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Nov 19 2016

Prince – Emancipation

Prince' first website: thedawn.com (thedawn.com)

Prince’ first website: thedawn.com

Albumdata

Artist Prince
Album Emancipation
Year of release 1996 

Rating

Review

Emancipation was released on November 19th, 1996, 20 years ago, through NPG Records and was distributed by EMI. The title refers to Prince’s liberation from his contract with Warner Bros. It was the third Prince release that year: Chaos And Disorder (using the moniker Prince), Girl 6 (soundtrack to the Spike Lee movie by the same name) and Emancipation (using the moniker O(+>). Emancipation was the very first R&B triple-album ever released.

Emancipation debut

Emancipation Debut (pinterest.com)

Emancipation Debut 11/12/1996

Wednesday morning at 07:30 AM the broadcast was to be shown in the Netherlands. I took time off work to be able to watch it. It started with familiar Free at last! Speech by Martin Luther King, followed by Jam Of The Year, a new very nice song. Purple Rain was next, after which Get Yo Groove On was played, also a new song, also nice. This was followed by a truly stunning performance of Joy In Repetition; this was outer-worldly good. The horn-intro to Sexy MF was immediately followed by a very inspired If I Was Your Girlfriend. The last song was One Of Us, which had been a (small) hit for Joan Osborne in that same year. I liked the song and I thought it was agreat fit for Prince. Very nice (live) guitarplaying. It was all over before it even started. After the broadcast I was very impressed. If this was going the be the level of the upcoming album, than good times were ahead: 3 albums filled with fantastic music! The day after the broadcast 20-second teasers of all the songs were made available on thedawn.com, Prince’s own website.

Circumstances

Prince-Mayte Wedding Program (thedawn.com)

Prince-Mayte Wedding Program

Prince’s private life soared. On February 14th 1996 he was married for the first time in his life. Mayte Garcia, who was a dancer with Prince for several years and had met Prince for the first time in 1990, was the love of his life. Pretty soon she turned out to be pregnant. Prince was on a high and recorded new songs constantly.

Prince was in the middle of his dispute with record-company Warner Bros. and hda changed his name to O(+>, an unpronouncable symbol, which quickly led him to be called The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. In 1995 his beloved project was The Gold Experience was finally released by Warner Bros., but by that time it was all too late. Prince had already moved on to a new project: Emancipation. However, the argument with Warner Bros. meant the market was flooded with material by either Prince (B-material delivered to Warner Bros. to fulfill his contractual obligations) or O(+>. The seperation between the two may have been obvious to Prince/O(+>, but to the general audience this wasn’t that clear. It was confronted with several Prince releases in one year. Audiences became indifferent, sales plummeted and his reputation was up for grabs.

Februari 1996 saw Prince being, which was very very rare, very open in explaining his recent moves, regarding the argument with Warner Bros., the name-change and the coming Emancipation. a coherent story, which proved that a well-considered plan was behind it all.

Message from the Artist

Welcome 2 the Dawn. U have just accessed the O(+> experience.

On December 22, Paisley Park issued a press release that read as follows:

“O(+> has officially given notice to Warner Bros. Records (WBR) of his desire to terminate his recording agreement with the company.  Over the course of their nearly two decade long relationship, The Artist and WBR have developed irreconcilable differences.  Most recently, the unstable and ever changing management structure within WBR has made it impossible for the company to effectively market and promote its flagship artists, including O)+>.

The Artist is prepared to deliver the three (3) remaining albums under his former name Prince which will fulfill his contractual to WBR.  Currently, the albums are titled: Prince: The Vault – Volumes I, II and III.

O)+> will release a new recording entitled Emancipation once he is free from all ties with Time Warner.”

_______________________________________________________

The press release wasn’t very detailed, but it outlined my feelings as the Holiday week approached. While it was a message to everyone, it was more for the ears of the entertainment industry, and specifically it was geared towards the music industry and its musicians – both young and old, green and seasoned, struggling and successful.  These words from Paisley Park are from me.  My ultimate message is a cry for solidarity amongst artists and a reprieve from the greed of entertainment executives.

