I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon
by Touré | Atria Books | 176 pages
This was supposed to be The Prince Book: the book that combined voluminous insider information with deep knowledge of the star’s music and, most importantly, a 21st-century perspective on what this weirdo and his music actually mean.
This is not that Prince book.
To start with, omnipresent cultural and political commentator Touré leans heavily on the same exact sources quoted in every other Prince article or book. He offers little new insight and almost zero new factual information.
But what propels I Would Die 4 U beyond mere disappointment is Touré’s utterly banal attempts to explicitly connect Prince to cultural, musical, ethnic and societal traditions. It’s the worst kind of freshman-year essay conceit, filled with dozens of dull-witted and unimaginative “I bet you never thought of that” assertions and the drawing of through-lines which, quite frankly, do not exist except in the author’s mind.
There’s a whole chapter here (“I’m Your Messiah”) in which Touré posits that the lyrics of the Purple Rain era were actively intended by Prince to utilize historical antecedents to deliver a complex and sophisticated message to the world about faith and love and life.
Look, we all know what happens when Prince actually tries to make a religious album: We get the ham-fisted and graceless lyrical explorations of Lovesexy. (Great album, but definitely not poetry.) And it was recorded four years after Prince was supposedly weaving obscure Bible verses and ancient iconography into “Let’s Go Crazy.” In other words, correlation ain’t causation, and Touré may hear it, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.
One gets the sense that the author hung out one night with Questlove (who is quoted extensively in the book), listening to Prince outtakes, and was suddenly struck with several interesting potential theories all at once, many of which were probably rooted in the fact that “Hey, one time I played basketball with the guy.” (Which, as Touré often reminds the reader, he actually did.) Unfortunately, the result is both philosophically superficial and incredibly thin on actual information, leaving the reader wishing that Questlove would just go ahead and write his Prince book. Because, seriously, that would be the Prince book. – Jason Ferguson