Dead on It:30
When 2 R in Love:30
2 Nigs United 4 West Compton:30
Rockhard in a Funky Place:30
The Black Album is Prince’s most notorious album, and one of the most talked-about and bootlegged releases in music history. Although Prince himself would later explain why he decided to shelve the album, all his adoring public knew in 1987 was that he was preparing to release a supremely funky, dirty, and dangerous-sounding record that was so hot it would come with a pitch-black album sleeve, and that it would come hot on the heels of his wildly successful double-album Sign o’ the Times, released only a few months earlier. Then, at the last possible minute, the album was pulled from distribution and all copies were ordered destroyed — and all that remained was a mystery.
I was very angry a lot of the time back then, and that was reflected in that album. I suddenly realized that we can die at any moment, and we'd be judged by the last thing we left behind. I didn't want that angry, bitter thing to be the last thing. I learned from that album, but I don't want to go back.”
Prince, Rolling Stone, 1990
In the video for “Alphabet St.,” a single off the album he released to replace The Black Album in 1988, Lovesexy, Prince a cryptic message to his fans, flashing a hidden phrase across the screen for a brief moment: “DON’T BUY THE BLACK ALBUM. I’M SORRY.”
Aside from the lo-fi cassette-tape bootlegs that began circulating immediately after the canceled release, listeners had to wait until 1994 to finally hear the album Prince didn’t want released. The decision to distribute the album seven years later came from his label, Warner Bros. Records, and their repressing of the album on LP and CD provided the world with the first crystal-clear recordings of the controversial album.
A frozen moment that bridges the gap between the fading new-wave pop of the day and the burgeoning gangsta rap of the future.”
Jim Walsh, Pioneer Press, 1994
The Black Album is deeply rooted in the sounds of 1987, when hip-hop was first sweeping the recording industry and Prince was just getting settled into his new Paisley Park studio complex, which would open in September of that year. As former Paisley Park vice president Alan Leeds told the St. Paul Pioneer Press when The Black Album was eventually released, the recordings were originally intended to be a soundtrack for a birthday party Prince was throwing for Sheila E.
“The album started out as very innocuous dance music for a girlfriend, and his dream building, his facility and his company, was growing by leaps and bounds," Leeds said.
One of the hardest, funkiest works Prince has ever cranked out. Its eight solid jams hark stylistically to the scorched scorings of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, tip a hat to the hip-hop community and allude to the progressive jazz-rock horn charts of Frank Zappa.”
Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News, 1994
Despite the happy circumstances surrounding the recording, Prince felt that the songs tapped into something dark and sinister. In addition to aggressively swinging funk beats, The Black Album contains some of Prince’s most aggressive and violent lyrics; “Bob George,” for example, is one long provocation from a fictional music executive character (played by Prince) who is wielding a gun and shouting profanities about the artist. “Dead On It,” meanwhile, takes a swipe at the burgeoning gangsta rap trend, with lyrics that would unintentionally alienate Prince from the new musical movement that was about to sweep the recording industry.
As a result, Prince decided to scrap the release and focus on a more uplifting project, Lovesexy, instead. “I suddenly realized that we can die at any moment, and we'd be judged by the last thing we left behind. I didn't want that angry, bitter thing to be the last thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 1990, in his only public comment on the album.
When it was finally released in November 1994, Prince asked that it be only available on a limited basis, with sales ending on January 27, 1995. Even still, The Black Album charted worldwide, reaching number 18 on the U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number 47 on the Billboard 200.
A collection of the weirdest, hardest, nastiest funk of his career.”
Keith Harris, Minneapolis City Pages, 2017
The Black Album Credits
Prince vocals and various instruments Sheila E. vocals, drums Eric Leeds saxophone Atlanta Bliss trumpet Cat Glover vocals Boni Boyer vocals Susannah Melvoin vocals