August 08, 1988 12:00 PM

And you thought nude album-cover boy Prince (Lovesexy) Nelson and Michael “My Best Friend’s a Monkey” Jackson were weird. Now comes Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, ready to explore new frontiers of eccentricity in pursuit of her own career. Arriving for dinner at a tony Minneapolis restaurant, Tyka politely orders a baby booster and place setting for Jazz—a stuffed dinosaur she keeps on a leash and hugs during interviews. “I’m very shy, and I get nervous when I have to do something like this,” she says. “Jazz is my friend, and he goes everywhere with me. He helps me.” So does Marc Anthony—28-year-old Tyka’s imaginary lover.

Just because she wears two watches, one set to “Marc Anthony time,” doesn’t mean Tyka is crazy. But maybe she was nuts not to accept big brother Prince’s offer to lend her his proven platinum expertise and free run of his $10 million Paisley Park recording studio outside Minneapolis. Tyka chose instead to write and record her first album on her own. The result is Royal Blue, a collection of light ballads and easy-listening funk that has produced a black top-40 single, “Marc Anthony’s Tune.” Though the Los Angeles Times noted that the lyrics “seem written by someone who sees life as one big Harlequin romance,” Billboard decreed that Tyka’s “pure, angelic voice [and] fine songwriting” should “dispel the talk” that she is merely cruising on her brother’s name.

That, says Tyka, is just what she had in mind three years ago when she began shopping her own demo tapes, financed with money borrowed from a friend. Peter Edge, the British producer who signed her, claims that Tyka earned her Chrysalis Records contract on the strength of her own talents. “I was skeptical because she was Prince’s sister,” says Edge. “But when I heard her tape I was pleasantly surprised. I think she’s a great songwriter—and wise to do it on her own.”

“I didn’t want it written that ‘she made it because of Prince. He wrote it, played it, sang it, told her what to sing, how to dress,’ ” says Tyka. “I didn’t want to be the next Vanity.”

Even so, it’s a wonder Royal Blue got made at all. Too shy to sing for family and friends, when Tyka started recording, she insisted that “big partitions be put up in the studio for me to stand behind. Now I just make them turn off the lights.”

Tyka has a thing about lights. At home, where she is the single parent of two well-behaved, though oddly monikered sons, Sir Montece Laeil Nelson, 8, and President LenNard Laeil Nelson, 6, Tyka covers her bedroom windows with aluminum foil to keep it dark, perchance to dream.

“I just have a wild imagination,” she says of her oddities. “I’ve always believed there is a better place somewhere. I feel like I’m E.T. and I’m just passing through. I’m definitely not afraid of death. It’s like I’m looking forward to it, really. I’m probably a little more afraid of living.”

Tyka’s fears date back to a traumatic event—the 1965 separation of her parents, Mattie Shaw, now remarried and a social worker in the Minneapolis school system, and John Lewis Nelson, a retired Honeywell Inc. machinist who moonlighted as pianist Prince Rogers and gave his stage name to Mattie’s firstborn. “My father was this great big wonderful guy to me,” Tyka says. “When he left home, I felt totally alone. I remember everything about my childhood, but the year he left is blank; I blacked it all out.”

Though her parents went on to have six more children with other spouses, Tyka remembers “just me and Prince. He wasn’t the type that grabbed snakes or put spiders on my pillow. He was always playing piano and basketball. Mom was working three jobs, and I was left alone. I grew up in a bubble. I just watched TV. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do in life: sing and dance and act.”

After graduating from Minneapolis’ North High, Tyka packed some songs and headed for California. “It was the same year [1977] Prince got his record deal,” she says. “I thought I’d be a star. I met Jimmy Durante’s piano tuner. That’s as close as I got to the stars.”

Returning to Minneapolis, Tyka spent a year in college studying art and psychology. While working as a bank teller, she became pregnant by a former classmate. Never married, she won’t reveal her sons’ father’s name, saying only that he left when she was pregnant with their second son and, unlike Uncle Prince, who always remembers the boys’ birthdays, rarely calls.

“Inside of me, it was like my soul and what I had to do to feed my family was always split,” Tyka says. “I was writing lyrics while I was supposed to be working. I’d look up and there’s my supervisor.” Now that she can feed her family through the fruits of her soul, Tyka is hunkering down with “Jazz and the kids,” watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie. “It always makes me cry,” she says.

Though she will soon leave this domestic cocoon for a national tour, Tyka does not expect to spark the vocal adoration accorded her brother. “I’ve seen the whole balcony screaming,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Why? I don’t get it.’ I could see it if it was Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. But it’s just Prince. He’s just my brother.”

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