“Don’t Play Me” by Prince (1998)

Don’t you think Prince would’ve done a kick-ass MTV Unplugged special in the ‘90s? Well, apparently there were plans for one to be made during his Emancipation days, but those plans never came to fruition. At least we have The Truth, the acoustic album that accompanied the 3-CD Crystal Ball set in 1998. One of that album’s highlights is the record label kiss-off/cautionary tale to aspiring musicians “Don’t Play Me”.

The song is an aural backhand, with its lyrics making waste of the exploitative nature of lawyers, managers and businesspeople, particularly when it comes to their treatment of Black entertainers. There’s certainly been a long history of folks who come from impoverished backgrounds or are young and green, not understanding things like royalties and publishing, and getting royally fucked by not having people around them with their best interests at heart. Why can’t Prince be played? He’s over thirty and doesn’t smoke weed, he uses proper English and he’s straight, and he’s the wrong color for someone who plays guitar (sarcasm alert). You can extrapolate Prince’s lyrics outside of a music industry context and locate a familiar problem for Black and brown folks in any kind of business situation. People will look at you and make assumptions about your intelligence based on the color of your skin. Shout out to Prince for saying “not so”, and doing it with style.

The best line is “my only competition is…well, me in the past.” You’ve got to have an unholy ego to write a lyric like that. But Prince wasn’t wrong. When you’re the most influential and talented musician to emerge in the past fifty years, you can kind of say and sing whatever the hell you want.

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