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Prince invoked Camille, the alter-ego behind his unreleased 1986 album Camille, as the guiding force responsible for The Black Album.
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 man who suspects his girlfriend to have had an affair with a man named Bob. He asks her what the man does for a living and learns that Bob manages Prince, who he dismisses as “that skinny motherfucker with the high voice”. The gun-wielding alter ego then kills the woman, and ends up being raided by the police. During live performances of the song during the Lovesexy Tour, he ends up being shot. 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. The voice at the end of the song that says “bizarre” is actually a stock sound from the Fairlight CMI IIx library, with its pitch raised.
The Black 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 the portrayal of characters, using either a speeded-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 The Black 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”.
Withdrawal and subsequent shelving
The album was abandoned shortly before its intended release after Prince experienced a spiritual epiphany and became convinced it was “evil”; he later blamed the album on an entity named Spooky Electric, described as a demonic, low-voiced alter-ego induced by Camille. The decision may have been influenced by Prince’s having a bad experience on MDMA. 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.
Immediately after the decision to pull The Black Album from stores, the album emerged on the streets in bootleg form, arguably becoming popular music’s most legendary bootleg since The 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).
In April 2016, an original promo copy from 1987 was sold on Discogs’ marketplace for a record $15,000.00 US.
The Black 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. Although it was released in a strictly limited edition and was removed on January 27, 1995, the album was released exclusively to Tidal in 2016.
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 was given only to the first 1,000 individuals who sent in their copies.
“Le Grind” – 6:44
“Cindy C.” – 6:15
“Dead on It” – 4:37
“When 2 R in Love” – 3:59
“Bob George” – 5:36
“Superfunkycalifragisexy” – 5:55
“2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” – 7:01
“Rockhard in a Funky Place” – 4:31
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