Hear Prince's New Tribute Song, 'Baltimore' In a sly way, Prince has always been a political artist, but on Saturday, he left nothing to nuance when he released a tribute to Freddie Gray on his SoundCloud page.
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Songs We Love: Prince, 'Baltimore'

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Songs We Love: Prince, 'Baltimore'

Songs We Love: Prince, 'Baltimore'

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(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE: Baltimore .

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That was Prince last night at Baltimore's Royal Farms Arena.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE: To all the families who lost loved ones, we are here for you tonight.

CORNISH: The Rally 4 Peace was a benefit concert staged in honor of Freddie Gray and others. The audience was asked to wear gray. Proceeds went to Baltimore youth charities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE: Y'all ready? One, two, three.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Prince performed for two-and-a-half hours and premiered a new song called "Baltimore."

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "BALTIMORE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Baltimore.

CORNISH: NPR's Ann Powers says the singer-songwriter has always been, in a sly way, a political artist.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Throughout his career, Prince has layered in political messages - messages in songs like "We March" and "Controversy," but they aren't usually attached to a specific event. That's the difference with "Baltimore." It's really motivated by the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing protests and, in fact, was basically written for the concert he staged in Baltimore this past weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALTIMORE")

PRINCE: (Singing) Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? Peace is more than the absence of war.

POWERS: The lyrics for "Baltimore" are notable because Prince does mention Freddie Gray and Michael Brown by name. That's not always the way Prince operates, you know, topically off the news. But at the same time, they dream of a utopia, which is really what Prince is all about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALTIMORE")

PRINCE: (Singing) Absence of war, you and me. Maybe we can finally say enough is enough. It's time for love. It's time to hear. It's time to hear the guitar play.

POWERS: There's actually a very long lineage of using - you could call them party sounds for political messages, especially in African-American music. You can take it all the way back to spirituals or gospel music, which lifts people up so they can be stronger to protest, to take to the streets. Prince follows in the lineage of artists like George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic or Sly and the Family Stone. This song, "Baltimore," really reminds me of Sly and the Family Stone in that you can dance to it, it's enjoyable, but it also sends this very strong message. Even Jimi Hendrix is someone who had strong political messages in his music, even if they were sometimes masked within other kinds of language. So I think Prince is really getting in touch with his connection to those other great African-American artists by creating this song, "Baltimore."

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "BALTIMORE")

CORNISH: That's Ann Powers, critic and correspondent for NPR Music, talking about Prince's new protest song, "Baltimore."

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