Prince Rogers Nelson (1958–2016) was an innovative American musician whose life and work defied categorization. His music combined the spiritual with the sexual while spanning funk, rhythm and blues, soul, rock and roll, and pop genres. Prince embraced nonbinary gender performance and, as a Black artist of enormous celebrity, exemplified what W. E. B. Du Bois named double-consciousness: a sensibility gained from looking at oneself through the eyes of others; a “two-ness” derived from being both American and Black. Prince used multivalent signs, symbols, and codes to craft an enigmatic personal mythology. In this essay, I use Roland Barthes's poststructuralist theory and Stuart Hall's writing on stereotypes to examine Prince's semiotic world. By studying recurring motifs in his lyrics, fashion, and visual communication design, I show that Prince's signifying practices constitute a sensual text that, through illegibility, catalyzed emancipatory cultural expressions.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.