Erica Kennedy

For the ever spiritual Artist Formerly Known as Prince, home is just a frame of mind. Which makes the self-styled Mediterranean villa he shares with partner Mayte his higher plane in Spain.

Internet chat from a rock star looks like Internet chat from anybody else.

The Artist: high 
InStyle: hi to you
TA: do u stay up late?
IS: all the time.
TA: good. u better get some sleep now.
IS: why?
TA: my flight gets in at 1 am.
IS: you’re coming to ny? Great.
TA: eye can send a car 4 u if u like.

He’s not known for his effusiveness. But for the second time in two days, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince is in a playful mood. The first exchange came the old-fashioned way. “Hi, this is the Artist,” he had said in an unexpected afternoon phone call, clearing up the problem of how to address a man with an unpronounceable name. But he prefers communicating via high-speed modem. For one thing, the Internet ensures that his deep-timbred voice will not be covertly sampled (he forbids taping in interviews). And he seems right at home on the Net, where the odd semantic contortions he has long favored—2 for “two,” u for “you"—can seem normal. The electronic impulses are emanating from his fabled Paisley Park Studios near Minneapolis, where, far from being a shut-in, he’s got the world at his mouse-click. But he’s prepared to travel if he must.

TA: eye am coming unless u allow me 2 do something cooler. could we complete an interview like this?
IS: No, it needs to be face to face. Are you going to be drowsy?
TA: eye am never drowsy.

Several hours later, having flown in for the interview, the Artist is at the downtown New York lounge Halo, wide awake indeed despite the vampiric hour, 3 A.M. He’s seated on a banquette next to his love, Mayte (pronounced MY-tay) Garcia, two glasses of water in front of them. His latest single, “Hot Wit U,” from his new album, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, is bumping through the speakers. A diminutive figure in a black velvet catsuit with one huge silver hoop earring, two smudges of mascara and two gold dangling pendants—including his moniker symbol—he does not go unnoticed by other club patrons. But his ubiquitous bodyguard (there’s a second one positioned outside the club) buffers him from the light-headed revelers.

The Artist seems peaceful and content but neither light-headed nor lighthearted. He wants to talk about God, slavery, the burgeoning AIDS epidemic in Africa. He does not particularly care to talk about where he lives or how he lives. To the Artist, the baroque affectations of his wardrobe, and the elaborate homes he maintains near Minneapolis and in Marbella, Spain, are ephemeral, inconsequential. “Come n 2 my head instead,” he seems to be saying. Music will always be his passion, but having jettisoned the controversial public image that garnered him international fame—the randy gestures, the hypersexual posturing of Purple Rain and of more than 20 platinum albums—the Artist, now 41, is singing a different tune. Not only has his name changed (he says he doesn’t mind, though, that some African-Americans continue to call him Prince—"They tell me I’m still a prince to them"—and “Prince” is listed as the producer on Rave), but he and his new music have loftier ambitions. “You can’t promote [some of] these crazy hip-hop records and say you represent God,” says the Artist, who blames the corporate structure, not the hip-hop musicians themselves, for rewarding insolent behavior. “It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog. They have been told that money makes life better. You should make your life better based on knowledge.”

Not that he’s immune to temporal pleasures. In a few hours the hoops fan will be off to Oakland to attend the NBA All-Star Game. “I don’t set schedules,” he says. “That’s part of being free.” His liberation, he says, dates from 1996 and the release of Emancipation, his first album after extricating himself from his contract with Warner Bros. Records (a subsidiary of Time Warner, In Style’s parent company). Angered that Warners owned the master recordings of his extensive catalogue, including “1999” and “When Doves Cry,” he had begun appearing with the word “slave” scrawled on his face in eyeliner. In a gesture of freedom on his 35th birthday, he changed his given name (Prince Rogers Nelson, named after the Prince Rogers jazz trio, in which his father, John Nelson, and mother, Mattie Baker, both sang) to a glyph of his own creation. “He was miserable and frustrated,” says L. Londell McMillan, the entertainment lawyer and friend who worked out the Artist’s release from the contract. “At the time, he had a lot of barriers up. Now he’s more empowered, at peace.”

