The Elucidation of Prince’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’

India Mallard
11 min readFeb 25, 2023

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(Photo Credit: India Mallard)

Music of all generations often has an artist — or a handful of artists on special occasions — that project their political voice. Although there is a percentage of musical artists that are taking a stand in the sociopolitical state of our nation, there are a smaller percentage of them willing to take risks while presenting the content of their works to the public in both aural and visual format. Legendary recording artist Prince fell in that small percentage, as he has curated songs with robust political statements such as “Baltimore”, “Dear Mr. Man”, “Colonized Mind”, and specifically, “Cinnamon Girl.” In the controversial song “Cinnamon Girl,” Prince effectively opens the eyes of his American listeners to discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans in the United States; he successfully appeals to the listener’s logic, emotion, and establishes credibility while capitalizing on both literary and rhetorical devices to deliver elements of storytelling in his message of anti-discrimination.

“Cinnamon Girl” by Prince, not to be confused with the frequently covered country/rock song performed by Neil Young, is the sixth track and second single of his 28th album entitled Musicology, which was released April 20, 2004 (PrinceVault). It was written, produced, arranged and performed by him with three former members of his band supplying background vocals. In this 3 minute and 57-second rock song, Prince stands with Arab and Muslim-Americans who have become “targets for discrimination” in the United States after the attacks on September 11, 2001, by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda (Lifton). Additionally, he challenges the idea and true intentions of the military campaign “War on Terror” put in place by U.S. President George W. Bush. Along with its paired music video directed by Phil Harder — which alluded to an Arab American girl becoming radicalized as a result of the effects of racism — placed Prince in a controversial whirlwind. The whirlwind did not aid the icon’s purpose as he refrained from releasing a direct statement that would clarify his meaning behind the lyrical and visual content of the song to the outraged people. Taking the intelligent route, Prince simply stated through his publicist that he would like the public to develop their interpretation of the content which left much to the imagination (Riemenschneider). He wanted to start a conversation and that he did accomplish while receiving praise from the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Throughout the three sections of the song “Cinnamon Girl”, Prince atomically establishes ethos, logos, and pathos while using imagery, allusion, repetition, and characterization to communicate his message of the unfair treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans. In the brief musical introduction, Prince plays his electric guitar in which he makes a sound like that of a flying object crashing. That section leads right into the beginning of the song’s beat and the start of the drums playing throughout. Based on the historical context of the song, it is inferred that the manipulated guitar mirrors the planes crashing in buildings during the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the sound of a bomb flying and exploding during warfare. In arranging this small section of the song, Prince has begun to set a tone with an aural method of storytelling. He has provoked his audience’s sensory imagery while already setting a bold and straightforward tone before a lyric is even sung. These tones are carried into the first verse of Prince’s musical work:

As war drums beat in Babylon
Cinnamon Girl starts to pray
I have never heard a prayer like this one
Never before that day

In the first verse of “Cinnamon Girl,” Prince begins with an allusion to the Holy Bible in which he references to the city of Babylon, a place of utmost sin. Aligned with the simple drum pattern beating behind his vocals, Prince incorporates the idea of war drums beating which are symbolic of incoming violence. As a result, Prince establishes credibility with his knowledge of the sacred text and his ability to interpret the text logically in a real-life situation. In addition to the biblical reference, it is inferred that Prince viewed America as a modern-day Babylon as a great amount of chaos was occurring in 2004’s post 9/11 society. After establishing a setting, Prince then goes on to tell a narrative of a young Arab and Muslim American girl who is praying amid the chaos that is going on around her. He describes her prayer as intense due to her current situation. Through the theme of religion, it is inferred that Prince indirectly characterizes the main character as a religious innocent girl. In characterizing the main subject of his song, Prince appeals to the emotion of his listeners allowing them to sympathize with a young girl in the middle of chaos, as well as, adding the scared practice of prayer which displays humility. In the pre-chorus, Prince sings “Tearful words of love for people shad never met before / Asking God to grant them mercy in this face of holy war” (Prince). Prince continues his narrative with the main character of his story shedding tears for people she has not met. He returns to the motif of prayer when the character Cinnamon Girl prays for mercy for people she does not know. Also, Prince creates imagery when comparing her innocent unconditional love for people to “Tearful words of love…” giving his audience the visual imagery of the main subject crying during prayer. Prince once again appeals to the emotion of his listeners when sharing that Cinnamon Girl has a forgive heart for those she does not know even when they have caused her pain. The listener is able to feel empathic towards her current situation that has a negative effect on her innocence as a child. They can see themselves in this young character which is crucial when evoking emotion. The empathic and sorrowful tone created in the pre-chorus deeply moves Prince’s listener into the core of the song which is the chorus. The chorus is repetitive as it states, “Cinnamon Girl / Cinnamon Girl” (Prince). Prince incorporates repetition to create and rhythm and emphasize the feeling of sorrow he holds for his main character who is named “Cinnamon Girl.” In the same instance, Prince uses direct characterization when naming the female character in this story “Cinnamon Girl.” It is simple and reflects how he sees Arab and Muslim Americans. Prince shows his appreciation for the cinnamon complexion of people with such heritage and acknowledges that she is younger and full of beauty. Also, it is inferred from Prince’s choice of subject that Arab and Muslim American women are the target of racial discrimination. In wrapping up the first section of the song, Prince robustly informed his listeners of the effects of Arab and Muslim racism through his musicianship and lyrical content, strengthening his ability to persuade them in an introspective way.

