Prince Became a Jehovah’s Witness In 2001. Did It Change His Music?

The first time I heard the song “Purple Rain”, tears streamed down the sides of my eyes. They were deep tears, inspired by the mirage memory images dancing in my fifteen year old mind. I could see myself dancing in purple rain, but I didn’t know why. “I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain.” Those were the words I longed to hear from those who had abused me. His vocals sank into my soul, and somewhere in there, it touched the pains I had no way to define in any kind of literal sense.

Just shy of a few months of being free from a life on a fundamentalist cult in the backwoods of Delta Junction, Alaska, where I primarily grew up without electricity, running water, or access to this fast moving world, everything about Prince’s music stimulated particular parts of me. When dealing with the world around me, I often felt like I was inside of one of those ping pong machines I couldn’t quite figure out how to play. Those things made me agitated, and so did many parts of the environment around me. Music let me drift away, and Prince often helped me cry through it.

Purple Rain’s whole song list touched a piece of me who was trying to figure out itself.  I wanted to “go crazy” and “get nuts and search for that damn purple banana until they put me in a…”, by the way, my mother liked to throw that word “crazy” around, and so I turned “Let’s Go Crazy” up just a little louder, pushing my boundaries until I hit her nerves and she screamed at me to turn it down.

You want to call me crazy, huh? Well, let’s get nuts.” was just one of the thoughts that would run through my mind as I attempted to use music as a communicative tool only my peers seemed to understand.

Purple Rain was Prince’s first album, one of my favorite movies, and it made me feel. I admired the way he came out with a bang. The rhythms sang along with the joints I smoked, and the lyrics gave me a language for my emotions.  When Doves Cry brought lumps into my throat. I was hearing the layers of secular music, and it dug its way into everything which had gone flat in me over the prior years of being surrounded by so much abuse.  Music became interpretive, and Purple Rain was the first album I connected with on a soul level as a teenager.

I couldn’t play Darling Nikki too loud, though.

Foul.” My mother would say about Prince, as she slightly moved her toes in rhythm with the beat.

Hypocrite.” I’d think, observing her trailer park level judgment.

The Beautiful Ones really did hurt me all the time, the ones I loved as a child, the ones I thought I loved as a teenager, and I wept, curled up, learning about human connection.  These lyrics were able to touch me more than any gospel song harmonically programming me to a god I was still trying to figure out, who I still feared.  When I listened to Baby I’m a Star, I felt a small urge of empowerment.

I was working on a project a while ago and listening to the Prince channel on my Slacker Radio.  The song “America”, one of America’s most underrated yet most patriotic song ever composed, came on, and suddenly I was swept back to my high school days.  My mind wandered to something I’d never explored before.

In 2001, Prince converted to the Jehovah Witness faith.  I began to wonder how Prince’s music would change with the morphing of his mental belief system.  I set off to explore his discography and study the patterning which may have emerged through his own spiritual journeys.  Prince had already proven to be a revolutionary artist, Sign of the Times being a top-seller and another one of my favorites at the age of eighteen in the late eighties era.

Prince’s first post conversion albums were filled with the concepts of love. He immediately released “The Rainbow Children” with 21 tracks, some untitled and a mere .04 seconds long. It is filled with a plethora of genres, funky beats and occasional odd, electronic biblical messages that feel rife with mind control of his new dive into an extremist faith. Then suddenly a rift of freedom drops inside of the messages, causing the mind to drift into yet another dimension of composition and song. Deconstruction has a prophetic element in its lyrics, written well before it’s time and utilizes the same tonal, electronic and somewhat “alienesque” bot-like spoken word with amazing guitar rifts and vocal harmonies mixed into the message.

One after the other, the Banished Ones fled
As they watched from the distance
The destruction of the Digital Garden
With no more fruit to bear from its trees
The Haze was finally broken
With the rains came the awareness that never again
Would anyone ever lay claim to the treasures of the Rainbow Children

It would be five years before he released another album. He had explored other love languages, producing incredible balladry and instrumental genius pieces such as 3121’s “The Dance” and previously temporarily erasing his identity with the Love Symbol album in 1999, just a year prior to his conversion, which featured religious minded songs such as “And God Created Woman”.

Prince had a natural ability to continue understanding and embracing an apostate world while laying claim to a belief system which teaches against vulgarities and open explorations of sexuality. He prided himself on being able to explore sexual topics without what he personally considered vulgarity.  For Prince, it’s apparent, that vulgarity could be left up to the interpretation of the listener.  His work and phases of identities represent a deep exploration into the spiritual elements of his own DNA.

While it seemed that Prince spent the first decade of his Jehovah’s Witness post conversion life creating music which delved into a deeper layer of his self exploration, leaning more toward spiritual concepts, the last album Prince would release before his death was Hit n Run Phase One featuring songs like Million Dollar Show where he openly exudes a pop element mixed with a touch only Prince can develop, using violins to end what seems like a subtle mockery of himself and the manufactured sounds of pop.

As always, Prince painted a multi-dimensional picture with his music. With songs such as June, Prince seemed to be making music simply because he could, creating a scripted poetry smothered in the richness of beautiful and haunting instrumentals.  He explored differing genres and wrote more ballads about lost love and raw, vulnerable emotion.

Conversation starters come way too hard
Nobody wants to be the martyr,
playin’ the wrong cards
Why did you come to this planet?
Why did you come to this life?
“June”, Hit n Rune Phase One

A week after Prince’s death Hit n Run Phase Two released with equally brilliant funky jams like Black Muse.  While “Diamonds and Pearls” appealed to the dance floor, the ballads written in Prince’s later years, are wrapped in a depth that could seemingly only be expressed through exquisite horns and strings, built softly around rhythms and the lull of his soft voice. Prince’s “Revelation” is one of the most beautiful and understated ballads he ever wrote.

Prince mastered the art of weaving his faith into the carnal realities of his flesh, continuing to explore an ever evolving and exploratory faith based life.  He built an intricate web of musical gifts until his death, spinning raw sexuality with history and a reverence to the Christian God.

but the task at hand until I see the sun
is to keep doing you until you cum, to revelation (revelation…)
Through English glamour, casting a spell
Though Hebrew, Greek and Roman hell
higher ’til we understand, the colour of the Pharoah’s hand
(the colour of the Pharoah’s hand…)

Finally, a short compilation of Prince’s funniest and greatest moments.