In 1975, Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince's cousin, Shauntel, formed the band 94 East with Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry. Willie hired André Cymone and Prince to record tracks with 94 East. Those songs were written by Willie and Prince contributed guitar tracks. Prince also co-wrote, with Willie, the 94 East song, "Just Another Sucker." The band recorded tracks which later became the albumMinneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings. Prince also recorded, but never released, a song written by Willie, "If You See Me" (also known as, "Do Yourself A Favor"). In 1995, Willie released the album 94 East featuring Prince, Symbolic Beginning, which included original recordings by Prince and Cymone. In 1976, Prince created a demo tape with producer Chris Moon in Moon's Minneapolis studio. Unable to secure a recording contract, Moon brought the tape to Minneapolis businessman Owen Husney. Husney signed Prince, at the age of 17, to a management contract and helped Prince create a demo recording at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis using producer/engineer David Z. The demo recording, along with a press kit produced at Husney's ad agency, resulted in interest from several record companies including Warner Bros. Records, A&M Records, and Columbia Records. With the help of Husney, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros.. Warner Bros. agreed to give Prince creative control for three albums and ownership of the publishing rights. Husney and Prince then left Minneapolis and moved to Sausalito, California where Prince's first album, For You, was recorded at Record Plant Studios. Subsequently, the album was mixed in Los Angeles and released in on April 7, 1978. According to the For You album notes, Prince produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording. The album was written and performed by Prince, except for the song "Soft and Wet" which had lyrics co-written by Moon. The cost of recording the album was twice Prince's initial advance. Prince used the Prince's Music Co. to publish his songs. "Soft and Wet" reached No. 12 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song "Just as Long as We're Together" reached No.91 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
In 1980 Prince released the album, Dirty Mind, which he recorded in his own studio. The album was certified gold and the attendant single "Uptown" reached No. 5 on the Billboard Dance chart and No. 5 on the Hot Soul Singles charts. Prince was also the opening act for Rick James' 1980 Fire it Up tour. Dirty Mind contained sexually explicit material, including the title song, "Head," and the song "Sister." In February 1981, Prince made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing "Partyup." In October 1981, Prince released the album, Controversy. He played several dates in support of it, at first as one of the opening acts for theRolling Stones, who were then on tour in the U.S. He began 1982 with a small tour of college towns where he was the headlining act. The songs on Controversy were published by Controversy Music –ASCAP, a practice he continued until the Emancipation album in 1996. Controversy also marked the introduction of Prince's use of abbreviated spelling, such as spelling the words you as U, to as 2, and foras 4, as indicated by the inclusion of the track "Jack U Off." (His earlier song titles had used conventional spelling.) By 2002, MTV.com noted that "[n]ow all of his titles, liner notes and Web postings are written in his own shorthand spelling, as seen on 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, which featured 'Hot Wit U.'"In 1979 Prince created a band which included André Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, and Bobby Z. on drums. Their first show was at the Capri Theater on January 5, 1979. Warner Bros. executives attended the show but decided that Prince and the band needed more time to develop his music. In October 1979, Prince released a self-titled album, Prince, which was No.4 on the Billboard Top R&B/Black Albums charts, and No.22 on the Billboard 200, going platinum. It contained two R&B hits: "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover." "I Wanna Be Your Lover" sold over a million copies, and reached No.11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No.1 for two weeks on the Hot Soul Singles chart. Prince performed both these songs on January 26, 1980 on American Bandstand. On this album, Prince used Ecnirp Music – BMI.
In 1981, Prince formed a side project band called the Time. The band released four albums between 1981 and 1990, with Prince writing and performing most of the instrumentation and backing vocals, with lead vocals by Morris Day. In late 1982, Prince released a double album, 1999, which sold over three million copies. The title track was a protest against nuclear proliferation and became his first top ten hit in countries outside the U.S. Prince's "Little Red Corvette" was one of the first two videos by a black artist played in heavy rotation on MTV, along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." The song "Delirious" also placed in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.