With first posthumous album, Prince pierces the American condition

More than 8,000 songs were stored in the vault under Prince's Paisley Park compound.
More than 8,000 songs were stored in the vault under Prince's Paisley Park compound.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK(AFP) - Prince's estate will soon issue a completed record from the mercurial artist's storied music vault, the first never-before-heard album released since the musician's shock death five years ago.

Welcome 2 America - a 12-track album finished in 2010, but shelved for reasons unknown in the famous vault at Prince's Paisley Park compound near Minneapolis - offers a prophetic window into social struggles at today's forefront, delving into racism, political division, technology and disinformation.

Melding urgent lyricism with languorous funk, the pop shapeshifter Prince sings of America as the "land of the free / home of the slave."

The artiste, who died at 57 on April 21, 2016 following an accidental fentanyl overdose, could not have known that in the years following his death his beloved home city would explode in furor and protest after the police killing of George Floyd, a black man.

The album, out July 30, sees Prince level "a laser-focused assault on the condition of America," said Morris Hayes, Prince's longtime keyboardist and musical director.

"What's going on with social media, social justice, and social consciousness... this is a concerted effort to really speak about these things," said Hayes, who co-produced the album.

While the album tackles decidedly weighty topics - Running Game (Son Of A Slave Master) centres on racism, while Same Page, Different Book touches on religious strife - the album also includes vintage danceable and carnal slow jam Prince in the mix.

An untold number of songs - upwards of 8,000, per Princian lore - were stored in the vault under Paisley Park, though some of its contents have been moved to the Los Angeles climate-controlled storage facility Iron Mountain.

"It was crazy," Hayes said of the vault. "All of this music, like all over the floor, all stacked up to the ceiling.

"You have to think about how prolific a cat has to be to have his own vault full of stuff. And I mean full of stuff."

The release of Prince's vast trove of music remains a sensitive subject; the superstar was controlling of his work, image and carefully constructed enigmatic persona. Doing right by him is no small challenge.

Previously the estate has re-released expanded versions of Prince's milestone albums, like 1999 and Sign O' The Times.


Prince's album covers are on display at Paisley Park, Prince's home and studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota, on June 30, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Prince was never clear about his intentions for his unheard work, but he had taken steps to preserve his tapes, films, scripts and music along with his Paisley Park compound, leading his estate - run by his sister and five half-siblings - to believe he wanted it shared.

Asked by Rolling Stone in 2014 what he wanted to come of his oeuvre after he was gone, Prince himself was characteristically nebulous.

"I don't think about 'gone'."