His name is

When he was known as Prince, his impeccable songs, showmanship and brilliant musicianship rendered him one of the most important musical personalities of al time. After dabbling with a movie career, bedding loads of beauties, fighting with his former record label, and dropping his name, his Purple Majesty is back with a major label release and a revitalized spirit.

Darren Ressler

"I was dreaming when I wrote this forgive me if it goes astray”

O(+> IS ANXIOUSLY swiveling back and forth on his chair that’s poised behind a gargantuan mixing desk at his palatial Paisley Park studio. A rack of guitars stand in a row behind him, and a string of rainbow colored effects pedals lie neatly in order on the floor by the console. Judging by the exasperated look on his face, his Purple Majesty is royally pissed off.

A few moments ago over the reception area, where Pottery Barn and Saks Fifth Avenue catalogs sat neatly stacked next to this week’s TV Guide (addressed to Prince Rogers Nelson) and this month’s Vegetarian Times (addressed to Mayte Garcia-Nelson), a New York photographer with just a little too much attitude for her own good asked O(+> if she could photograph him outside in the suburban splendor of his Minneapolis oasis, specifically because he “always looks so artificial” in all his photographs. O(+> rolled his eyes upon hearing the comment, promptly turned heel and decided he’d rather speak to this writer than throw a needless fit.

For an icon who’s spent the better part of two decades developing his strut and his swagger right alongside his funky pop pastiche that sounds as good on the dance floor as it does in the bedroom, this lens person—who should’ve know that he’s walked out on cover shoots for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair—could not have made a bigger faux pas.

“Never call a black man artificial!”
O(+> declares, snickering like Flavor Flav and slapping his hands on his knees as if he’s just uttered the funniest joke ever. “Nah-huh. N-O!” He scolds his finger in the air because he ain’t having’ it. Is there a problem? “No, just hers. She’s weird.”

Dressed in a rust two-piece outfit with flowing sleeves, his straight black shoulder-length locks wrapped up in a matching handkerchief, requisite heels and a few dollops of make-up (“I look like this every day!”), he pauses to take a breath, perhaps mentally chanting a few meditative oms before once again bursting into laughter. O(+> rolls his eyes and smiles like he knows something that you don’t. Finally, he seems to be over the mini-drama. “Words,” he explains, “can be so powerful and evil.”

SO THERE HE IS The Sexy M*F. The guy who would die 4 U, staking his turf and willfully defending it like only a superstar of his caliber should. Mentioning in passing that he has a slight cold, O(+> seems vibrant and bereft of any alleged eccentricities he’s often accused of. Whereas a situation like the one he just faced may have internally devastated him at another stage of his journey through this life, O(+> says that he’s worked hard over the past year—“a year of reflection,” he succinctly describes it—to further explore and peel away the tightly-wound onion that comprises his ego and soul.

Still realizing that he’s “been in a universe of my own creation” and working to broaden his horizons doesn’t mean guaranteed exemption from having differences with others. In fact, just yesterday O(+>’s will was tested when MTV’s Kurt Loder visited Paisley Park along with his camera crew to interview him about his recent album, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. Loder, O(+> says, initially didn’t want to sign the four-page rider exercising O(+>’s control of whatever is created at Paisley Park. As Loder balked and put up a voracious stink, O(+> grinned and took a firm, yet unemotional tact.

“[Viacom/MTV head] Mr. [Sumner] Redstone ain’t in the building,” O(+> told Loder with a smile, “so get the lawyers on the phone. I’m gonna get myself some lunch.”

When the issues were ironed out and the interview began, Loder, who’s blatantly kissed Madonna’s ass in past interviews, typically asked lightweight question, incessantly grilling O(+> about his unpronounceable name, a seemingly non-issue at this point. Loder prodded him, a person who said he doesn’t believe in time and doesn’t wear a watch (no wonder he was three hours late for this interview) about the significance of his seminal single “1999” and his plans for New Year’s Eve 2000. Dressed in dark sunglasses, the Purple one—The Artist Formerly Known as Prince—replied with the poise of the most skilled politician when it came time for his close-up. “I want to be in the light.”

The calm, cool and collected man we meet today amid his stacks of awards—Grammys, Video Music Awards, an Academy Awards, a People’s Choice Award and dozens of gold and platinum records (“They’re good at marking time,” he says in his deep, robust voice, “but I don’t trip on that too much.”) admits that he hasn’t always been in a higher state of consciousness. While publicly battling with his former record label, Warner Bros., O(+> formed NPG Records. What would’ve become the story of just another genius who became pissed off with the system and decided to become a lone wolf, O(+> questioned the rules he felt were unfair: Why can’t artists own their masters? Why can’t profits be equally split between an artist and their label? And while we’re at it, why can’t we all get along?

