around him, who could roar into a microphone with the same voice that was quiet as a mouse in speech — well, then, I could be a nerd who loved comics and played Dungeons & Dragons and could be on the football team and be on the AV squad and, yes, eventually cover 'Darling Nikki' as the worst lead singer of the best college band you never heard."

6. Nichole Perkins, "How Prince Taught Me About Female Sexuality," BuzzFeed, Feb. 8, 2015

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"With songs like 'Soft and Wet,' it's easy to think that Prince only sees women as objects made for sexual pleasure, but looking further, his songs show women with the same sexual urges as men. Acts like Salt-N-Pepa and Madonna were equally important in showcasing women's desires through song during my childhood, but Prince's work resonated more with me. His music shaped my own sexuality because it helped me realize there are men who enjoy being submissive to women, that there are men who are willing to admit to helplessness during sex, and that being a woman who's more sexually experienced than a man isn't something to hide or being ashamed of."

7. Chris Heath, "The Man Who Would Be Prince," Details, November 1991

Richard E. Aaron / Redferns

"'I make music because if I don't, I'd die. I record because it's in my blood. I hear sounds all the time. It's almost a curse: to know you can always make something new.'

Have you always been like that? I ask him.

'No. When I was younger I had...other interests...but you know how the very first song I learned to play was 'Batman'...?'"

8. Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, "The Time I Went Roller-Skating With Prince," Slate, 2013

Warner Bros / Everett Collection

"I was confused and a little depressed. How good were these peo­ple's lives that they could pass on Prince's roller‑skating party? Only one man was brave enough — visionary enough — to see what lay before us, and that was Eddie Murphy. 'This is historical,' he said. 'For starters, I need to see if Prince can roller‑skate. I'm a comedian, and honestly, what's funnier than that?'"

9. Claire Hoffman, "Soup With Prince," New Yorker, Nov. 24, 2008

Christophe Ena / AP

"Prince had his change of faith, he said, after a two-year-long debate with a musician friend, Larry Graham. 'I don't see it really as a conversion,' he said. 'More, you know, it's a realization. It's like Morpheus and Neo in 'The Matrix.'' He attends meetings at a local Kingdom Hall, and, like his fellow-witnesses, he leaves his gated community from time to time to knock on doors and proselytize. 'Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they're really cool about it,' he said."

10. Neal Karlen, "Prince Talks: The Silence Is Broken," Rolling Stone, Sept. 12, 1985

"Tooling through the neighborhood, Prince speaks matter-of-factly of why he toyed with early interviewers about his father and mother, their divorce and his adolescent wanderings between the homes of his parents, friends and relatives. 'I used to tease a lot of journalists early on,' he says, 'because I wanted them to concentrate on the music and not so much on me coming from a broken home. I really didn't think that was important. What was important was what came out of my system that particular day. I don't live in the past. I don't play my old records for that reason. I make a statement, then move on to the next.'"

11. Anil Dash, "I Know Times Are Changing," The Message, June 25, 2014

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"During the filming of Purple Rain, a few months after the song was recorded, a love scene between Prince and the movie's female lead Apollonia was filmed, taking place in a barn. The literal climax of the scene featured a rainstorm, with the sunlight filtering through the storm to provide an image of purple rain.

"The scene was edited from the film. It had been deemed unnecessary."

12. Britt Julious, "Why I Needed To Witness the Greatness of Prince," BuzzFeed, Oct. 2, 2012

Kevin Mazur / WireImage

"Realizing that you can't ever see a newly-discovered older band or musician live is a particular type of heartbreak, and I would not let that happen with Prince. There was no way I could see Prince at his youngest, at his raunchiest, at his liveliest, but to not see him at all felt like a betrayal of my love of his work."

13. Robert Christgau, Review of Dirty Mind, 1980


"Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."

