Nancy Solomon: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Nancy Solomon in for Tanzina, she's back on Wednesday. It's been five years since the legendary musician Prince died in 2016 at just 57 years old. While it's hard to lessen the blow of his untimely death, fans of The Purple One have been able to find some solace in the music that has been posthumously released by his estate in recent years. Last week, Prince's estate announced that Welcome 2 America, a previously unreleased album will be coming out at the end of July.
Nancy Solomon: Alongside the excitement that comes with the new music, the release also raises some ethical questions. Prince recorded Welcome 2 America in 2010, but chose not to put it out at the time. Whether he ever would have wanted the public to hear it isn't entirely clear.
Nancy Solomon: With me now is De Angela Duff, Associate Vice Provost and industry professor at New York University, and more importantly, a Prince superfan. Good to have you here, De Angela.
De Angela Duff: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Nancy Solomon: What was your reaction when you heard that Welcome 2 America would be released this summer?
De Angela Duff: Absolutely sheer enthusiasm and very, very, very excited. This is such great news because one of the things that Prince fans look forward to is listening to music that is in Prince's vault and this is an entire album, so we are thrilled. This is the first time we're getting a complete project from the vault.
Nancy Solomon: What do we know about why he chose not to release the album any time during his life? Why he put it in the vault?
De Angela Duff: Well, he actually did that a lot so this wasn't an individual instance. What's interesting is that with interviews with Prince, he would either say two things, he would say either, "I don't give the record company my best work." He has stated that several times. Then the other is that somebody will put it out someday. I suppose somebody will do something with it. He knew once he passed that more than likely some of the music was going to be released from the vault.
Nancy Solomon: This is the second release, since he died, from the vault. What's your opinion about so far what you've been able to hear? Do you think it's true that he was holding back his best work?
De Angela Duff: Most certainly. The one thing that was released last year by the estate was the Sign 'o' the Times Super Deluxe box set. That was a massive set. It was really awesome hearing him perform Power Fantastic, with members of the Revolution and this is the first instance where you could hear Prince giving direction to the band in a studio context.
That was really personal and also got you to see a little bit about the recording process behind the curtain, so to speak. That's definitely one instance of that. On the same box set, there's another song called In a Dark Room with No Light, which has been a fan favorite for a long time and there was a very poor-quality audio circulating out there and now we have a pristine copy.
Those are two songs that are just heavenly when you listen to them but it's so much more. The estate has been doing a really excellent job with getting new projects out with unreleased songs from the vault. Another project that they did was Originals, which was fantastic. It's basically Prince singing the songs that he produced for others. One of those songs was Manic Monday that he produced for The Bangles so you can hear that. You can hear him singing songs that he produced for his Prince protegees such as Vanity 6 and The Time on that particular project, Sheila E. The estate has been really good with giving us some music from the vault.
Nancy Solomon: I read that there's a tremendous amount of finished music in the vault. Do we know exactly how much?
De Angela Duff: We don't know exactly how much but just imagine Prince basically recorded night and day since actually before but professionally since 1978. By all accounts from everyone who's worked with him, he never stopped working, so he would often record a song a day. If you do the math, it's basically thousands of songs.
Sometimes he would rework certain songs so you might have a song that he recorded in the late '70s. Another example of this is actually, I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, which is also on the Sign 'o' the Times Super Deluxe box set, but he actually recorded a version in the '80s then he recorded a version in the late '70s. Sometimes he will revisit work, that was rare, but he did do that sometimes.
Nancy Solomon: Prince had disputes with the record companies and then there was no will and there's been a legal battle over his estate. How do you think this is affecting the release of this music from the vault? Is there controversy about it?
De Angela Duff: Yes, some fans believe that Prince would not have wanted this music released because it's being released by a record company. I disagree. I do think that Prince knew that his music was going to be released. The controversy for me is whether or not he had a will. By all accounts, they say he didn't have a will. I don't find that to be true and I'm not a conspiracy theorist.
The reason why I say that is because he fought so hard to get his masters back. He wrote slave on his face for years and got ridiculed for that so it just doesn't make any sense to me that he would pass without a will and basically, he didn't leave any plans for his music. It's unfathomable for me to think of that. I'm wondering if there's a copy of the will in the vault and something that someone hasn't opened or something. That's actually my wish because it is wreaking havoc on the estate.
Nancy Solomon: How much do you think Prince's legacy has shifted in the year since his death?
De Angela Duff: Actually, I think it's grown larger, which is really fantastic to see. I was just really surprised when Prince passed how much the world really celebrated his life and his legacy and his music. The Eiffel Tower was purple, everything turned purple when he passed and that just let me know that Prince did leave a mark on the world. I think with all of these posthumous releases, the world is saying that he was a true musician, he was a true artist.
He dedicated his life to his art and the critics and fans alike, are revisiting some of this past material. Prince released 39 albums in his lifetime, but there are many more albums actually in the vault that the estate can't release. I'm just thrilled at how Prince is still very relevant five years later.
Nancy Solomon: It's like he was creating his own immortality during his lifetime. It's really extraordinary. De Angela Duff is an Associate Vice Provost and industry professor at New York University. Thanks so much, De Angela.
De Angela Duff: It was my pleasure. Thank you, Nancy.
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