In the second and middle section of “Cinnamon Girl,” Prince focuses on building an emotional connection with his listeners with the incorporation of allusions, repetition, direct characterization to increase the effectiveness of his activism for equal treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans. Prince continues to develop his narrative with the second verse:

Cinnamon Girl of mixed heritage
Never knew the meaning of color lines
9–1–1 turned that all around
When she got accused of this crime

Prince uses direct characterization to further develop the main character of his narrative the song. By stating that the girl is “…of mixed heritage,” Prince allows the listener to create an image of the main character. It also helps the listener infer that she is of Arab and American descent which correlates with her cinnamon complex. In the use of this literary device, Prince has built creditability as he understands the historical origins of Arabs and Muslim Americans. Prince then alludes to the events of September 11, 2001, where Arab and Muslim Americans faced the most scrutiny. He depicts the main character as not experiencing racism until this horrific day in history. Prince goes on to argue that Americans began to point the finger and accuse people of such heritage as being terrorists even though it is hasty generalization. In addressing the logic behind attaching terrorism to race and belief systems, Prince successfully persuades his listeners that this way of thinking is illogical and causes a larger issue. This issue is brought to the forefront in the pre-chorus in which he sings “So began the mass illusion, war on terror alibi / What’s the use when the God of Confusion keeps on telling the same lie?” (Prince). Prince creates an allusion by referencing the phrase “War on Terror” which is an active military campaign put in place by President George W. Bush after September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Although the campaign is referenced, it is not reflected in a positive light. Prince shares with his listener that “War on Terror” is an illusion of mass hysteria that justifies the act of racism against those of Arab descent and those that practice the Islamic faith in America. He then goes on to make another biblical powerful allusion when stating “…the God of Confusion” which connects to The Holy Bible verse “For God is not the author of confusion, but peace…” (1 Cor. 14. 33). From a Christian perspective, it is inferred that the devil — a fallen angel — is the “God of Confusion” and is the figure who is spreading a lie upon the nation that under the illusion that those lies are the truths. Prince persuades his audience with his string of logic, historical and religious knowledge. H evening goes as far as uncovering the blasphemous actions the American government promotes under the “War on Terror” campaign. That idea was indeed risky, but it was carefully addressed in the pre-chorus and addressed once more in the bridge:

Don’t cry, don’t shed no tears
One night won’t make us feel
Because we know how this movie’s ending

Prince starts the bridge with comforting words for Cinnamon Girl advising her not to cry over her turmoil, as he presents his everlasting empathy for Arab and Muslim Americans which is quite powerful to the listeners. He then quickly creates a shift by directly addressing his American listeners. Prince suggests that those seeing the turmoil will feel empathic for a short amount of time, but in due time, they will resume their normal lives, unlike the ones that are in the storm such as Cinnamon Girl. Additionally, Prince compares the ending of the turmoil to a predictable movie ending. The direct frustration Prince holds with the logic of America seeps through his lyrics which, once again, places a mirror in front of the listeners. This frustration allows them to develop their thoughts and reflect on what is going on in America. This lingering introspective attitude trails into the concluding section of the song.

The third and final section of “Cinnamon Girl” concludes the narrative that Prince put in place to clearly and carefully communicate his stance against discrimination for Arab and Muslim Americans. In doing so, he specifically focuses on establishing ethos and pathos while using imagery, allusion, and repetition to conclude his victorious efforts of adding to the conversation of change. Prince continues with the third verse of his musical piece:

As war drums beat in Babylon
And scorch the blood red sky
Militants bomb the foreign gun
Both side’s children die

