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avatar for De Angela L. Duff

De Angela L. Duff

NYU
Associate Vice Provost & Industry Professor
NYC
Controversy: The Blueprint of Prince’s Musical Transformation and Disruption

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.

De Angela L. Duff, Associate Vice Provost and Industry Professor at NYU, curates music symposia including 2021’s Prince #1plus1plus1is3 virtual symposium, speaks about music internationally including 2021’s Prince 78-88 Conference and Dayton's 2nd Funk Symposium, writes about music most recently in Prince and Popular Music: Critical Perspectives on an Interdisciplinary Life (2020, Bloomsbury), and produces, co-hosts, and edits the Prince podcasts on Grown Folks Music’s podcast network. You can view her work at http://polishedsolid.com or subscribe to her newsletter at https://polishedsolid.substack.com.