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My American Dream Sounds Like Prince

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My American Dream Sounds Like Prince

American Dreams: Then And Now

My American Dream Sounds Like Prince

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

How people create their American dream and the form it takes is unique from person to person. For some, the dream takes shape through music. Starting today, we're asking writers what song represents their version of the American dream. Here's author and blogger Miles Marshall Lewis.

MILES MARSHALL LEWIS, BYLINE: Born in 1970, I sprang from one of the most aspirational generations America has ever produced, the Hip-Hop Nation. With decades of rap music anthems dedicated to our fantastical transition from poverty to prosperity, the Hip-Hop Nation rarely celebrates its wealth without looking back on its meager beginnings. The American dream, for us, always represents the possibility of success and affluence on our own terms, with a watchful eye toward our hardscrabble origins.

But the tune that best represents my version of the American dream isn't a hip-hop song at all. My pick is "Sign o' the Times," the Spartan, apocalyptic electro-blues by Prince, certainly the most prolific, all-around pop superstar of the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SIGN O' THE TIMES")

PRINCE: Oh, yeah.

LEWIS: The through-line that makes "Sign o' the Times" an American dream anthem for the Hip-Hop Nation is its honest glance at the nation's ills. Like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" of the Vietnam era, Prince's "Sign o' the Times" examines a litany of problems plaguing the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SIGN O' THE TIMES")

PRINCE: In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name. By chance his girlfriend came across a needle, and soon she did the same. At home, there are 17-year-old boys and their idea of fun is being in a gang called the Disciples, high on crack and toting a machine gun.

LEWIS: In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Sign o' the Times" one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Number one on the list belongs to Prince's fellow Minnesota-bred brethren Bob Dylan, for "Like a Rolling Stone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "LIKE A ROLLING STONE")

BOB DYLAN: How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home?

LEWIS: Though Prince and Dylan practice distinct styles of songwriting, they're both first-rate mouthpieces for their main audiences. Taking a page from the plainspoken blues tradition, Prince even channeled funk forebear Sly Stone in crafting his dark observation of the American landscape. Still, by song's end, he's optimistically falling in love, getting married and having a baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SIGN O' THE TIMES")

PRINCE: Sign of the times, mess with you mind. Hurry before it's too late.

MONTAGNE: Miles Marshall Lewis is a former editor at Vibe and BET. In the coming weeks, we'll hear from other writers about the songs that embody, for them, the American dream. You'll find more at nprmusic.org.

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