Prince Rogers Nelson was unequivocally one of the most influential and innovative musicians to ever live. In 2016, his untimely death shocked the world and devastated fans. They mourned the loss of his life, but they also grieved what they thought was the end of his incredible musical career.
So it came as a surprise to fans when “Welcome 2 America,” Prince’s first posthumous album comprised entirely of unreleased material, came out on July 30. The album is the first of many to reveal some of the thousands of unreleased songs from Prince’s vault.
Due to legal issues, very little has been revealed about Prince’s mysterious vault. However, as the artist’s family continues to work to gain control of his estate, it’s likely that more and more of Prince’s creations will become available to the public.
Prince became increasingly private with his music in the later years of his life and career. He grew skeptical of the music industry and began demanding ownership over his own creations, which is why his music has been stowed away for so long. Now, since Prince left no will and remained unmarried, his siblings began the process of sorting out his estate, including his music vault.
Among those in control of Prince’s estate is his sister, Tyka Nelson. Nelson, a singer herself, is determined to release her brother’s music. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Nelson promised, “I won’t get off this planet until he gets every single solitary thing he worked so hard for and preserved for all of the world to hear.”
Despite the legal complications, Nelson feels responsible for her late brother. “Prince always wanted people to hear his music. How dare I not do what this man broke his back to do all his life? There would be no way that I let one note of his music not ever be heard.”
With the musician’s estate still tangled in legal complications, Troy Carter stepped in to help preserve Prince’s legacy. The Spotify executive and former manager of Lady Gaga is also a devoted Prince fan. Carter told 60 Minutes that he wants to do everything possible to release Prince’s music just as he would have wanted it to be. Behind the publicization of “Welcome 2 America” is a team of people who want to create the best musical experience possible, both for fans and for Prince himself.
Carter also addressed fan theories about why Prince never revisited much of the music in the vault during his life. Apparently, no such mystery exists. Carter laughed about the hilariously simple explanation as he told interviewers, “I thought there was gonna be this story about how he left behind his old materials to focus on new artistic endeavors. And they said, ‘No, he just forgot the password to the vault.’”
With the vault open, though, Carter wants to be sure that he acts in accordance with the artist’s wishes. “I want to make sure that Prince isn’t somewhere in heaven giving me the side-eye. You know, that famous Prince side-eye.”
Right Music, Wrong Time
Prince wrote “Welcome 2 America” just before his “Welcome 2” tour in 2010. For undisclosed reasons, he decided to store the album away instead of releasing it immediately. However, it was always his intention to share this record with the world.
Shelby Johnson, Prince’s longtime collaborator and friend, speculated that he knew people weren’t ready to hear his honest criticism of America when he first penned the album. She told CBS News, “I just think 2010, it might not have been absorbed the way that it will be now, with everything we’ve been through in the last 10 years.”
And it’s true — the last 10 years drastically changed the American people. Racial injustice, one of the main themes of “Welcome 2 America,” moved into the public consciousness in a way we couldn’t have imagined in 2010. It’s almost as if Prince looked into the future and created the album he knew we’d need from him in 2021.
A Lyrical Tour of America
The title track opens the album, covering many themes of modern America. The lyrics touch on everything from the Black experience to the iPhone. Prince, along with several female voices, narrates the song in a spoken-word style reminiscent of slam poetry. The song feels like you’re walking down a busy city street, peeking into windows for glimpses of the complex topics.
The album continues to paint a vivid picture of our nation. “1000 Light Years from Here” and “One Day We Will All B Free” illustrate the false promises of the elusive concept of the American dream. On a more hopeful note, songs like “Same Page, Different Book” and “1010 (Rin Tin Tin)” call upon listeners to put aside their differences and love each other.
Prince doesn’t hold back on this album — not that fans expected him to. For example, “Running Game (Son of a Slave Master)” is a funky slow jam that discusses the hardships facing the Black community. But the song also reminds listeners of the time he performed with the word “SLAVE” written across his face.
Overall, “Welcome 2 America” solidified itself as one of Prince’s great protest albums. With lyrics that serve as both shocking and thought-provoking, the album fits into Prince’s discography as the more mature sibling of 1981’s “Controversy.”
A Not-So-New Sound
In addition to the lyrics, “Welcome 2 America” also shows off Prince’s musical ingenuity. From the very beginning of the opening title track, the slow, deliberate bass entrances listeners. The music pulls you in, allowing Prince’s smooth and commanding voice to guide you through scenes of modern American life.
Along with presenting current and relevant themes, Prince also pays tribute to ’70s R&B with bouncy basslines and funky drumbeats. Most notably, the song “Born 2 Die” unmistakably emulates Curtis Mayfield’s style. This demonstrates just one of many instances of Prince blending the old with the new.
“Welcome 2 America” is definitive proof that Prince’s musical talent is so impressive that it can outlive even him. As more legal obstacles are lifted, fans are excited to see what the spirit of the Purple One will deliver next.