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No other artist of the rock & roll era compares to Prince. He was the rare combination of a visionary pop conceptualist and master musician who could capture the sounds he imagined, a quality that fueled his remarkable success in the 1980s. Ideas came to Prince so quickly, they couldn't be contained on his own records, either with or without his backing band the Revolution. He masterminded albums by the Time and Sheila E, and gave away hit songs to the Bangles and Sheena Easton, shaping the sound of popular music in the process. There wasn't an area of pop music in the '80s that didn't bear his influence: it could be heard in freaky funk and R&B slow jams, in thick electro-techno and neo-psychedelic rock, and right at the top of the pop charts. Prince's reign continued into the early '90s, a time which found him swapping the Revolution for the jazz-funk New Power Generation, but by the middle of the decade, he'd entered a cold war with his record company that contributed to a slow slide down the charts. Once he received emancipation from his contract, he seized the opportunity to release as much music as he could record, occasionally taking the time to focus his aim at the mainstream, scoring such hits as 2004's Musicology in the process. Prince produced new music at a furious pace throughout the last decade of his life, which is what made his death in 2016 such a shock: his music was ceaselessly, endlessly alive and full of possibility.

Music ran in Prince's blood. The son of a jazz pianist and singer, Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 7, 1958. Prince taught himself how to play music at an early age and his first original songs arrived not much later. Music remained a mainstay after his parent's divorce, a period where he bounced between both households. For a while, Prince stayed with his neighbors the Andersons, whose son Andre would later adopt the stage name Andre Cymone. The pair became friends and then collaborators, forming a covers band called Grand Central with Morris Day while the three attended high school together.

Prince and Cymone's first big break arrived when Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince's cousin, brought the duo into the funk band 94 East. Prince played guitar on a few tracks on a 94 East demo and co-wrote "Just Another Sucker" with Willie, a song composed in 1977. By that point, the teenage Prince had already signed to Warner Bros. on the strength of a demo he recorded with producer Chris Moon. He headed to the Record Plant in Sausalito, California to record his debut For You, which appeared in 1978. Prince played every instrument and sang every note on For You, an audacious move for a debut. The album made some inroads on R&B radio, with its first single "Soft and Wet" reaching 12. It was quickly eclipsed by "I Wanna Be Your Lover," the first single from 1979's Prince. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" reached number one R&B and nearly cracked Billboard's Top Ten, peaking at 11. "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" gave him another significant R&B hit in early 1980, reaching number 13 on the Billboard charts, but Prince guaranteed that he wouldn't be pigeonholed as a soul act by embracing rock, pop, and new wave on 1980's Dirty Mind.

Dirty Mind was Prince's first masterpiece, a one-man tour de force of sex and music; it was hard funk with catchy Beatlesque melodies, sweet soul ballads, and rocking guitar pop all at once. It didn't perform as well as Prince on the R&B charts, but "Uptown" peaked at number five on both the Billboard Dance and R&B charts. Prince doubled down on risque rock & funk on 1981's Controversy. Pop hits eluded him this time around, but "Controversy" and "Let's Work" made the Billboard R&B chart, which wasn't the only time Prince visited these particular charts in 1981. He masterminded the eponymous debut album by the Time, a Minneapolis funk band featuring his old friend Morris Day. All this buzz led the Rolling Stones to hire Prince as an opener for part of their 1981 tour, running into audiences that were unwilling to embrace his genre-bending music. He'd soon find wider acceptance for his music with 1999.

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