By: Richie Guzman
About a month ago, I was DJing my monthly night at Odd Thomas with my friend and fellow DJ, Sanga Genesis. It was 2:15 a.m. and the club was clearing out. At this point it was just us, the owners, security and a few of their friends in the bar just throwing down heavy to nonsensical jams as people collected their jackets and finished their pints. I threw on “Special” by Young Thug for the first verse and began discussing this misunderstood androgynous figure with Sanga. I was already in the bag and began spewing out countless arguments asserting and/or defending Young Thug’s place in hip hop. Then I sent this text:
Before I could even get a reply, Sanga dropped Purple Rain as the last song of the night and we both just kicked back and took in how great of a track it really is, before breaking out into a full out sing along. (We are not by any means skilled vocally).
I didn’t know it then, but I was about to embark on an emotional month-long journey of saying goodbye to a personal hero. That text I sent to FELN (OK, his name is actually Ian) and the sing along with Sanga was immediately followed by a surprise pop-up show announcement; Prince was playing The Sony Centre here in Toronto. The sheer buzz and excitement whenever Prince announced a show was always incredible. I remember having an appreciation that people of all ages were eager to get their hands on tickets for a chance to see The Purple One live. Some were lucky enough to already have seen him perform while others anxiously awaited their first shot.
Following the announcement, I began to have more ‘Prince Moments’. A friend shared his incredible cover of “Creep” at Coachella 2008 (which I previously hadn’t heard). Then I came across a Facebook event for the “Purple Rain” screening at Bloor Cinema. I contemplated taking the night off work to go catch it, remembering how amazing my first experience seeing Purple Rain was. It’s really the next best thing to seeing him live. Then, a couple of weeks ago I got a really rare request for “Kiss” by a girl who was probably no older than 20. “It’s for my mom,” she said before she ran away, her mom giving me a thumbs up from the bar. It’s rare that I get a request that I actually want to play, let alone something that good. And what kind of monster would I be to suppress a mom trying to have a good time with her daughter by not playing Prince?
Then last week, everything came to a sudden crash. I was making myself breakfast while my girlfriend Rixa got ready for work. A friend texted me the news and I let out a “WHAT?” in complete disbelief. I told Rixa and she quickly flipped between CNN and CP24. Nothing yet. We frantically googled “Prince Dead”. Still nothing. I got mad at my friend who had delivered the news to me, thinking he was trying to pull some sick prank. But he wasn’t lying. The news was just so fresh that it hadn’t hit the major outlets yet. “I don’t think it’s true, babe…” Rixa said, trying to console me. I kept flipping through Reddit and Twitter, trying to find some closure. Eventually it became clear, though I didn’t want to believe it.
He was gone.
What the fuck was going on? Phife, Bowie, CHYNA? That’s a whole lot of feels from different parts of my life. (RIP Eddie Guerrero.)
Rixa tried to comfort me but it just made me feel embarrassed. Why was I feeling this hurt over the loss of someone I had never met? I’ll admit that I was not keeping up with new material he was releasing. I wouldn’t miss him on the day to day. But it the fact that he would no longer be around to entertain and just be present. To just be Prince.
I have never experienced what it is to lose somebody really close to me. I’m blessed that all my immediate family and friends are alive and well. The only time I ever mourned anyone passing was when my family dog died a few years ago. But after hearing the news of his passing and revisiting his catalogue and watching all the unreal moments created when he hit the stage, I began to really realize how much Prince is a part of who I am. His attitude taught me so much. I am determined to always try to go beyond what’s expected every time I take the stage, as I believe (like he did) that there is no limit to creativity. But what brings me comfort while trying to come to terms with his passing, is reading the tributes to him. The feelings were and are unanimous. The world knows there will never be another Prince. They knew it right away. Instead of just reminding everyone how great of an artist he was, people shared their memories of Prince the man, perfectly capturing who he was.
Prince to me, was an artist with no boundaries. He played by his own rules and never let major labels step all over him.
Prince to me, was someone who helped me understand my own identity when I was 18 and as lost in the world as anyone is at that age. I began to wear clothes that I would’ve never worn before. I learned how to express myself for the first time without feeling insecure. He was 5’2, with a huge presence, rocking outfits that I fucking wish I could get away with wearing.
Prince to me, was a pancake serving, blouse wearing, basketball legend.
Prince to me, was the voice that always reminded me that whenever you get bored of your day to day life, never be afraid to take a risk and reinvent yourself. (He’s got bars tho!)
He was arguably the greatest mainstream musician of all time (yeah, I’d put him over MJ) and anyone that had the chance to see him live would agree. No one left a Prince show upset, ever. Everyone left hungry for more.
His Super Bowl Halftime performance was recently immortalized when the “behind the scenes” story of that Super Bowl was released. Have you see this? Are you kidding me?? The man said “Can you make it rain harder?” He wasn’t lying when he said “I am something you will never understand” on “I Will Die 4 U”. And when I drunkenly compared Prince and Young Thug that one night, I was only trying to say that without Prince we wouldn’t be lucky enough to have oddly unique pan-sexual artists that are not scared to defy the norm.
In 2011, I had the pleasure of catching Prince perform the first of two sold out nights at the Air Canada Centre. Two days before that I’d seen Jay Z and Kanye West at the same venue for the Watch The Throne tour. Needless to say, it was the greatest week of my life. There were no openers, just Prince backed by one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen. I hit the jackpot by going to the first night, because Maceo Parker (sax player for both James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic) was also in town for a performance at Koerner Hall and sat in with the band as a guest. Prince closed his pre-encore set with Purple Rain (obviously) that included a beautiful five minute intro solo by Maceo. The song was expanded to an epic 20 minute rendition packed with all of the guitar solos, high notes and purple pyro you would expect. He proceeded to do 6 encores that night (he did none the second night) including one set that was just him and an MPC full of samples. After about the fifth encore, everyone thought the night was over, the lights even came on and people started to exit the arena. I was awaiting my turn to clear the aisle when I noticed Prince and his band sneaking back on stage. He got on the mic and in true Prince fashion said “I never told you mother-FUNKers to go home” and kicked back into a track, sending everyone into a frenzy as they tried to rush back to their seats. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I’ve told that story to just about everyone I know.
Thank you Prince Rogers Nelson for helping me and countless of others understand themselves. You’ll never know how much it means to all of us.
He may be gone, but he definitely didn’t tell y’all to go home.
Richie Guzman is a Toronto based DJ known as GRUMP. You can find him crying while mixing Prince tracks across the city. Follow him on IG: @i.am.grump and twitter: @thisisgrump