In 1993, Prince decided that he’d had enough. His longtime struggles with his record label, Warner Bros., had left him wanting to reassert control over his creative life. The company might own his music, he reasoned, but it did not own him. So he changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph, a highly stylized overlay of the symbols for man and woman.
Prince, as was made clear in that moment, existed in a place beyond convention. His glyph was sent out on 3.5-inch floppy disks to media organizations so that they could use it. That way, no one had an excuse to refer to him with any terms other than his own.
Prince, who was found dead on Thursday at 57, understood how technology spread ideas better than almost anyone else in popular music. And so he became something of a hacker, upending the systems that predated him and fighting mightily to pioneer new ones. Sometimes he hated technology; sometimes he loved it. But more than that, at his best Prince was technology, a musician who realized that making music was not his only responsibility, that his innovation had to extend to representation, distribution, transmission and pure system invention.