My message stems from a lifetime of  development as an artist and as a businessman, and my increasing awareness of a greedy structure within the music industry that unjustly rewards large, slow corporate management teams, while overlooking and not protecting its bread and butter – the artists.

As difficult as it is to admit now, when I began my career with Warner in 1978, I had a lot to learn. The transition into the artist I am now hasn’t been a smooth one. I don’t want other young artists to be mislead in the same way.  I’m expressing my feelings so that others will learn from my mistakes.  I also want all established artists to understand the issues and know that there should be a better way and to join with me to create that new path.

A little history:

At 37 years old, I have been a recording artist for Warner Music for what will be seventeen years this April. I was only 19 years old when I recorded my first album as Prince. Recording for a large label was new and exciting. I had an opportunity to reach millions of people around the world, not just my faithful following here in Minneapolis around the club scene. As time passed, the realities of the music industry and its current hierarchical pecking system sunk in.  Artists are last on the totem pole in terms of recoupment.

My path has been a long and arduous one.  In the beginning, both youth and excitement towards the opportunity to have an album produced made me, as Prince, naïve.  Saavy lawyers claiming to have my interest at heart, long in bed with the record companies they pimp, offered me what seemed to be a lucrative contract, without fully explaining the ramifications of its terms. I wrote an album a year for many years until I realized a trap had been laid. I would never be able to leave the legacy of my music to my family, my future children or anyone, because “Prince” did not own the Masters-I did not, and still do not, own my Art.

For most of all of my adult life, I have labored under one construct. I compose music, write lyrics, and produce songs for myself and others.  My creativity is my life; it is what guides my everyday, my sleepless nights. My songs are my children. I feel them. I watch them grow and I nurture them to maturity. I deliver them to my record company, and suddenly, they are no longer mine. The process is painful. I have been long ready for a new program. The time is now.

As an artist, I want to share my music with others. I crave the experience of writing and sharing with others. It is what I do as an artist; as a human being. I take pleasure in the fact that others are able to share in my joy once the process is complete. My fans are my children’s friends; I respect them and want to communicate with them.

As a businessman and the owner of NPG Records-the label that released The Most Beautiful Girl In The World -the 1994 Number One release by an independent, I realize that record companies are a natural part of the food chain. It is the record label that allows a musical artist to reach out to his or her audience, but that does not mean that whichever organization markets and distributes the music should own the final product, i.e. the Masters.

What I have learned as both an artist and a businessman is that a middle ground must be developed.  All artists, whether new or established, must have a substantial ownership interest in the music they create. Conversely, all record labels need an incentive to market music and push it thorough their distribution systems; still, that incentive should not be ultimate control. Record labels have no right to enslave the creators.

The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to {. Prince is the name that my Mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.

By my 35th birthday, June 7, 1993, I was beyond frustrated with my lack of control over my career and music. It seemed reminiscent of much that had been experienced by other African-Americans over last couple of hundred years. They had turned me into a slave and I wanted no more of it. The dilemma had only one clear solution. I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was {, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.  This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am.  It is my name.

I look forward to the release of Emancipation in the near future.  It will be The Dawn of the next phase of my life as a musician. It will represent my freedom from the past and it will be a continuum of what I have started here today. 

from The Dawn Staff @ Paisley Park

 

About The Dawn:

The Dawn is a part of where { believes the record industry is headed. In the internet environment, he will be able to communicate directly with people all over the world, and share with them first the latest to come out of NPG Records.  It will be a flexible and everchanging venue-shortly there will be catalogue audio and video clips, a chat room, and exclusive new music and video releases. We’ll continually update information from Paisley Park on tour dates and new additions to the NPG music family. 

Feel free to share any constructive comments and suggestions and please sign up for the giveaway in our guest book. In the various halls of The Galleria there will be exclusive merchandise from The New Power Generation Store located here in Minneapolis. Any purchase will automatically qualify you for The Dawn Giveaway.

 

Welcome 2 The Dawn

And then…

Emancipation celebrates, besides the ‘liberation’ of his Warner Bros. contract, particularly (his marriage to) Mayte Garcia. He also composed a lot of songs (ballads) for his child. Many songs on the album are related to these subjects.

