Shelby J, Shelby J, SHELL BEE JAY! Her name evokes so many emotions in me. My feelings for her are so mixed: I’m torn between extreme adoration and immense jealousy. You see, Shelby J is one of Prince’s
backup singers…No, she’s more than that. She’s a prolific member of the New Power Generation, and she is a power house!
My connection Shelby came at the Prince concert in Raleigh that I attended with The Fabulous Akuba Sheen(!) last month. She was waving a white flag adorned with an angel and musical notes, and I was waving my white handkerchief, equally saturated with sweat. We were in perfect harmony.
My feelings of adulation stem from her remarkable vocal ability and confidence. She puts it all out there. She is completely bald, unabashed about any of her perceived flaws – like her enormous lips and high forehead – and that makes her flawless. It is those enormous lips that allow her to hit the notes that she belts out, and that expansive forehead that perfectly balances her trademark black top hat. She embraces her body. The girl is thick. The few times that I’ve seen her she has either been wearing tight thigh-baring shorts/tights and 80’s inspired thigh high boots. And Lawd, can she work a stage!
And then there’s the other side of me that is radioactive green with envy. As she and Prince vamped it up on stage, she knelt to her knees while he her rubbed her gleaming head as they sang a duet. It was she that Prince sent into the ululating crowd to bring more than a few lucky concert goers to the stage. At the BET awards, she was the mysterious woman chatting and smiling widely by his side as he sat shyly in the midst of his tribute. Is she Prince’s best friend? She must be. There’s only one way to find out. I’ll have to ask her, won’t I?
Lights fading out******Lights fading in
It was hot, sticky June afternoon, and my canary yellow waitress uniform was stained with pancake batter, bacon grease and ketchup. I had sought out several positions in quiet diners all across rural America. There was a rumor going around that Prince and NPG often stopped in these places to nourish themselves with cheap diner food and thrill the commoners with their futuristic tunes; like minstrels from a foreign age. Four years of searching and I’d still had no luck.
On this day, a massive roughneck with camouflaged jeans sat down and ordered pancakes.
“Pancakes?” I probed. In this part of the world, they were called ‘flapjacks’. He must have ridden from out of town. His kindly grey eyes danced as he took my clammy hand in his.
“Yes, Malaka. Pancakes.”
Recognition suddenly flooded my eyes. This was it! This was code for the arrival for the most regal being on the planet…Prince! My eyes searched for him at the door. My knees could barely bare my weight, and I felt them buckle beneath me. As my heart pounded in my throat, I saw a shadowy figure fill the tiny door frame, a halo of light surrounding them.
“Hello, Malaka,” said a grating alto female voice.
“Shelby?” I whispered.
“Yes,” she smiled. “Prince sent me to find you… to seek you out and answer all your questions. His unicorn, Prometheus, has been watching. We know that answers that you seek.”
“Oh Shelby!” I cried. “I have toiled for ever so long. My arms are weary from mixing pancake batter. My complexion ruined from over-exposure to maple syrup. I-I just want to know one thing…are you Prince’s best friend?”
My breath stopped as the world spun around me. My years of searching were finally about to bear fruit!
“Come with me,” Shelby J said, taking my hand and placing my note pad on the table.
She took me to a nearby creek and commanded me to purify myself.
“But this isn’t Lake Minnetonka,” I objected.
“I know…but you reek of processed food – and I can’t talk to you with the stench of Crisco and egg yolk hovering around you.”
I nodded and wadded into the creek, fully clothed. The air would dry me.
“Malaka,” Shelby J began, “Prince does NOT like pancakes.”
“He doesn’t like pancakes,” she repeated. “At least not the kind you serve.”
“Prince is a vegetarian, Malaka. He doesn’t like animal fat.”
“Yeah…instinctively I knew that. But I was kinda hoping that…”
“That he would pop into one of your diners and partake of your stack of flapjacks?”
“Yes,” I replied quietly. I felt foolish.
“You don’t have to feel silly, inadequate, moronic or idiotic at all,” she said.
She led me to a giant bolder and commanded me to climb to the top. Sun rays filtered all over my massive, sopping wet body. Tears stained my face. Prince did not like pancakes. My quest had been in vain. Suddenly, Shelby J began to sing. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was a musical casserole of opera, rap and mariachi music. The birds stopped chirping and animals struck curious poses. Only the doves began to cry as the tears ceased their flow onto my full cheeks.
Shelby J’s eyes bore into mine, translating a secret message. I understood fully.
Suddenly, a strong whipped all around us. It was Prometheus, Prince’s winged unicorn! Shelby J leapt onto his back.
“Wait, Prometheus!” I was choking on all the beauty that was surrounding me. There was fantasy everywhere. “Do you like pancakes?”
The unicorn snorted in exasperation.
“Nigga, what is with and pancakes?!” he howled. “It was just a Chappelle skit. Get a frikkin’ life.”
And with that, they were both gone.
And then I knew. I knew that Shelby J was Prince’s best friend. She was too splendid to be anything else.