Sheila E. Leaves Minneapolis to Make It Big in ‘Holly Rock': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
In the classic world of The Flintstones, Hollyrock is Bedrock’s version of Tinseltown, the city of dreams filled with movie stars like Ann Margrock and Stony Curtis. For Prince collaborator Sheila E., “Holly Rock," the song, was the soundtrack to her big shot at Hollywood success in the 1985 film, Krush Groove.
By 1985, casting Sheila E as a fierce musician and love interest in a major motion picture seemed like a sure thing. At the time, Prince was the biggest star in the world, having added “movie star” to his resume with the international smash, Purple Rain. Prince produced both of Sheila E.’s hit albums, The Glamorous Life (1984) and Romance 1600 (1985), and invited her to open for his colossal Purple Rain world tour. At the same time, hip-hop films were starting to make inroads in American cinema; Krush Groove arrived in the fall of 1985 on the heels of Beat Street and Breakin’ (both 1984), and earlier that summer, Prince protégée Vanity (Denise Matthews) drew raves for her performance in The Last Dragon.
According to PrinceVault, Prince gave Sheila E. writing and production credit for “Holly Rock," as he did most of the tracks on Romance 1600, despite being mostly responsible for their creation. The gift provided Sheila E. with both financial and creative independence: a greater share of the royalties and a chance to escape his shadow.
“Holly Rock” is a classic because it sounds very much like a live Prince jam, right down to Sheila E’s instruction to the band, “Everybody, stop on the one.” In one of the more obvious reveals that Prince wrote the song, at one point in extended mix Sheila E. refuses to go along with the lyrics, “Come on over here / A little…closer / I like blondes / No, I’m not gonna say that! / I like all mens.”
“Holly Rock” marks one of Prince’s first major splashes into the world of hip-hop, a genre he would begrudgingly embrace in the '90s. In the song, Sheila boasts, “Sheila E.’s my name / Holly Rock’s my game / I’m funky as I wanna be / Line up a hundred, I swear to God / I’ll rock until you just can’t see.” Duane Tudahl, author of Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions 1983 and 1984, notes that some of the rhymes in "Holly Rock" were donated from "Feline," a song that was dropped from the Family's self-titled debut album for being too raunchy.
Krush Groove was a moderate box office success, bringing in around $11 million on a $3 million budget. It tells a fictionalized version of how Russell Simmons founded Def Jam Recordings with Rick Rubin. Simmons is played by Blair Underwood, but he makes a cameo in the movie alongside Rubin, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, New Edition, Run-D.M.C. and a young Chris Rock, who makes an uncredited appearance as “Person Standing Next to Club Phone During Fight." The soundtrack, like the film, became a cult classic and was eventually re-released on CD in 2014.
The song “Holly Rock” lived on within Prince’s world too; it was mentioned in the lyrics to “Dream Factory” ("Holly Rock ain't all it seems") and a verse (“badder than a wicked witch”) was sampled in Prince's hip-hop diss track ‘Dead On It” from The Black Album. Krush Groove marked Sheila E.’s sole role as a cinematic female lead, but she later appeared in Andrew Dice Clay's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane alongside Morris Day.