Prince – The Black Album
by Hans Schroeder
It was 1987, and Prince was at the top of his game. He had spent the first part of the decade hard at work in the studio, creating classic albums such as 1999 and the classic Purple Rain. After the release of the wildly successful double-album, Sign o’ the Times, Prince went back into the studio once again to record what would go down in history as The Black Album.
A change of direction for the young star was taken for the recording of The Black Album. Many critics believed that he had become too pop and fashion oriented, a notion that Prince intended to challenge. Using much more of a strong funk and R ‘n’ B sound, as well as pulling influence from hip-hop producers of the time, Prince put together an eight-track album of sexy dance anthems, and unique instrumentals.
Although nearly forgotten by fans, The Black Album contains some of Prince’s heaviest cuts. “Two Nigs United for West Compton” is a unique instrumental, complete with an extra funky beat and hip horn arrangements. Additionally, the album contains some classic slow jams, while keeping true to the record’s generally sinful theme. “Le Grind” is a dance chart so sex-driven, it’s almost an ominous tale of what often happens between two people after dancing all night at the club.
But while most of the album can be defined as a heavy party record, there is one track that sticks out from the rest. “Bob George” is a monologue from a jealous and hateful gangster who kills his woman because she’s seeing another man. The track, while being a disturbing story of murder and abuse, lets the artist acknowledge the fact that he had heard what his critics had to say of him. Our gangster’s monologue is accompanied by Prince’s interpretation of a hip-hop beat, showing that he was able to look forward with his music in unexpected ways. Other critics of lesser details such as his fashion sense or his musicianship skills are acknowledged in what comes across as a mocking sense. While chastising his woman, Prince has his gangster character refer to himself as “that skinny mother f*cker with the high voice.” Once the track is over, Prince brings the beat back around, finishing the album with “Rock Hard in your Funky Place,” complete with high voice and all.
The Black Album was complete and set for release. Warner Brothers had pressed 500,000 copies, and distributed promos. However, just weeks before it was set to come out, Prince had a change of heart. The violent and sexual lyrics of The Black Album conflicted with Prince’s emerging spiritual awareness. Our young artist had convinced himself that the lyrics were evil, and that the album as a whole was the work of the devil inside of him. Prince went back into the studio, and eight weeks later had a new album finished; the moderately successful Lovesexy. As for The Black Album, the copies made were destroyed, the project was scrapped, and The Black Album was to be forgotten.
Despite it’s withdrawal, 100 or so promotional copies were still in circulation around Europe. Given its controversial status, the title became a heavily desired item, and bootleg copies were then manufactured. For years now, fans and collectors alike have heavily sought after bootlegs of The Black Album.
After seven years of the project living in Warner Brothers’ vaults, it was released in 1994 as a limited edition compact disc. For a brief window, the public was able to legally own a copy of what many consider to be the greatest funk album of the ‘80s. Warner Brothers kept the item in print for only a short while before it was pulled back into the vaults, never to be released again. CD copies are still in circulation, and can range between fifteen and twenty dollars, a relatively high premium for a used CD. The famous bootleg LP copies are still out there, but are few and far between.
So why should we care about The Black Album? As a creator, Prince is an extremely prolific artist, having released over twenty studio albums, and charted countless singles. What would we be missing if The Black Album had never seen the light of day? Well, dear reader, we would be missing an entire era of Prince’s life. The album shines a far more piercing light than ever before on his sexuality and party scene tendencies, while proving his understanding of changing musical trends.The Black Album lets the listener know just how funky that man can get, and calls out all those who believed he was only making albums for the general public. Overall, The Black Album takes listeners to a new level of sexy funk. Its lack of availability truly is a sad loss for all those needing more Prince in their lives.