Mr. Nelson on the North Side [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Miles Marshall Lewis
The life and times of Prince Rogers Nelson arguably contain one of the most compelling arcs in pop history. His career fractions into a foundational R&B phase, a punk-funk rebel stage, an international rock superstar moment, a return to black roots he never really left, the “love symbol” years railing against his own record company, a chapter as the music industry’s biggest cult-figure indie icon and more. Whatever comes of Netflix’s eventual Prince documentary, a life this sprawling already demands a prequel project. As a recent screening at the Apollo Music Café proved, Mr. Nelson and the North Side (directed last year by Daniel D’Or and Eric Wiegand) is that prequel.
For completist Prince historians who consume books like official Prince podcast host Andrea Swensson’s Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound with an eye towards understanding his mystique even more, Mr. Nelson and the North Side constitutes a must-see film. Featuring commentary from Swensson, Chaka Khan, Macy Gray, Chuck D, former Prince keyboardist Gayle Chapman and others, Mr. Nelson pulls some of its best insights from local Twin Cities figures like longtime activist Spike Moss and early mentor Pepé Willie. Moderated by former Prince bodyguard Nass Metcalfe, a post-screening discussion between Spike Moss and director Daniel D’Or—with side stories from Doug E. Fresh—delved deeper into the 1960s Minneapolis milieu that formed His Royal Badness back when everyone called him Skipper.
Though Prince’s relationship to hiphop was often maligned, rap legend Doug E. Fresh formed a close relationship with him and often performed live with Prince’s band at venues like NYC’s City Winery. After viewing Mr. Nelson, Doug E. stood and related a story about chanting “the roof is on fire” onstage at a Prince show and getting fined for encouraging the audience to finish the profane phrase. (Prince famously refrained from cursing at concerts after his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith in 2001.) Before taking his seat, he spun another anecdote about receiving a call from Prince at four in the morning to rock at an aftershow, discovering after the fact that Prince stuffed his pocket with thousands of dollars in appreciation.
Prince fams should discover the revelations divulged in Mr. Nelson and the North Side on their own while enjoying the film, rather than from spoiler-heavy reviews. Introduced at the Apollo Music Café by Moikgantsi Kgama and Gregory Gates of the ImageNation cinema foundation, Mr. Nelson currently tours the country on an independent film circuit but can also be streamed online exclusively at OnTheNorthSide.com. “Whenever he played a solo, you could find me at the side of the stage like a fucking groupie,” Chaka Khan said with a laugh. For everyone who felt the same, Mr. Nelson and the North Side is worth the watch.
Check out the trailer below:
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Miles Marshall Lewis has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Ebony, Essence and many other publications. His work has appeared in Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, and elsewhere. He’s also the author of There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises. Follow MML on Twitter and Instagram. Check out some of his work for soulhead.