Pop-star Prince has debuted a song that he wrote for the city of Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death.
Called Baltimore, its lyrics are serious in tone, but the music, in contrast, is bubbly pop-rock.
The track was released on Saturday and performed live for the first time before thousands of fans on Sunday at a ‘Rally 4 Peace’ concert at the Royal Farms Arena.
The crowd were dressed in gray in tribute to a man whose death in police custody prompted riots and drew international attention.
‘For those who have lost loved ones, we’re here for you tonight,’ Prince told the crowd.
‘Nobody got in nobody’s way, so I guess you could say it was a good day – at least a little better than the day in Baltimore,’ Prince sung.
The track also makes reference to last year’s Michael Brown shooting.
It continues: ‘Does anybody hear us pray? For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray. Peace is more than the absence of war.’
Notes released with the track on SoundCloud explained that it was recorded at the singer’s Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota and that the artist played all the instruments himself.
Prince’s set also included his most famous hits.
He drove home his message of empowerment in one of his signature songs, Purple Rain, as he told the crowd in an extended interlude, ‘The system is broken, so it’s going to take the young people to fix it.’
Prince, sprightly with elegant dance moves at nearly 57 years old, told the crowd to seek ‘peace’ as much as ‘piece’ – a slice of the economic output of their community.
‘I want to stay tonight in a hotel that is owned by one of you,’ he told the crowd of thousands.
At one point, Prince invited onstage Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who has charged six officers in Gray’s death.
The activism marks a revival of sorts for Prince, who, since his superstardom in the 1980s, has made headlines not only for his music but for his idiosyncrasies such as changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol amid a dispute with his record label.
Even the tickets for the show – on sale a whole three days in advance – showed a different approach for Prince who in recent years has grown fond of announcing concerts at the last minute.
But even if he has preferred the seclusion of his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota, Prince has never, from the start of his career, played it safe.
In an allusion to his early risk-taking, Prince performed the title track of Controversy, his sexually and politically forthright 1981 album, with the opening lines: ‘I can’t believe all the things the people say / Am I black or white? / Am I gay or straight?’
Prince foreshadowed his new activism at the Grammy Awards in February, where he used a brief appearance to back the Ferguson-inspired slogan, ‘Black lives matter.’
Prince said that proceeds from the concert would go to charity, and authorities readily accommodated the show, with the city’s light rail extending its hours.
The only hint of trouble came not with police but the concert’s security, who zealously enforced Prince’s ban on photos.
Check Out the song here: