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Prince: royal rocker still reigns after 25 years of music

His name is Prince and he is still funky. His name is Prince, the one and only.

And he is having the last Laugh. The Royal Rocker has silenced the naysayers by showing that the "mysterious" man from Minneapolis still reigns after 25 years of doing music his way.

Most performers wait their entire lifetimes for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and still aren't honored. His Royal Badness was awarded the honor the first year of his eligibility-25 years after the release of his first recording (JET, April 5).

"I embarked on a journey more fascinating than I could ever imagine," he said during his acceptance speech. "But a word to the wise, to the young artists, without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul's decay."

This week his Musicology CD, complete with artwork and a booklet, hits record stores. A tour by the same name kicked off last month to coincide with its release.

Prince is performing full versions of some of his songs for what he says will be his final time. Don't look for any computer-generated sounds or props and gimmicks, which he insists detracts from musicianship.

"I am really an artist and musician at heart, that's what I do," he said. "Musicology has no boundaries or formats. It is long overdue to return to the art and craft of music--that's what this album is about. School's in session."

What better teacher than Prince, a self-taught man adept at playing more than 20 instruments. From the very beginning, he has done the vocals, writ ten, performed and produced on all of his albums. Musicology, the first single, addresses the lack of depth as be sees it in today's music.

"Unfortunately a lot of kids didn't learn how to play music," he said on the "Today" show. "We want to teach the kids and new musicians of the future the art of songwriting, the art of real musicianship."

One of his recent students was Beyonce. He got the party started on "music's biggest night" at the Grammy Awards ceremony when he teamed up with her to perform a medley of his best songs. Wearing his signature purple, Prince began with a rendition of Purple Rain to mark the 20th anniversary of his song and movie (JET, Feb. 23).

"When I was rehearsing with Beyonce for the Grammys," he said on the "Today" show, "I sat her down at the piano and I helped her to learn just some simple scales and then tried to encourage her to learn the piano because there is a language that musicians know that's a little different than, say, just a singer."

The passage for the man who stands 5-foot-2-that!s wearing his trademark 3-inch high boots-has been unorthodox.

When he signed with Warner Bros. Records at the age of 19, he wanted creative control and was allowed to produce his own music, making him the youngest producer at the label in 1978.

Albums like For You, Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Sign '0' The Times, Around The World In A Day, Graffiti Bridge, Diamonds and Pearls, Come, The Black Album and The Gold Experience helped cement his musical genius. Two volumes of greatest hits have also been released. The album 1999, released in 1982, was a double album with songs like the title track, Little Red Corvette and Delirious.

Purple Rain, released in 1984, has sold more than 13 million copies to date. He topped the charts with it for a dizzying 24 weeks. Songs like When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy, Purple Rain, I Would Die 4 U and Take Me With You made the album visible for a year.

The movie, which grossed $80 million, was semi-autobiographical about his own life and relationship with his father. The following year the album won him three American Music Awards. three Grammys and an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. John Nelson, his lather, accompanied him to the Oscars. Nelson, a pianist, co-wrote Computer Blue on the album.

Prince has written and produced for others like the Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., Chaka Khan and Sheena Easton, using pseudonyms like Jamie Starr, Alexander Nevermind and Christopher Tracy.

His unconventional way of doing things kept all very quizzical. From the appearance on "American Bandstand" in the late '70s when he gave its host, Dick Clark, the silent treatment, in one instance using his fingers to answer a numerical question, to the appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards in 1991 when he introduced a stunned TV audience to his buttocks-exposing suit, to say that he has held mass curiosity is an understatement.

By the mid-'90s, Prince grew restless with his record label "regarding ownership and long-term contracts." It is customary for record companies to own the master tapes of works on their label. In 1992 he began writing "slave" on his face because he felt like a slave to the industry.

"If you don't own your master tape, your master owns you," he once told JET. "And you might as well write slave on your face too. It's all about ownership."

A year later, on his 35th birthday, he changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph that incorporates the male-female symbol. Referred to as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, he also announced his retirement from studio recording to focus on "alternative media."

Chaos and Disorder, released in 1996, was his last album of new music for the label. The three-disc set Emancipation, released the same year on his own label, NPG (New Power Generation), was his first project allowing total creative freedom. "Freedom is a beautiful thing," he said. "I've been looking for this day for some time."

He reclaimed his birth name on the cusp of the new millennium. "On December 31, 1999, my publishing contract with Warner-Chappell expired, thus emancipating the name I was given before birth 'Prince' from all long-term restrictive documents."

Musicology is released by Sony's Columbia Records, who will manufacture and distribute the disc. The deal with Columbia is his first major label record contract in more than a decade.

Prince released most of his music over the Internet since his 1996 split. He was one of the first artists to sell his music directly to his fans through the Internet, bypassing record labels.

Recently he unveiled the Musicology Download Store that will be a download source for the CD as well as his independent music.

Prince, 45, doesn't discuss his personal life. He wed Manuela Testolini, 25, an-ex Paisley Park staffer, in Hawaii on New Year's Eve in 2001. His first marriage to dancer Mayte Garcia ended in 2000.

"People speculate on your personal life all the time anyway," he said on the "Today" show, "so I just think it's important to keep my private life and my public person more into music."

Two years ago he lost both of his parents, who were divorced. John Nelson died in August of 2001 at the age of 85. His mother, Mattie Della Baker, a social worker in the Minneapolis public school system, died six months later at 68.

Nelson was a pianist in a jazz group, the Prince Rogers Trio, that featured Mattie as the singer. His birth name, Prince Rogers Nelson. was inspired by their love of music.

He became a Jehovah's Witness the same year he reclaimed his birth name. "A big change happened for me in the year 2000," he said on "The Tavis Smiley Show." "Once I changed my name back and the war was finished with my so-called enemies. I started reading the Bible intensely, and I came to find out that this is ... this is the truth."

He still says what's on his mind lyrically, but Prince is careful. Steamy tunes like Darling Nikki and Erotic City are not a part of his repertoire on the Musicology tour.

"There's certain songs I don't play anymore, just like there's certain words I don't say anymore," he told Newsweek. "It's not me anymore. Don't follow me way back there. There's no more envelope to push. I pushed it off the table. It's on the floor. Let's move forward now."

Fast forward to 2004. Prince is still standing. He is a true survivor with Alicia Keys summarizing it best when she introduced him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "There are many kings. King Henry VIII, King Solomon, King Tut, King James. King Kong and the three kings. But there is only one Prince."

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