Robert Loss

Robert Loss

Saturday's 1999 Presentation Panel Presenter

Who's The "Lady Cab Driver"?

1999: Discipline, Class, Transit, and Freedom

While we all know Jill Jones performs the role of the “Lady Cab Driver” in the song, I would like to reflect on this character—who she is, what else she might say—in order to get at the question of 1999 and its (if we can coin such a term) “working-class-ness.” Prince’s music spoke to, for, and about the Black working class from the very beginning, but 1999 advances the story by depicting an anxious struggle for liberation in a world where movement is restricted, and existence is under threat of annihilation. The industrial automation and the grind of capitalism evoked by the Linn LM-1 drum machine become the rhythms which turn discipline into pleasure on a computer-age dance floor; “movement” starts to take different forms: bodily, geographical (“carceral” vs. “abolition” geographies, scholar and activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore might argue), and political. In this presentation, we will “read” 1999 through the lenses of historical context, racial capitalism, and intersectionality in order to illuminate the album’s class dynamics.

Robert Loss is an associate professor in the Writing, Literature, and Philosophy department at the Columbus College of Art and Design. He is the author of Nothing Has Been Done Before: Seeking the New in 21st-Century American Popular Music (Bloomsbury Academic), which includes a chapter on Prince’s later work. His essay “How the Exodus Began: Prince and the Black Working Class Imagination” appeared in a recent special Prince issue of Black Magnolias Literary Journal. He has presented on Prince at numerous conferences, including Prince From Minneapolis (2018), DM40GB30 (2020), 1plus1plus1is3 (2021), Prince: 78-88 (2021), and SexyMF30 (2022). His talk from 1plus1plus1is3, “Deconstruction: Work & Racial Capitalism in The Rainbow Children,” was published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and their pets.
Nothing Has Been Done Before