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Prince "might be two or three of the greats"

Prince may be hard to define and his mark on the music industry might be even harder to quantify.

"He's one of the greats," said Joe Levy, contributing editor at Rolling Stone Magazine in a an interview with CBS News to discuss what he called the "shocking news" of Prince's death. In fact, "he might be two or three of the greats," he said.

Prince wasn't one for the cameras and lived a life outside the "celebrity vortex," rarely giving interviews and so consistently putting out high-quality music that he was often confused with making a comeback, Levy said. But "come back from what?"

He described Prince as a "pioneer" who incorporated several styles into his own into a persona that was not an instant hit but a steady contributor to the music world.

"This is a moment where he is playing with rock history. He's laying claim to the music of the 50s and 60s, so here's a guy who says you know I'm going to have Little Richard's mustache, I'm going to have Jimmy Hendrix's jacket, I'm going to have James Brown's dance moves and I'm going to bring that smack into the middle of the pop mainstream in the 1980s."

That strategy, he said, "didn't work immediately. It didn't work right away." But it caught on.

Prince challenged gender norms with his flamboyant style, helped break the color barrier in the mainstream pop scene and used his celebrity to draw attention to issues of race in America.

"To understand how important Prince was you have to imagine James Brown as a guitar hero or Madonna as a protest singer or all these things that you think can't happen that did happen in that one person," he said.

In the realm of music publishing, he was one of the first to release music online. When it came to social commentary, he at one point imprinted the word "slave" on the side of his face to show how unfair the industry was to its artists, even its stars.

"For a black man to do that in America, it was an odd and breathtaking moment," Levy said.

Because he was such a constant had been out of the limelight recently "you might have forgotten how much you needed him," Levy said.

But, he said, the prolific artist still has hidden gems even his biggest fans have yet to uncover, a small consolation prize for those mourning an artist -- or three -- gone too soon.

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