"Are we going to talk about the latest fashions?” says the Artist, in a playfully challenging mood. “You know what’s really in style? To be in line with God.”

Mayte says their garden “clears the mind.” The Artist seems to reside in a house of the spirit: “The ultimate real—that’s the tightrope I walk on.”

In an unusual agreement, Arista Records now markets and promotes Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic—which critics deemed his best record since the split with Warner Bros. Records—but the Artist owns the master recordings. He savors the autonomy. “I almost get misty when I think about it,” he says. “It was really like being reborn. There is no ceiling now—no limits. I can see the sky.”

In fact, gazing at the celestial bodies from the balcony of his home in Marbella, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Artist was inspired to write “The Sun, the Moon and Stars,” a melodious cut on Rave. Purchased with profits from 1998’s independently released New Power Soul—hence the letters NPS, in purple, emblazoned on the facade facing the pool—the villa, with its Mediterranean views and two marble grand staircases, is a monument to his hard-won corporate liberation. There are also visual reminders of the bond between the Artist and Garcia: His symbol intertwined with the letter M adorns the house, the china, and the slipcovers on the dining room chairs.

With her angelic face and quiet demeanor, Garcia, 26, seems out of place in this trendy New York boite, where nearby club-goers are “smoking something I don’t want to smell,” she says. For just that reason, she chose Marbella as the locale to put down roots. “I like the mentality in the south of Spain,” she says. While the Artist leads a nomadic existence, shuttling between Minneapolis, Marbella and New York, Garcia resides primarily at the Marbella home, which she decorated. She spends most of her time reading, studying religion, and tending her garden. “It’s so relaxed, so different from here. We have cats, dogs, birds. You walk into a room and you just feel at peace.”

Spain is where their love affair began. In 1990, after attending his concert in Barcelona with her mother and sister, the shy, Puerto Rico-born dancer laid eyes on the star backstage and “my heart dropped,” she says. A mere 16, she was living a sheltered life in Germany, where her father was in the military. A connection with an older superstar with a penchant for sexy posturing probably wasn’t what Mother had in mind. But after Garcia sent the Artist a tape showing her belly-dancing, he asked her to join his troupe, New Power Generation, as a dancer and singer. Things remained chaste “until well after she was 18,” the Artist is quick to note. On February 14 1996, they wed in a small ceremony in Minneapolis. Though they annulled the marriage in 1998, igniting rumors that they’d split, the Artist says it ain’t so. “For better or worse? There is no worse. Everything is wonderful.”

The couple did endure a heartbreaking loss in 1996 when their only child, Boy Gregory, died a week after birth from Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare skeletal disorder. The Artist has been reticent to speak of the death. Today the couple love having kids in their lives in any way they can. “We had some inner-city children from [nearby] Malaga up recently,” Garcia says. “They played, swam, just tore up the house. There were eight children and only six adults, and I realized there weren’t enough adults when one of the kids went missing. I later found him hiding.”

Despite the Artist’s spurts of recalcitrance, it seems that Garcia’s innate serenity and maybe the little slice of heaven they have found in Marbella have had a calming effect on him. “He’s floating,” Garcia says. Returning the compliment, the Artist observes, “Mayte has helped me in subtle ways. By putting animals in front of me to teach me how to respect that life. She made a greenhouse, reminding me that God gave us the knowledge to feed ourselves. She did little things without chastising me or being condescending.”

The two respect each other’s freedom—including Mayte’s decision to leave the lounge without him at 5 A.M., unable to stay upright any longer. Soon the Artist will join her, sliding into a black stretch limo to head up to their hotel suite by sunup. But not before a little philosophizing. These days, he says, he places a higher premium on truth—or “the ultimate real"—than on money, fame or awards, which “have nothing to do with unity.” He puts his faith in God and tries to lead by righteous example. “What you represent is more important than anything else,” says the Artist. “If we don’t represent God, we represent the opposite. Life is a symphony, and we are all musicians. You are either in harmony or not.”