Jesse Valencia identifies eight albums by Prince that should be included in the TIDAL music catalog.
Let me begin this article by saying I am one of the biggest Prince fans ever. I spent hours upon hours as a teenager listening to his records, watching his movies, buying everything I could find on the fledgling internet that was Prince-related. At one time, I could name all of his girlfriends in order. I could sound off every single record or compilation. I even had his 3121 cologne when it came out and you also won’t find too many a Prince fan in love with Graffiti Bridge, the largely panned 1990 sequel to 1984’s Purple Rain, but I am that fan.
I also have every record on this list, but many people do not. I had to scour used bins far and wide to find these and that was nearly twenty years ago. Now, some of these records are going for a hundred bucks on eBay and most of them are from Prince’s most underrated period when he went by and I’m honestly baffled as to why. He was more creative and more experimental from 1994-1998 than for almost the entire ten years leading up to that period following the mega-success of Purple Rain. If you ask me, Prince needed in order for his creativity and integrity to survive, and it did. When was over and history, Prince rose again from its ashes and has been hitting them out of the ballpark ever since (see Musicology, 3121, Planet Earth, Plectrumelectrum, the new HITnRUN albums). People laughed at in the 1990s, but during that time he really was a pioneer. He was one of the first high-profile artists to go out on his own and one of the first major artists to release an album exclusively online (1998’s Crystal Ball, which is included on this list).
It can’t be just a rights issue. Or could it? Some of the records on this list were released by Warner Bros., but others were released on Prince’s own NPG Records. In fact, most of them were released in conjunction with NPG records, so it can’t be just about the licensing. I hope the day comes soon when all of Prince’s music is available for streaming, just like it will be available again soon on vinyl. How great would it be to hear The Gold Experience on vinyl? I can’t even get started down that path of thought. I’ll get stuck there for hours.
Will this article reach Prince, the artist formerly known as ? Maybe, maybe not. If it does, I hope he hears me out on these, because I know I’m not the only Prince fan who thinks these records are amazing. And so, without further ado …
- The Black Album (1994)
Long before TIDAL boss Jay-Z released his highly acclaimed Black Album back in 2003, Prince made his own just as hip-hop was taking off, way back in the ’80s. While it’s unlikely Prince will reissue this one, since he scrapped it a week before its release and replaced with Lovesexy nearly thirty years ago, it’d still be great to have. Warner Bros. did eventually release it in 1994. Some fans saw the stripped-down funk that encapsulated the record as a return to Prince’s roots. Along with Come, which does appear on Tidal, the 1994 release of The Black Album heralded Prince’s name change and eventual break from Warner.
- The Gold Experience (1995)
This, the first record by , was the perfect debut for his new persona. Some critics called it his best since 1987’s Sign o’ the Times. I would say it’s my favorite Prince record of the ’90s. “P Control,” “Now,” “Billy Jack Bitch,” and “319” are as funky as anything he’s ever done. Plus it has his only #1 hit of that whole decade “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” on it. For me, Prince is at his best when he flexes all of his different musical and lyrical muscles. Funk workouts, blistering guitars, sexy ballads, sociopolitical commentary, a little bit of comedy … The Gold Experience has it all.
- Exodus (1995)
Exodus is super fun and all over the place. Credited to the New Power Generation (NPG) rather than Prince, it’s sorta funky like The Black Album but takes it to a whole other level. “Get Wild” will always be one of my favorite NPG jams along with “The Good Life” and “New Power Soul” (an idea revisited later on the album of the same name). There’s other really excellent, poignant work on this record, such as “Count the Days.” Keeping in mind that The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Come, Exodus, and the next record on this list were all released within a year or two of each other, the narrative surrounding Prince’s split from Warner needs to be recast in the idea that this period was one of his most creative moments as an artist.
- Chaos and Disorder (1996)
A lot of fans dislike Chaos and Disorder, but I think it’s highly underrated. It’s unpolished and feels a lot like garage punk, and there’s some interesting experiments on it. A lot of the songs on this record feel like rough sketches, but there’s so much energy delivered across the songs that it shouldn’t continue to be ignored. “I Like It There” and “I Rock Therefore I Am” are undoubtedly the best songs on the record along with “Zannalee.” There’s also some very important political statements on Chaos such as “Right the Wrong,” which addresses injustices against indigenous North Americans and people of color. It is also the bookend to Prince’s Warner Bros. catalog, prior to the release of Emancipation.
- Crystal Ball (1998)
The Truth and The War appear on Tidal, so I’m not sure why Crystal Ball doesn’t, since The Truth was included with the Crystal Ball collection, as well as Kamasutra. This record is amazing because it has all sorts of awesome unreleased stuff from The Black Album era all the way to Emancipation, and like Emancipation, it has three discs of music. It has also seen previous digital release by Prince’s NPG Music Club, so why it isn’t now on Tidal remains a mystery.
- Newpower Soul
When Newpower Soul came out, I was 13 and totally peaking in Prince-mania. I remember riding my bike to Target early in the morning to pick it up before school and showing it to all of my friends. Prince’s NPG Records was in a good spot following the relative commercial successes of Emancipation and Crystal Ball, and the sound he and the new NPG lineup mined on that record was the distillation of everything Prince had worked for with the new band in the decade since he founded the idea of it. “The One” was pure as was “Newpower Soul,” “Come On,” and “Freaks on This Side.” Of all the records which appear on this list, this one is my absolute favorite.
- Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic
Rave is one of the most important records Prince released in the ’90s. I remember it was released through Arista, which might have something to do with its not appearing on Tidal, but hopefully that and any other hang-ups with these licensing and rights deals will be resolved soon. I remember Prince wore that blue outfit he wears on the cover to the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards and everyone thought he was crazy. The record itself is bright, relaxed, and features a slew of notable guest appearances including Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow, Chuck D, Eve, and Ani DiFranco and coincides with an awesome concert film, Rave Un2 the Year 2000, which I’ve watched over and over again and features guest performances by The Time, George Clinton, Lenny Kravitz, and Larry Graham. Interestingly, the album is credited to but is “produced by Prince,” signaling the start of the artist’s transition back to his birth name.
- The Rainbow Children (2001)
This is the first album by “Prince” since Come! So why doesn’t Tidal have it? This record was both a reinvention and a return to form for Prince as the persona he created in the ’90s had fulfilled its artistic potential and it was time to get back to himself again. As such, this record set the tone for everything that led up to his highly acclaimed Musicology in 2004. It is his most spiritually joyful record since Lovesexy and features the best drumming (courtesy of the impossibly amazing John Blackwell) on a Prince record ever, in my opinion. Key tracks here are “The Work, pt.1,” “1+1+1 Is 3” and “Muse 2 the Pharaoh.”
Goldnigga, 1-800-NEW-FUNK, Girl 6, 1999: The New Master, Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic.