Big Boi, Jermaine Dupri, Kenny Leon and other Atlanta artists reflect on Prince’s passing

“I never knew what a dove sounded like. Now I have doves in my house.”
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We reached out to Atlanta’s artistic community and asked them to take the measure of Prince’s death today at 57, and what his music meant to them.

Ninety-nine percent of the songs we’ve ever created have been influenced by Prince and his sensibility. His fixture of funk and blues and jazz and pop, his melodic sensibility, it all plays a huge role, in particular on “Mr. Wendal” and even our new single, “I Don’t See You At The Club.” I’m a hip-hop artist. But the musicality of Prince and the poetry of his music is what made me write this new single. It’s the subconscious template that I write from every time. This song is no exception.

With songs like “Children Play With Earth,” I would pitch my voice; I’d pitch the audiotape down, so that when we put it back to regular speed, it had a lifted voice, sort of a chipmunk voice. That was a trick of Prince from many of his records where he’d take on the alter ego. What I think is beautiful, what I think is funky—and what I think is nasty, and sick, and awesome—comes from a Prince worldview in a lot of ways.

—Speech, co-founder of Arrested Development, which sampled Prince’s work and performed for him once at Paisley Park. (Read our full Q&A on how Prince influenced the hip-hop outfit here.)

Everything about Jermaine Dupri was cut from the cloth of Prince. Creating full compositions, doing the whole thing yourself. Prince inspired me to produce and write the entire Kris Kross album. [Later,] on all my Usher ballads, I added guitar solos to the songs because of Prince. On Confessions, “Do It To Me” is basically my impression of a Prince song: Usher singing in falsetto, a Prince-like beat, and the sexual connotations.

I met him once. He was having a house party. We were in one of the bedrooms. I wanted to ask him questions. I wanted to know what made him write songs like “Head.” Was he actually getting some head at the time he wrote the song? He put out erotic songs that people would be scared to release today. He wasn’t talking about it, him being a mysterious person; he was so deep into the music. I kept asking him questions, saying, “but man, you’re motherf–king Prince!” He was like, “Man, you’ve got to stop cursing in my room.” They put me out of the room because of that.

He studied so many people that came before him like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. I was trying to study him. I never knew what a dove sounded like. Now I have doves in my house. I learned the only way to have longevity is to learn all facets of music. And I learned, just from watching, without him actually telling me anything.

—Jermaine Dupri, founder of So-So Def and record producer for Mariah Carey, Usher, Jay-Z, and Janet Jackson.

As a Broadway director, I learned discipline from him. I learned what value your name carries in standing up for his beliefs and rights. One time there was talk of a musical based on his songs. I was like, “I’m interested!” But it never came together.

He kept giving. Between him and Michael Jackson, it’s like a big chunk of your life. You grew up with Prince. I’ve been humming “Take Me With U” all day, since I heard.

The great ones go soon, but they give us so much. They fill our lives. They selflessly give us everything. Maybe that’s a lesson for us.

—Kenny Leon, the former artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, is a Tony award-winning Broadway director.

I saw him at Opera about ten years ago. He was playing unannounced late-night shows, where he’d come out with his whole funk band. It was insane, unf–kingbelievable. Five hundred people in the crowd. It started at 1 a.m. and he played until like 4:30. The women in the front row, they were losing it for Prince.

—Ben Allen is an Atlanta-based producer, engineer, and musician who’s worked with Cee Lo, Christina Aguilera, and MIA, among many others.

I’m truly heartbroken, saddened & absolutely shocked! His music will live forever through us all that loved him. We have to love and cherish our heroes while they are here. God Bless.

—Big Boi is one half of Outkast.

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