In October 1996 (about a month prior to release) Prince & Mayte’s child, a boy named Boy Gregory, was born in a hospital in Minneapolis. Almost immediately the child was diagnosed with Pfeiffer Type 2 Syndroom, a rare congenital skull disease. Within a week the first and (as far as we know) only child Prince ever had, had died. The impact it must have had on Prince, his relationship to Mayte and the already planned press meetings, must have been unimaginable.

Prince on Oprah (chicagotribune.com)

Prince on Oprah

Just because this was to be his first release as a free artist, Prince was beyond mitivated to talk to the press. The uncertainty surrounding the health of his first-born end flat-out lying about it on the Oprah Winfrey show, was akward, at the very least. The fact that Prince, only a few days after the passing of his son, said that all is good, didn’t do right for his reputation.

Introduction to the album

Prince - Slave (cassette single) (princevault.com)

Prince – Slave (cassette single)

On his first release since his liberation, Prince went all-the-way. 3 cd’s, an hour in length each, filled with new music: 36 songs; just 3 songs I already knew. The songs Slave and New World were handed out for free at a Paisley Park show on December 9th 1995 on cassette. These songs were (made) available on the Internet later in the month. On New Year’s eve 1995 I downloaded the songs, using my telephone connection and modem, and heard them both. I liked them. I had heard Right Back Here In My Arms earlier on bootlegs. I thought it was a spectacular song.

The already mentioned Emancipation debut on November 12th 1996 (November 13th in the Netherlands) was fantastic: the album had to be wonderful. After the debut NPG Records issued the following press-statement on November 22nd 1996:

The Freedom Train Rolls In Minneapolis; Live Performance And Video Simulcast Via Satellite.

Chanhassen, Minneapolis – “Free at last! Free at last! God Almighty, we’re free at last!” was the chant that began the birth of the Emancipation era. Broadcast live around the world by MTV, VH1 and BET in a rare show of cross-network unity, delighted millions with a liberating performance at his Paisley Park Studios. celebrating both his artistic freedom and the November 19th release of his new album Emancipation on NPG records, and his four-piece New Power Generation band performed selections from the new album on a heavenly all-white soundstage. The half-hour long set included new album tracks “Jam Of The Year”, Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us”, and “Get Your Groove On”, as well as old favorites “Purple Rain” and “If I was Your Girlfriend”. The video for the first single, “Betcha By Golly Wow” (directed by ) kicked off the broadcast. Among those swaying in gleeful attendance and snacking on ‘s favorite cereal (Cap’n Crunch) were Boys II Men, Donatella Versace, Phish, Bill Belamy, Mavis Staples and D’Angelo.

It was very clear that Prince (desperately) wanted this project to succeed. In the time leading up to the release Prince made statements like The record I was born to make and If it’s not on this album, I can’t do it and accounts were made public about meetings with EMI staff, who burst out into a standing ovation after hearing The Holy River. It worked. I was extremely curious and could hardly wait for the album to be released.

Emancipation, the album

Prince - Emancipation (princevault.com)

Emancipation (album), 1996

I downloaded the 20 second teasers and then, well, then it was a letdown, a major letdown. Based on the 20 second clips, I came to the conclusion that all the hype surrounding the release was over the top. Lost and lots of ballads (not exactly my cup of tea) and a lot of R&B-like music (as it is, no problem, but this was all a bit pale) and, uniquely, for the first time a cover on a Prince album; not just one but four! I waited one week for the album to be released and it became clear to me that my initial assessment based on the soundclips was right. My review of the album at the time was called Emancipation? No, thank u!. The title says it all. Do I still feel the same way?

Originally my song verdict was 16 below average, 12 (below TafkaPrince) average and 8 great songs (containing 3 covers). In my June 22nd 2016 post Prince, the closing Emancipation is part of the list Nice-to-have albums. Two songs off the album are part of my Prince song top 20 of all time (zie Prince song top 50, numbers 25 to 11): Right Back Here In My Arms and The Love We Make. De other (12) good songs on this album are:

  • Jam of the Year;
  • White Mansion;
  • I Can’t Make U Love Me (cover);
  • In This Bed I Scream;
  • Sex in the Summer;
  • Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife;
  • Slave;
  • New World;
  • Face Down;
  • Style;
  • One of Us (cover);
  • Emancipation.

