The Dark History of Prince’s Black Album

Prince testified to temptation in The Funk Bible. Original Prince Black Album hits auction block.

Prince had channeled so many artists through his fingers, and his pants, and The Black Album sounded like he was updating Sly and the Family Stone, not just any sly either. Prince was thanking Africa for talking to him. The Black Album, aka The Funk Bible, was Prince’s sixteenth studio album. Prince originally planned for release on December 8, 1987, as the follow-up to Sign o’ the Times, Warner Bros didn’t release it until November 22, 1994 when it came out as a limited edition CD and cassette.

One of eight known original pressings of Prince’s 1987 U.S. first pressing of The Black Album is available at an upcoming auction by Boston-based RR Auction. It is still factory sealed in its original shrink-wrap. It still has the late eighties “Explicit Lyrics, Parental Advisory” sticker. It includes drafted lyrics for “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” handwritten by Prince himself.  

The Black Album wasn’t actually titled “The Black Album,” much like The Beatles’ “White Album” is actually entitled The Beatles. The cover sleeve was entirely black. Prince didn’t even put his name on it. There was a hidden message buried in the mix, at the beginning of the first song “Le Grind,” that hinted the title was The Funk Bible, but the album was just black.

The album wasn’t the first Prince held back from release. Before Prince changed his name to an androgynous symbol, he took on a feminine alter ego named Camille and recorded the album Camille.  It was intended to be released in 1986, but went into the vault.

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Prince recalled The Black Album after 500.000 copies were pressed and 100 European promo copies were sent out. He said it was too evil to go into circulation He said he recorded it while possessed by a demonic entity he called Spooky Electric, a fantastic album title in itself, that was conjured by Camille. Some reports say Prince, who was anti-drug and fined his musicians if they showed up high, had his epiphany while on MDMA on “Blue Tuesday,” the night he met singer Ingrid Chavez.

Minneapolis-based poet Chavez, who co-wrote Madonna’s hypnotic “Justify my Love” with Lenny Kravitz, would go on to play the waif in Grafitti Bridge. Prince called Chavez the “Spirit Child, inspiring Lovesexy. He would produce her May 19, 1992 album. She released A Flutter and Some Words on January 25, 2010. But on Blue Tuesday, Chavez awakened an urgency in Prince.

“I suddenly realized that we can die at any moment,” Prince wrote in the Lovesexy tour program. “And we’d be judged by the last thing.”

Brought up by devout Seventh-day Adventist parents, Prince mixed sex and religion in a musical embrace throughout his career. On the 1981 song “Controversy,” he aks “am I straight or gay?” before looking to the good book for answers by reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” The album Sign O’ the Times includes the song “The Cross.” 

“There is no doubt that Prince was a genius and a visionary,” says Lilith Dorsey editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly, director of the documentary Bodies of Water: Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation, and author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism and The African-American Ritual Cookbook.

“He was tapped into something for sure, but what it really was is anyone’s guess. Like attracts like, and his talent drew blessings from this world and the next. Prince walked between these worlds, black and white, straight or gay, just like the song says. I can’t make a definitive statement about electric demons, but I can say that his later work which was much more Christian, as opposed to ‘Annie Christian,’ seemed to be denying his occult/alternative side.”

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Prince discovered the Jehovah’s Witness beliefs through Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham after Prince and Mayte Garcia-Nelson’s son Amiir was born a month early on October 16, 1996, died of breathing difficulties seven days later.

“Prince always had an interest in the voodoo of Africa but after he became a Jehovah’s Witness he was in total denial,” says Rev. Payshence Smith, who holds Doctorates in Metaphysics and Religious Sciences from the ULC in Modesto, California. “After he became a Jehovah’s Witness he didn’t want the album released because they don’t believe in homosexuality.”

The Black Album was a response to the double album Sign ‘O’ The Times, which didn’t sell well, He had also been hit by critics who said he was too poppy. He needed to re-establish street cred. The Black Album includes older material from the vault, mixed with new songs like “When 2 R In Love.”

The Black Album became the most bootlegged album ever. This writer got his copy on cassette. The last of five sealed copies of The Black Album was recently discovered in the collection of a former Warner Bros. Records executive. Before that only three copies of the U.S. pressing were around. The auctioned copy includes a letter of authenticity from Jeff Gold, the owner of Recordmecca and a former executive vice president/general manager of Warner Bros. Records, who worked closely with Prince during the 1990s.

“After opening one copy and confirming it was a genuine 1987 first pressing, they contacted me, a friend and former Warner Bros. colleague,” Gold writes. “The family decided to keep the open copy, but sell the remaining copies through Recordmecca. After a magazine wrote an article about the discovery, the story went viral, and the three sealed copies for sale were sold within 24 hours. The copy here is the final sealed copy, in perfect condition.”

The album is part of RR Auction’s Prince Collection, which includes stage-worn clothing like purple boots and custom-made high-heeled shoes, jewelry, and autographed photos.

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“From the time he exploded onto the music scene in 1978 with his debut album For You, until his untimely death in 2016, Prince reigned over the landscape of modern music in a way few have before or after,” reads the RR Auction’s statement.

“With his unparalleled virtuosity as a prolific singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electric live performer and even fashion icon, Prince leaves behind a legacy of chart-topping and record-smashing success. His legions of fans worldwide still mourn the loss of his larger-than-life talent.”

The auction also includes the purple upright piano that the touring crew of Earth, Wind & Fire gave Prince as a gift. 

“It was in Los Angeles that Prince most frequently played this piano—he spent many, many hours at these keys,” reads the description. “He would wake up in the middle of the night, saying that God dropped songs on him that needed to be played then and there, no matter what.”

They are also auctioning off Prince’s handwritten working script for the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon, the microphone he sang through on the 1984-85 Purple Rain tour, the purple pants he wore occasionally from 1982 to 1985.

The Prince Auction is taking online bidding until February 15.

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