Rolling Stone

A Jewel From Prince’s Vault

How an album Prince recorded in 2010 made its way out to the world.


IN THE summEr of 2010, Prince was feeling proud of the music he had just been recording at his Paisley Park studio. So happy, in fact, that at least once, he asked his backup singers to join him as he drove around Minneapoli­s, blasting songs like the lean, funky “Same Page, Different Book.” “We had the windows rolled down, and some people would point as we drove past, like, ‘Was that Prince?’ ” recalls singer Elisa Fiorillo.

The album was called

Welcome 2 America, and Fiorillo and others who worked on it were looking forward to its release. Instead, Prince shelved the project and rarely brought it up again. “We don’t know what happened,” says bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. “He was working on four different projects, so maybe he thought, ‘I’ll get back to this.’ Or maybe he realized in the end he wasn’t ready to put it out into the world.”

Even before Prince died of a fentanyl overdose five years ago, rumors circulated about the vast amount of unreleased material he’d stashed away. Some of those finds have emerged — mostly outtakes and alternate takes from classic albums like

Purple Rain and Sign o’ the

Times. But last year, while sorting through Prince’s storied musical vault at a Los Angeles storage space, archivist Michael Howe came across three CD-Rs with a title and track sequence in Prince’s handwritin­g, and realized what he’d found: the long-lost Welcome 2

America. Its release this summer is the first chance for the public to hear a complete unreleased Prince album — one that hadn’t been bootlegged or even discussed much by fans. “I wanted to see if it did exist,” says Howe. “These sorts of things are mind-blowingly awesome. . . . It is sight unseen and unheard.”

Prince was known to toss off new songs at an extraordin­ary pace, but Wel

come 2 America was recorded quickly even for him. Using a new rhythm section — bassist Wilkenfeld and drummer Chris Coleman — he cut the basic power-trio tracks in just a few days in March 2010. “He wouldn’t even tell us the structure of the song,” says Wilkenfeld. “We had no idea what the songs were about. He counted off and said, ‘Roll tape!’ ” In the months that followed, keyboardis­t and co-producer Morris Hayes overdubbed parts, and backup singers came in to add harmonies. “Whatever it was, it just poured out of him,” says singer Liv Warfield. “He was coming in with these songs every day.”

Inspiratio­n arrived from varied places. “Hot Summer” tipped its hat to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” a Prince favorite. The salacious slow jam “When She Comes” was such a throwback to his Dirty Mind era that Prince wouldn’t play it for his female singers at the risk of offending them, Warfield says. One night, with Hayes, Prince cued up “Born 2 Die,” a delicious slice of Seventies R&B, and said he had been watching a YouTube clip in which Dr. Cornel West claimed Prince was good, but not up to the likes of Curtis Mayfield. “Prince was like, ‘Oh, real

ly?’ ” says Hayes. “He said, ‘I have to show Dr. West what time it is.’ ”

Opinions differ on why Prince canned the album. Was it because Wilkenfeld wasn’t able to tour with him due to prior commitment­s? Was he just in such a creative zone that he had already moved on to other songs? Yet few doubt that it was meant to be an album. “He had it sequenced and ready to go,” says engineer Jason Agel. “The songs are together for a reason.”

Discussion­s about releasing Welcome 2 America came into focus in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, with socially aware tracks like the title song feeling newly relevant. “What was happening in Minneapoli­s was adding some very serious urgency to try to get this thing up and out,” Howe says.

“Same Page, Different Book” addresses a country divided by culture and religion; in “Welcome 2 America,” Prince sings about the ways technology like the then-new iPad could take over people’s lives and invade their privacy. “This was 10 years ago, and it’s crazy how far ahead he was on that stuff,” says Hayes. “He could have made this record right now.”

 ??  ?? Prince onstage at the Forum in Los Angeles, 2011
Prince onstage at the Forum in Los Angeles, 2011

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