Picture this: you’re an artist living in St. Louis, painting whenever you’re not spending time with your family. It’s 1998, and Prince is about to play a “New Power Soul” show in nearby Collinsville, Illinois. You’ve been asked to loan some art for his arrival.
The night of his show, Prince doesn’t seek out your paintings in person, but you hang out around. His staff videotapes the installation. The next thing you know, you’ve sold three pieces, all portraying beautiful black people making music: “Blues Man,” “With Love,” and “Late Night Studies.”
Two years later, Prince’s representatives get back in touch. Prince wants to see more of your work, so you mail him photos of paintings you’ve already completed. He likes one you’ve called “Reine Keis Quintet,” after your wife and her vision.
All of that happened to Cbabi Bayoc, the man behind The Rainbow Children’s cover. “I did the painting because Reine told me I was painting too many men,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in May. “So I decided to do a whole band of women. It worked out that [Prince] had a whole band of women behind him, and he wanted to use that piece, and it worked out perfectly.”
Like Prince, Bayoc renamed himself mid-career, going from Clifford Miskell to Cbabi (kuh-bob-bi) Bayoc in 1997. He wanted his name to remind him of his purpose; “Cbabi” stands for “Creative Black Artist Battling Ignorance,” while “Bayoc” represents “Blessed African Youth of Creativity.”
Prince must have treasured The Rainbow Children’s artwork, because he had it displayed in at least two separate rooms at Paisley Park. First, it hangs on the wall of the Piano Room, a private space named for a Chanel Pegasus piano. The NPG Music Club, the smaller of two main performance areas, also features the painting (across from the staircase). This time, a smirking likeness of Prince stands at the piece’s side. He’s depicted in the same style.
The cover epitomizes the 2001 album’s abstract, Afrocentric curves, which swoop along jazz and neo-soul while reaching a new level of spirituality, even for Prince. He poured his fledging Jehovah’s Witness faith into the album, and his distorted narration actually tells a story about a divinely prophesied Wise One.
“It was crazy,” Bayoc says about selling his work to Prince. As The Rainbow Children turns 15, both the music and Bayoc’s art live on.