14. Ta-Nehisi Coates, "All Of My Purple Life," The Atlantic, Sept. 18, 2009

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"One thing I've appreciated about Prince, as I've aged, is that he knows how to sing about sex, like a man honestly singing about sex. Much of the misogyny in hip-hop (and I suspect in other art forms too) comes from, forgive my profanity, a deep-seated fear of ass. Men—and especially young men—fear what they will do to be physically involved with a woman with whom they're infatuated. They compensate by turning this fear on its head and projecting. They make women into temptresses, gold-diggers, and villains, and make themselves into conquering heroes. Pussy don't rule me, they'll say—even though pussy ain't thinking about them. Which is the problem, or rather their problem."

15. Rob Sheffield, "Nothing Compared 2 Him," Rolling Stone, April 21, 2016

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"The news of his death today, at just 57, is truly heartbreaking because he seemed built to thrive into his golden years, an artist we all expected to remain prolific and independent and stubborn and gloriously himself for years to come. We all deserved a chance to hear Old Man Prince. This is what it sounds like when doves cry."

16. Kelley L. Carter, "I met Prince. He told me something with a look. And I got it," The Undefeated, April 21, 2016

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"That night in his home, Prince stated clearly that he felt taken advantage of as an artist. He was well aware of his influence — Lenny Kravitz became Lenny Kravitz after seeing Prince wow audiences performing rock music as a black man in skin tight pants; contemporary acts like Janelle Monae challenged the music industry to listen to a tuxedo-clad woman rocking a pompadour hair style and performing non-genre specific music in large part because of Prince. But where he needed validation most — from a larger mainstream world that had deep pockets and controlled the trajectory of musical careers — he did not feel he got it."

17. Hua Hsu, "Remembering Prince," The New Yorker, April 22, 2016

Chelsea Lauren

"As a kid in the mid-eighties, the color palette of my imagination was washed-out and dull. And then, one day, there was radiance. It was the audacity of all that purple that first drew me to Prince, the pure hubris of a man with an unusual name draping himself in an unloved color. Purple not just as a color, I would soon discover, but purple as a philosophy and worldview, as a shade of night they didn’t want you to know about. The sky was blue, red was the color of passion and rage, trees and money were green, but what was purple? Purple was mystery. It was erotic, whatever that meant. Purple was imperious and arrogant, neither masculine nor feminine. Purple as a shade of black. Before I knew the word “transgressive,” I knew what it felt like to sit with a stranger’s weirdness, and reckon with inscrutability by basking in it."

18. Rembert Browne, "Earth Was Lucky To Get 57 Years of Prince," Vulture, April 21, 2016

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"Prince stripped us down to our core his entire career. Much like his voice, his guitar playing, and his style, he was unmatched when it came to expressing vulnerability, showing us all how to risk it all and lay it on the line. And it wasn’t always comfortable. Prince's way of always being Prince was often met with confusion, and occasionally it wasn’t accepted, but looking back, it was always necessary."

19. Dodai Stewart, "On Prince, Blackness, And Sexuality," Fusion, April 21, 2016

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"Regardless of how you feel about astrology, it’s important to remember that Prince was, and identified as, a Gemini. The zodiac sign of the twins. Duality was in his DNA and reflected in his music and persona; he was alternately shy and aggressive, tender and fierce, the seducer and the seduced. He could play delicate piano arrangements and destroy a hard rock guitar riff. Even his signature hue, purple, is one color made from two. (In the video for his 1989 track “Batdance,” he played a character named Gemini—half Batman-good, half Joker-evil.) And when it came to sex—a bedrock (heh) of his self-expression, from the lyrics that prompted the PMRC to paste warning labels on his albums to the crotch-outlining buttons on the tight-fitting trousers he often wore with high heels—he maintained a duality that unnerved, inspired, titillated and provoked."

20. Wesley Morris, "Prince Knew What He Wanted: Sex, Soul, and You," New York Times, April 22, 2016

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"His interest in partnership and flattery and pleasure were hot — to his partner, but especially to him. In his music, he offers to dance naked ballets and catch the other person’s germs. He would brag about himself. He would also spread the boasting around. His name was Prince, and he was funky. But the hot thing? That’s U."