Prince begins the final versus repeating the first line in the first verse which is “As war drums beat in Babylon”. In addition to his use of repetition emphasizes the idea of war, Prince creates imagery by describing the sky as blood red, which is his final allusion to the Holy Bible, as it is one of the many signs that heaven is near. The use of the word “blood” to describe the color of the sky possibly references to the causalities of war. Prince ends the verse with imagery of warfare in the Middle East and concludes that both sides are losing children to senseless violence. The imagery of warfare, created by including a descriptive battle scene between countries, effectively captures the attention of Prince’s listeners, as they can understand the logical sequence of war and how uneventful it is. In doing so, Prince has persuaded his listener that war is the root of destruction. He precedes to end his compelling digestible and compelling storying telling strategy with the pre-chorus. Prince sings “Cinnamon Girl opens the book she knows will settle all the scores / Then she prays after the war that there will not be anymore” (Prince). In Prince’s narrative, Cinnamon Girl seemly still has faith in the world with the help of a sacred text. The motif of pray makes another appearance when she pleads for the war to end. Her hope for change successfully evokes emotion out of Prince’s listeners, because they are connected to of her innocent spirit. The listeners can relate to her innocent and endless hope as they have been children or are children. He transfers this optimistic tone to the chorus:

Cinnamon Girl
Cinnamon Girl
Cinnamon Girl
Don’t worry, baby, it’s gonna be alright
Cinnamon Girl

In the last reciting of the chorus, Prince adds a spoken phrase which breaks the repetition, but he ensures hope and empathy to all that are Cinnamon Girl in his narrative. Though Prince is speaking to the main subject in his song, he is also speaking to all the Arab and Muslim Americans effected by senseless discrimination in America. Additionally, He is reassuring them that they will get through this tumultuous time of racial discrimination and that all will be over soon. Prince establishes emotional appeal as he showcases his empathy for those affected by racial discrimination and insensible violence caused by war and ignorance. He effectively closes out his message with a sense of hope that could spark the brain of the listener, attempting to prompt a change in the way Arab and Muslim Americans are treated.

“Cinnamon Girl” effectively forces avid music listeners from all over the globe, specifically America, to reflect on the treatment of people of Arab and Muslim descent in the form of a digestible narrative. Prince careful but straightforwardly evokes logic, emotion, and creates credibility while simultaneously integrating literary and rhetorical devices to service is the stance of anti-discrimination without undermining its severity. He intentionally started a conversation that prompted listeners to respond which caused a bit of outrage but resulted in a much need self-reflection as a nation. As Prince expressed to Phil Harder, the director of the “Cinnamon Girl” music video, “As long as people keep labeling other people as terrorists, it seems like we’ll always have terrorists” (qtd. in Lifton). Generally speaking, rhetoric, especially when used in repetition, has great power and influence over many communities worldwide. As the world progresses, artists of all caliber should adopt the precise and tasteful, but risky, method of storytelling Prince has demonstrated with a number of his political works musical works.

Resources

“Cinnamon Girl.” PrinceVault, 03 May 2018, http://www.princevault.com/index.php? title=Cinnamon_Girl. Accessed 10 Mar. 2020.

Lifton, Dave. “‘Cinnamon Girl’ Tackles the Post-9/11 Anti-Muslim Movement: 365 Prince Songs in a Year.” Diffuser, 04 Sept. 2017, https://diffuser.fm/prince-cinnamon-girl/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

Prince. “Cinnamon Girl.” Musicology, NPG Records, 2004.

Riemenschneider, Chris. “From Prince, a Video Colored By Effects of Racism; ‘Cinnamon Girl’ Addresses Post-9/11 Arab-American Discontent.” Star Tribune [Minneapolis, MN], 15 Oct. 2004, http://bi.gale.com/essentials/article/GALE%7CA123250756/b9583d31683680cf3eee18e1c65e3213?u=umd_bowie. 01A. Business Insights: Essentials. Accessed 3 Mar. 2020.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Twenty-Second ed., Hendrickson Publishers, 2018.

Author Bio

India Mallard is an emerging undergraduate creative writer, audiovisual archivist, and multimedia storyteller who lives in Maryland, USA. She is currently working towards her B.S. in Visual Communications and Digital Media Arts at Bowie State University. Labeled as a sophisticated essayist throughout her academic career, India shifted the use of her talents in writing to analyze her first love, music. When she is not at her record shop or local bookstore, she is actively researching and authoring essays that contribute to the dynamic conversations in the Black sector of performing arts, specializing in film and Hip Hop culture — and Prince, of course.

In addition to being the founder of her multimedia company, Soulful Haze, India has written over twenty academic essays pertaining to Black music during her three-year university career. Her most recent works include: “The Elucidation of Prince’s Cinnamon Girl, “Prince the Purple Prophesier: His Internet & Intellectual Property-Based Revolution for the Advancement of Black Capitalism in the Music Industry,” and “The Presence of Purism in the Hip Hop Community: Is the Preservation of the Culture Overkill or a Necessity?”

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