With that mindset, he reached out to the global monolithic corporate entertainment giants of the world—the Brooks Brothers set he once loathed with all of his purple passion. When they got the call, they were naturally eager to do what they do best—win and dine a potential cash cow. He tells me he went to dinner with these “major dudes,” all men who consider themselves creative types, O(+> says with a straight face. They talked about music and life with his not-so-hidden agenda of wanting to pick their brains out on the table. After all, they couldn’t sing in a falsetto, write an anthemic single like “When Doves Cry” or cavort with a litany of beauties (“I’ve messed around with a few actresses and they all look the same when they come outta the shower.”), but he came at the opportunity with an open mind. With his spirituality now providing him with an even stronger foundation – O(+> frequently reads the Bible with legendary bassist/band member and Jehovah’s Witness Larry Graham), he even took the like-minded Chuck D of Public Enemy (who appears on Rave‘s “Undisputed”) along with him. The experience, he says, provided him with how people on the business side of the industry operate.

The last bigwig O(+> met with was Arista’s Clive Davis, the man with a Midas touch who made Whitney and Toni household names. At one point during their chats, O(+> asked Davis an important question. “[Sounding like Chris Rock] I asked him, Clive, TLC’s bankrupt. Bankrupt, Clive! Bankrupt, why?” He says Davis sat him down and explained how one of his favorite acts blew their millions. Not too long later, a deal—a fair and equitable one between O(+>’s NPG label and Arista—was inked.

"I realized contracts don’t work, agreements do. Contracts tell you what you can’t do, like you can’t record with [close friend] Lenny [Kravitz], while agreements state what everyone will do.” O(+> looks around his Star Trek-like recording suite and looks puzzled. “Who set these rules up anyway? Why does someone have to spend $250 per hour to record in a studio I mean, run an 808 too loud in my place, bust a speaker and then you got to pay me. But this right here is what it’s all about—artists owning their own studios and creating.”

“You know what I learned about the industry?” he asks me. O(+> rests his elbows on his knees and puts his hands together in a prayer-like pose. “They’re all my brothers—all of the people in the industry. An adversarial mentality got us here, now we need to work on this to make it better.”

With his first major-label release since 1996’s Chaos and Disorder, the Artist seems to have gotten back in touch what he does best—funk the place up. With the help of rapper Eve, folkie rebel rocker Ani DiFranco and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, tracks like “Undisputed” and “Hot Wit U” harken back to the hip-shaking, booty moving bliss of so much of his earlier output. Are they as memorable as Sign O’ the Times or Purple Rain? Well, no. Still, Rave, which was produced by O(+>, is a good album and contains some of his best work in recent memory.

With an almost West Coast earthiness mixed with Midwestern common sense, O(+> goes on at length about the workings of the music industry, using frequent analogies to The Matrix, one of his favorite films, and talking about some of his favorite acts, such as Rage Against The Machine.

“I don’t bite my tongue anymore. Either pay me or let me out,” he offers, looking like he’s waiting for me to exclaim hallelujah! Hip-hop, he says, is its own matrix. You can go in one way and come out the other side as something completely different. “The matrix will do things to you, so you have to learn it. Unless you’re Lauryn Hill. She went in as Lauryn Hill and she came out as Lauryn Hill. That’s rare. I was always able to keep the I and Me intact.”

AS HIS CONVERSATION ranging from the wealth of unreleased tracks in his vault (including sessions with Miles Davis) to the type of common ground he wishes all creative types can finds comes to a close, it’s more than evident that this O(+> now wants to lead by example. Maybe that’s the feeling you’re supposed to get when you’re 41. Several times he mentions bassist Larry Graham, marveling at the strength of his presence and vitality of his commitment to doing the right thing.

“Larry hugs everyone when he comes into the room,” O(+> marvels. “We could be here working on a track and the next thing you know he walks into the room and people will stop swearing. It’s as if they change almost by the virtue of his knowledge. Amazing.”

With this, we leave the studio and make our way through a hallway that’s tastefully decorated with awards and achievements on our way back to the reception area. The photographer who dissed him is still standing there amid all of her gear, and after a discussion O(+> allows her to snap a few Polaroids. O(+> takes a look, turns around and walks toward his office, where a huge framed poster bearing his likeness hangs over his desk. O(+> summons his publicist, who enters, closes the door and emerges ten seconds later. “Sorry, but he’s going to pass,” the publicist tells the photographer, “but he’ll pay all of your expenses.”

A few moments later O(+> appears from the office and silently heads upstairs to the second floor to do an interview with People in a room located near the two seven-foot high cages containing doves who sing all day long. As the photographer curses O(+>’s vanity while she packs up her gear, I remember something that O(+> said to me just a few minutes ago. “Life is good. I have two arms, two legs, two eyes. Whoa! Life is good, y’all. Ain’t nobody tripping here. Nobody! No, sir!”

Indeed. Long live this Prince.