“Every time I was around Prince, I was embarrassed or made a total ass out of myself. And, you know, that’s one of the reasons why I’m so pissed.”
For most of us, meeting an idol (or in this case, an icon) is some true-blue dreams-really-do-come-true type shit. Bilal, however, is not most of us and should probably avoid it at all costs. Why, you ask? Well, let’s just say that when it comes to the madcap music man meeting someone as seismic and notoriously touchy as Prince, there’s the potential for calamity. In this case, absolutely hilarious calamity.
The Philly vocal freak may be one of the only voices on the planet that can do justice to a Prince tribute, but that doesn’t mean nerves won’t occasionally get the best of him. In the words below, Bilal shares with us the painfully comedic reality of coming face-to-face with a luminary, and just how terribly, terribly wrong those moments can go, all but one ending in what can only be described as devastating to your run-of-the-mill musician. For Bilal, they’re merely fuel to a fire the burns deep. So without further ado, here are four must-read stories of when Bilal met Prince. Each better than the last.
The Badu Incident :
“The first time I was around Prince, in the same room with him, it was like 2000, 2001. Erykah had a birthday party in Dallas at her club down there and everybody was there. Chaka Khan was there. Prince, everybody but Oprah was there. It was freaking awesome. I was 19 and my album was about to come out. Erykah put me down because she loved “Soul Sister.” And I just remembered them getting on stage, starting to play. Ahmir was there, James, the whole crew. They were all jamming or whatever and Erykah calls me on stage to sing “Soul Sister.” And I’m nervous as shit because everybody in the room, you know they’re somebody. It’s not just random people from the street.
So I get on stage and I started singing, but I was so nervous, I had my eyes closed the whole time. I’m singing, but my eyes is closed tight. After the song, I get off stage, and I’m sweaty. Ahmir comes over and he’s like, “Oh, my god. I’ve never seen someone do that in my life.” I was like, “Thanks.” And he was like, “You’re fucking crazy. You mean you didn’t see him at all?” And I was like, “See who?” And Erykah was like, “I can’t believe you did that.” I’m like, “What the hell happened!?” And they’re like, “Yo, Prince came to the stage on his bodyguard’s back. The bodyguard stacked him right in front of you, right in front of the monitor. Prince had his hand up, waiting for you to pull him up on stage, and you just ignored him the whole time.”
Prince got so pissed, he had the bodyguard carry him out and they just left.” I was like, “What?! Yo, why didn’t anybody else help him up?!”
He Who Shall Not Be Named:
Ahmir was having this party so he asked me to come and MC while he spins records at his party in LA. I just had to announce everybody that came into the party. Such and such is in the building. Yay, Party. Out of nowhere, I see this big crowd of people coming in. And you can barely see who it was, but they were all coming towards the booth. And I was like, “Man, who is that?” So I was trying to get down from the DJ booth to go into the crowd and see. And it was Prince. I basically said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got Puh…” and as soon as I got to the P, he got through all of his entourage to me and snatched the mic out of my hand and did a drumstick spin between his fingers with the mic. Then he handed it back to me. He was like, “Don’t tell anybody I’m in here. What are you, crazy?” And I was like, “I’m so sorry, man. Ahmir told me to do it.” And so I go back to my dressing room because I was just totally embarrassed. Prince is in there with two of his female friends, and he goes: “You don’t mind if I take your room over, do you?”
The Religious Debate:
Common had asked Prince to come in and sing for his album. It was this song they were doing, “Star *69” or something like that. And they had gotten Prince to come to his studio and, I was just so, I don’t know, like some young stupid shit in my mind that just made me an idiot that day. But, Prince came in the studio and I was just asking him all of the dumbest questions in the world like, “Hey, dude. I didn’t know you wore heels. Nice shoes,” And everything else I’m saying was a cuss word. Ahmir was behind him the whole time, “No cuss words. Shut up.” I don’t know what happened, but me and Prince kind of got into a religious debate between The Bible and the Qu’ran. And I tell you, I thought Ahmir was going to do a back flip and kick me in the head. He calls me to the side and said, “There’s two things you don’t talk about around Prince: you don’t curse and you don’t talk religion.” And I was really in there, trying to get Prince to see how similar Islam was to Christianity. I don’t know why. Ahmir stepped in and was like, “Look, shut up. You’re not allowed to say anything else tonight.”
The last time The Roots had done a really huge one-day Grammy event, that was the first year I was nominated. I came out there and Ahmir was like, “Prince is going to be here, so I want to you to fucking sing every high note you can muster. You’re going to go out there and you’re going to do “Sometimes” and fucking go.” And I was like, “Man, I don’t even think he likes me.” I go up on stage and I’m singing. And I’m fucking singing my heart out, and I look up and I see Prince stand up and do like some hand signal to his whole entourage. They all stand up with him. And then he points to the door, and they all leave like some Malcolm X shit. I’m devastated, you know. Like holy shit, he just … he just walked out. I get off the stage and I go to the back, and Ahmir runs over and he goes, “Yes, you did it.” I was like, “What the hell are you talking about? You want Prince to hate me. Now I know.” He was like, “No, you did a good job, that’s why he fucking left. We did it.” That was the most surreal, weirdest shit ever.