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The Black Album is the sixteenth studio album by American recording artist Prince. It was released on November 22, 1994 by Warner Bros. Records. The album was originally planned for release on December 7, 1987, as the follow-up toSign o' the Times and was to appear in an entirely black sleeve with no title or even a credit to Prince; hence it was referred to as The Black Album. Dubbed The Funk Bible by preceding press releases, and in a hidden message within the album itself, the work seemed to be a reaction to criticism that Prince had become too pop-oriented. It was his attempt to regain his African-American audience.
The 1987 promo-only release had no printed title, artist name, production credits or photography printed; a simple black sleeve accompanied the disc. On promotional copies, only a song listing and catalog number—25677—were printed on the disc itself. The commercial version was to only have the catalog number printed in the color pink on the spine. The original compact disc pressing was made by Sony DADC rather than WEA Manufacturing. The album was withdrawn a week before its release date, and was replaced with the album Lovesexy, a brighter pop-oriented album with elements ofreligious affirmation.
- 2 Withdrawal and subsequent shelving
- 3 Legal release
- 4 Track listing
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Chart performance
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Despite the mystique surrounding it, the album has typically been viewed by fans[who?] and critics as a somewhat pro forma, rushed effort by Prince, although it is treasured by aficionados of the artist's funkier side, being as close to a straightfunk album as anything he had recorded.
The opening track also mentioned the title of the album as being The Funk Bible, which was a consideration during work on this project. The title refers both to the album's all-black cover design and to Prince's attempt to earn back his credibility among the black pop audience.
The album features one of the most shockingly unusual Prince songs: "Bob George", in which he assumes the identity of a profane, gun-wielding alter ego who murders a woman and dismisses the figure of Prince as "that skinny motherfucker with the high voice" (later used as the title of an album of lo-fi Prince covers by Dump). The name for the track was a combination of Bob Cavallo (former manager), and Nelson George who was felt to have become very critical of Prince. "Bob George" features a growling monologue that is slowed down to the point of being almost unrecognizable as Prince. Some[who?] interpret the track as a commentary on the glorification of violence and misogyny inherent in the gangsta rap musical genre, which was in its infancy at the time. The voice at the end of the song that says bizarre is actually a stock sound from theFairlight CMI IIx library, pitched up.
The album features songs such as the hip-hop parody "Dead on It", which directly makes the accusation that all MCs are tone-deaf and unable to sing, and the playful "Cindy C.", which refers to supermodel Cindy Crawford. The rhyme at the end of the song was originally written by Steve "Silk" Hurley and was included on a song titled "Music is the Key," which was previously released by Chicago house-music group JM Silk, of which Hurley was the founder. Hurley would later go on to remix two of the songs from the "Gett Off" maxi-single, the Housestyle and Flutestramental versions.
The album contains several instances of characters by way of either a sped-up or slowed-down vocal track by Prince (as on "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "U Got the Look," "Strange Relationship," and "Housequake," all from the Sign o' the Times album).
The instrumental jazz-funk jam "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" was revisited as a live song on the One Nite Alone... Live! album, but it was hardly the same track.
"Rockhard in a Funky Place" was originally considered for inclusion on the planned Crystal Ball album and then the Camille project. After the album's fade out, dissonant feedback fades in, followed by Prince saying "What kind of fuck ending was that?" before fading out again. "When 2 R in Love" is the only ballad on the album, and reappeared on Lovesexy, which was released the same year.
Prince performed "Bob George", parts of "When 2 R in Love", and "Superfunkycalifragisexy" on his Lovesexy Tour. "When 2 R in Love" was usually part of the piano medley in Act II, whereas the other two songs were part of the Act I segment, where Prince's evil side showed through (coinciding with the idea that this album was evil, hence its being pulled from release by Prince). Act II was his born-again segment, with more upbeat spiritual songs, highlighting most of the Lovesexy songs, and top 40 hits.
Samples of "Bob George" would later show up on the "Dub Beats" official promo mix of Madonna's 1989 "Like A Prayer."
Just before the album was released to the market, Prince recalled all copies and abandoned the entire project, leaving roughly 100 European promotional copies in circulation, and several American copies that would be widely bootlegged in the coming years. Several reasons, including speculative ones, have been given as to why the release was derailed:
- Prince became convinced that the album was evil or represented an ominous portent.
- Prince experienced a crisis of conscience and marketing identity over the eroticism and violence of its lyrics. Warner Bros. Records, his record label, reached the same conclusion
Further evidence that Prince felt the album was a mistake: In his first music video of his next album, "Alphabet St.", the video can be paused after it shows him holding a cane and the words "Don't buy The Black Album. I'm sorry" can be read running vertically.
- Prince decided to scrap the album after an experiment with the drug ecstasy that resulted in a bad trip. Former Prince associates have confirmed the ecstasy story.
Immediately after the decision to pull the album from stores, it emerged on the streets in bootleg form, arguably becoming popular music's most legendary bootleg sinceThe Beach Boys aborted 1967 album Smile. Several celebrities, including U2's frontmen The Edge and Bono, cited it as one of their favorite albums of 1988 (Rolling Stone magazine celebrity poll).
The album was finally released by Warner Bros. Records on November 22, 1994—again, containing only a track listing and the new catalog number 45793 printed onto the disc itself, the copyright date of 1994 (with the exception of "When 2 R in Love," which was released in 1988 on Lovesexy), and only legal copy appearing on the spine. It was released in a strictly limited edition and was deleted on January 27, 1995. It is believed that this release was legitimized so that Prince could get out of his new seven-album contract with the label that he had signed the previous year because he wanted ownership of his master recordings. However, it was later revealed that the release of the album did not count toward the number of albums he owed to Warner Bros. Soon before its release, however, Prince started to appear with the word "slave" written on his face and changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol.
On the week of the album's official release, Warner ran an ad at the back of the November 26, 1994, issue of Billboard offering owners of counterfeit copies a free copy of the legal release provided they mail their illegal copy to the label in exchange. This offer only was given to the first thousand who sent in their copies.
- Side 1
- "Le Grind" – 6:44
- "Cindy C." – 6:15
- "Dead on It" – 4:37
- "When 2 R in Love" – 3:59 †
- Side 2
- "Bob George" – 5:36
- "Superfunkycalifragisexy" – 5:55
- "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" – 7:01
- "Rockhard in a Funky Place" – 4:31
† Also appears on Lovesexy.
- Prince - all other vocals and instruments
- Sheila E. - backing vocals (1), drums (7)
- Eric Leeds - saxophone (1, 2, 8)
- Atlanta Bliss - trumpet (1, 2, 8)
- Cat Glover - backing vocals (1), backing vocals and rap (2), spoken vocals (7)
- Boni Boyer - backing vocals (1)
- Susannah Melvoin - backing vocals (8)
- Number 47 on the US Billboard Top 200 Albums (11 weeks)
- Number 18 on the US Billboard Top R&B Albums Chart (13 weeks)