The Black Album (1994)


  
1. Le Grind 2. Cindy C 3. Dead On It 4. When 2 R In Love 5. Bob George 6. Superfunkycalifragisexy 7. 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton 8. Rockhard In A Funky Place

 

This is one of those albums that has a nifty little story behind it. In case you’ve never heard it, here goes: Prince has always seemed to be able to write and record far more material than the average customer could consume, so it didn’t surprise anyone when he originally planned to release this record only six months after 1987’s highly celebrated Sign ‘O’ The Times. Well, at the last minute, Prince pulled the release stating that he had some sort of spiritual epiphany and was convinced that this record was “evil”. Apparently his record label wasn’t that concerned. Maybe because it had been too soon to release a new Prince album? Maybe because there wasn’t anything on the record that could serve as a legitimate single? Maybe because he very shortly released a “substitute” (1988’s Lovesexy) right after? Regardless, very few people had ever heard the thing, and in the days before YouTube and peer to peer file sharing, the record pretty much stayed out of circulation. Obviously many were disappointed. The record was supposed to be a much more funkier album that was recorded in response to Prince losing a lot of his original black audience (which I never believed) – hence the title of the record. So eight years later, after Prince is going through an acrimonious split with his record label, the decision is finally made to make this thing available to the public.

So was the wait worth it? Was all the fuss about this record justified? Well, yes and no. This record is by no means a classic album – it pales in comparison to the best of the best of Prince’s work, yet it’s still a very good, very loose, very fun album. It’s funky, and lives up to its moniker so to speak. Truth be told, I find very little about this record that might be considered “evil”. Sure, it’s littered with swear words and sexual innuendos, but that never really went away on Prince’s latter day records. It seems as though Prince was always a bit conflicted between sweet/soulful and dirty/nasty. So maybe he was just having a “good/bad” day when he made his decision to pull the record?

Most of what is here is dance oriented, and very strong. This is definitely a party record. Other tracks are obviously better than others, but the whole record has a very nice overall flow. Oddly, the one song that he did carry over to 1988’s Lovesexy, When 2 R In Love sounds the most out of place here. It’s a rather sweet, yet somewhat inconsequential ballad. Since he included it on Lovesexy, one almost wishes he would have replaced it with a different song on this album that was more in alignment with the overall feel of this particular record. I guess, because the record was “legendary”, the powers that be felt as though they needed to release it exactly as it was originally intended. Fair enough I guess.

Then we come to the one highly offensive song Bob George. Now, to be fair, this song hasn’t really aged that well. It probably would have sounded much more harmless back in 1988 than it does all these years later with the world mired in political correctness. The song has a heavy dance beat, but the lyrics are spoken as opposed to being sung. The “speaker” is a no-good brute abusing his girlfriend because she’s seeing a guy named Bob George – a record manager who manages Prince (“that skinny mother f***er with the high voice”). It is actually Prince doing the speaking/singing in a highly modulated electronic voice. It’s a shame the subject matter is so dark as it really does have an awesome beat behind it.

By no means is thing a masterpiece, but it’s still a strong addition to his collection of work. One really wishes it would have come out when originally intended. When it finally did get released, it seemed much more as an afterthought and was overlooked by many. Not as many people cared by that point.

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