This boils down to 14 good songs. Half of them are place on disc III of the Emancipation set, which prompted Dutch magazine Nieuwe Revu to state that purchasing Emancipation got you two nice table-mats and, with disc III, one good new Prince record. That is a bit too harshly put. It does however state the level of expectations that were placed on new Prince material. Therefore, the disappointment was probably greater than the reality of Emancipation called for. But, to be fair, 14 good songs out of 36 is way too little. Fact remains that Emancipation would have made a killer single album. One can also admire Prince’s audacity of releasing a 3-hour album, at a time his career wasn’t exactly working out perfectly.

Note: the song In This Bed I Scream is meant as a rapprochement to Wendy & Lisa (and Susannah, former fiancée):
How did we ever lose communication?
How did we ever lose each other’s sound?
Baby, if you wanna, we can fix the situation
Maybe we can stop the rain from coming down

The song Sex In The Summer starts off with (recordings of) Baby Gregory’s heartbeat…

After

Prince on the Muppet Show (muppet.wikia.com)

Prince on the Muppet Show

Elaborate press campaigns were staged. The already mentioned interview with Oprah Winfrey, but also through other channels, which meant high profile visibility for Prince. Even the Muppet Show was on the press-schedule (!).

Emancipation Promo Poster (unknown)

Emancipation Promo Poster

This was noticeable in the Netherlands as well. The poster pictures here (on the right) was found hanging in a lot of bus/train-stops. On my regular train station on my way to work alone no less than 8 posters were put up.

The album sold good to very good in the US. For the first time since Around The World In A Day a Prince album fared better in thye US than Europe. After Emancipation the credit Prince had with the (writing) European press had largely vanished. In the US this was completely the other way round. The Jam Of The Year Tour, which followed the album’s release almost immediately and was only played in the US, was a very successful (strikingly, the tour contained very little songs off the new album; later on in his career Prince hardly ever played songs live off the album). This surely meant some kind of comeback for Prince, bearing in mind the commercial and critical disappointment of Chaos And Disorder earlier the same year.

The fact that the distribution of the album was separated from the ownership of the music was a novelty at the time (something he had been fighting for). Prince once mentioned that he made more money off Emancipation than he made off Purple Rain, which outsold Emancipation approximately 25 times.

The deal seemed to work like a charm, but EMI was declared bankrupt during the course of 1997, which obviously hurt Emancipation sales.

Around the time of Emancipation Prince made his first attempts on the Internet and experimented with offering music online. His website at the time, thedawn.com, was the first of a number of sites, which ultimately led to the NPG Music Club, the ultimate website and community (by Prince) that ever existed.

Prince - Welcome to the dawn (thedawn.com)

Prince – Welcome to the dawn

In closing

Despite the fact that the album, in my opinion, didn’t live up to its expectations, it’s an essential link in Prince’s career. Without Emancipation the future of online (music)marketing would have looked differently, and Prince would probably have never retreated to his niche during the period 2000/2001 to 2004/2005. The first possibilities became apparent around the release of Emancipation.

And yet this period leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It seems as if the project was doomed. The death of his child, the decline of his marriage, the bankruptcy of EMI. Maybe it’s the reason Prince rarely to never played songs in off the album in concert.

 

What do you think of Emancipation? Do you agree that this was the album Prince was born to make? Did he succeed?
Let me know!

 

2 comments

  1. Hamish Whitta

    Great article, I agree with much of what you have written.

    When Emancipation came out I was excited by the quantity of new music suddenly avaliable. In reality it was too much for me to digest all at once, and some of the songs slipped by me.

    Although it contains strong tracks and weaker tracks, I wouldn’t want any songs to be culled off it. It serves as a great overview of Prince’s output at the time, and even lesser tracks have their charm.

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a great article.

    -Hamish

    1. A Pop Life (Erwin Barendregt)

      Thank you!
      I wouldn’t want it any other form either. I agree that it stands for Prince at the time. Thtatvdocumnet shouldn’t be changed.
      Thank you so much for replying!

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