This was originally a private message that I sent to personal friends and family who’d reached out to me after Prince died, knowing what he meant to me. I had not intended to publish this, but my friends were touched and encouraged me to share it. “Be vulnerable, Sunn.” And so here I am. With you. With Love.
For days I’ve been in a haze trying to find the words to adequately pay homage to a lifelong influence, Prince, but finding myself mute. It’s not that I can’t think of what to say; it’s that I can say so much. Too much. It feels like watching TV static with my eyes pressed against the screen. Sensory overload, emotional white noise. How can I lament the passing of an idol I never considered would ever die? I can’t.
I’ve avoided all-things Prince since his death was announced. I haven’t seen any tributes. I don’t watch TV at all. I stay away from social media posts about him, quickly scroll pass any image of him or mention of his name. I don’t click any links my friends tag me in concerning him. I have virtually quarantined myself from the pandemic bereavement of others around me and the world who also admire him.
So, to all of you, my friends, who wonder why I’ve yet to pen an eloquent goodbye to someone you know has made such a profound impression on my very existence, sorry. This won’t be that. I’m not even going to publish this. I just personally want you to know that I deeply appreciate you all, and that your care for me is mutual.
The truth is, I never actually have been capable of capturing what Prince meant to me. I was a wildly eccentric, weird little Black boy; a prodigious creative who felt validated the first time my favorite aunt (RIP) played Prince songs for me on her cassette player under granddaddy’s shade tree. I was so young when her young life was tragically cut short that–other than her funeral being the first and only time I ever saw daddy cry–playing Prince for me are the only memories I have of her.
The first time I actually saw him was on an old PBS program, and I couldn’t tell if he was a boy or girl… I didn’t care. He was Black, talented, and weird, like me. My parents were very strict Pentecostal Holiness evangelicals. No “blues” (secular music) was allowed in our house, period. So, when Prince came on, I turned the TV volume down very low and leaned in to watch him. I wanted to see what my aunt saw in him. Instead, I saw myself in him… who I was and could become: Sunn.
I was 3 years-old and heard voices in my head. Constantly. A synesthesiac, I could taste colors in the sky, translate scent to sounds, and hear melodies in droplets of water from a leaky faucet. None of this made sense, until I realized I was an artist.
Growing up, I had very many artistic inspirations, but very few influences. The distinction being people who inspired me to be creative and those who inspired me to be a creative. Prince–and my oldest brother, my first idol–is in the rare air of people who were both inspirational and influential, as an artist and individual.
So, when the devastation of Prince’s death really hit me, I didn’t assuage the hurt by immersing myself in my treasure trove of his music. Instead, I found myself scrolling through a playlist of my own music, listening to songs that were directly inspired or influenced by him. These are not necessarily songs that sound like Prince, but Prince-like songs that remind me of his omnipresence in my universe.
I didn’t rush to record a Prince tribute after his death. Because I’ve been paying tribute to him all of my life in my own music, and that is where he lives on for me.
I was an apt pupil. From Prince’s production, I learned how to stack vocals, play all of my own instruments, pay meticulous attention to detail in the mix, and how to lyrically walk the tightrope between romantic and raunchy, sacred and sacrilege.
Even after I found my own voice(s) as an artist in my own right, I would still place Prince Easter eggs in my music as an ode to him. Just as he did with his idols, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Smokey Robinson. Creatively, I no longer need training wheels, but apex artists like Prince remain the kickstand of my creativity.
You’ve all been with me at various stages of my evolution, if not with me through it all. So, you’ve probably heard these songs before, and maybe knew the story behind their lyrics, but never knew the inspiration behind their existence. These are just a few songs of mine that wouldn’t exist without Prince. I couldn’t think of a better way to share my catharsis with you all… I trust that you understand.
Again, I apologize that I can’t truly convey the profundity of this moment. It’s just impossible for me to summarize in one sitting what I’ve been trying to say since I was 3 years-old under my granddaddy’s tree: Thank you, Prince. I wish U Heaven.
CREDITS: ‘Eros‘ from Sunn – Sassafrass | ‘If Cassie Wants To Play‘ and ‘Christopher‘ from Sunn – The Price of Tea In China | ‘Divine Order,’ ‘Drop,’ and ‘Drug of Choice‘ from Sunn – After Dark | ‘Dear Jane‘ from Sunn – Good Morning, Stranger | All Lyrics, Vocals, Instruments & Production by me (Sunn), except where otherwise indicated.