|“The Black Album” is the 16th full-length studio album by Prince. Officially, it has no title and no credited artist. It’s known as “The Black Album” due to its plain black sleeve, which contains no information apart from the catalogue number printed on the spine in peach letters. The sticker on the 1994 release labeled it “The legendary Black Album”. It was originally intended to be released on 8 December 1987, but was canceled at Prince’s request just prior to release (on 1 December 1987). It was finally given a limited release in November 1994 (just three months after his previous new release Come).
Sessions and compiling
The album is essentially a compilation of individual tracks; it was not recorded as a thematic album.
Rockhard In A Funky Place was the first to be recorded in October 1986 (and first placed on the unreleased Camille album). The bulk of the tracks were recorded between October 1986, and March 1987.
The final track recorded, When 2 R In Love, came much later, in October 1987. Thematically the song is very different to those recorded earlier, perhaps prompting Prince’s decision to keep it for use on Lovesexy.
While Warner Bros. were concerned about releasing the album in December 1987, only nine months after Sign O’ The Times, the album’s original cancellation was solely Prince’s decision. He felt the album was too negative and hateful, and not the message he wanted to release. He has spoken of a "dark night of the soul" where everything came to a head, prompting his cancellation of the album (close associates have discussed that this was a result of a one-time use of the drug ecstasy by Prince and the hallucinations caused by it).
Following the cancellation, Prince immediately began work on Lovesexy, which is commonly viewed as a direct response to “The Black Album”. Prince kept the track When 2 R In Love for Lovesexy; it was kept on “The Black Album” for its eventual release also, giving the track the distinction of the only recording to appear on two separate Prince studio albums in exactly the same form.
Prince referred to the album during the video for Alphabet St., where a message is written in the floating letters behind Prince: "Don’t buy “The Black Album” - I’m sorry". Despite Prince’s opposition to the album, however, he played songs from the album regularly on the Lovesexy Tour, during the first half of the show (focusing on Prince’s darker music).
1991 release project
A release for “The Black Album” was planned by Warner Bros. in 1991 as the second disc of a planned greatest hits package (following the relative commercial disappointment of Graffiti Bridge), but when Prince submitted Diamonds And Pearls, the planned greatest hits package was discarded.
Prince’s eventual motivation for the album’s release appears to have been financial, as he received around $1,000,000 for the release. His publicist stated that he was still "spiritually against" the album at the time.
The release was fairly low-key, and no singles were released from the album (although an all-black video with lyrics was produced for When 2 R In Love), but the album was widely regarded in the music industry and the music press as a legendary album. Due to the nature of its original release plan (no artist credit, no title etc.) and its cancellation at the last minute, the album was widely bootlegged, and is commonly regarded as the most heavily bootlegged album of all time, by any artist.
The 1994 release of the album reached number 47 on The Billboard 200, and number 18 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.