Prince didn’t win this category just by playing rhythm and blues. Like first runner-up Gnarls Barkley’s, his music’s always been a mash-up. And in concert over the past two years he’s proven as adept at playing the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as delivering his own “Kiss.” Prince’s Super Bowl performance this year — a dirty Hendrix-like rock-out-with-yer-cock-out rendition of his classic “Purple Rain” — didn’t hurt either.
If Prince is a runner-up for anything, maybe it’s James Brown. With the Godfather of Soul gone, Prince remains our great musical unifier, a performer of style and grace — really, more grace in his voice than Brown ever possessed — whose catalog cuts through all genres of American music and who appeals to every generation that’s grown up since the birth of rock and roll. Plus, 2006’s 3121 (UMVD) was both the funkiest and most experimental album of his 30-plus releases — much like Brown’s In the Jungle Groove (Polygram), which the late, great screamer also made in the third decade of his career.
At the age of 47, Prince has also learned how to outfox the music business. He’s racked up CD sales by including his discs in the price of his concert tickets, and boosted his concert draw to the largest of his career by simply proclaiming that he’ll do what he does best — play all his most popular songs — on stage and then living up to that promise spectacularly. Who needs Top 40 radio when you’ve got the love of the people?
— Ted Drozdowski
by MATT ASHARE