Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Insatiable's My Name When It Comes to U" - Interview with Robin Power Royal

"He talked about living in the moment. He talked about God being love. Did he talk about Jesus per se? ... No. We didn’t have long spiritual conversations. It was more or less about society, the way the world is, what’s going on with it and the people just being believers of love. He always described God as love."

I think most Prince fans know Robin Power Royal had a small role in "Graffiti Bridge" as Morris Day's girlfriend, and recorded an unreleased rap track, "Number One." However, I don't think many know the extent of her time and influence in Prince's life. Like Roy Bennett once said to me, "There may be one visual woman that looks like that’s the main one, but there’s quite a few on the side that you don’t see." So Royal was one of Prince's girlfriends from 1989 to 1991. She was poised to become the female rapper of Paisley Park Records--a job that eventually went to Carmen Electra. And Prince indicated that she inspired his song "Insatiable."

One of the most intriguing aspects of my interview with Royal was her treatment of Prince's gender. "I’ve never been around someone that was so much a boy and a girl like that in a male form," she said. Throughout our discussion, she'd slip into "they/them" pronouns for Prince and correct herself whenever she used "he/him." I didn't coach her on this or bring this up; I could tell it was her organic way of thinking and speaking about Prince.

To my knowledge, no one who knew Prince personally has addressed him this way, at least publicly. This year--and especially at the Purple Reign academic conference--is when I started putting some serious thought into that aspect of Prince's identity. When he changed his name to the "love symbol," a combination of the male and female signs, I don't think the media, his community of fans and the general public were prepared to delve into that analysis. And I'm not prepared to, either; I have to leave that to experts in gender studies. My book is primarily concerned with his spiritual identity.

I talked to Royal before Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia's book was released, and I found that a lot of Royal's descriptions of that early-90s era lined up with Garcia's descriptions. And again, just because dancers "Diamond and Pearl" were the muses Prince put forth in his art at the time, Royal played a role as well--just behind the scenes. (But there is a rare interview of all three women together.)

It was fascinating to hear how the "Diamonds and Pearls" world Prince presented with his album, tour and videos was an extension of his real life, according to Royal. (More on that in the book.)

Even though Royal parted ways with Prince in the early '90s, she still gave me tremendous insight into his spirituality later in life by telling me about a conversation they had around the time of his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith. It just goes to show you can't predict how valuable an interview is going to be. And honestly, it's rewarding to be able to amplify the voices of certain people from Prince's world.

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