Prince's 'Welcome 2 America' Is a Fantastic Album He Probably Wouldn't Want You to Hear
Published Jul 27, 2021In the modern music landscape, few things are as polarizing as the posthumous release. Most of the time, unfinished music gets pieced together and rushed out for major record labels to profit off an artist's passing, discarding their vision and leaving fans conflicted as the label lines their pockets. Despite that, every so often, a posthumous album is given the proper care and respect by the team handling it, as they cater to the artist's original vision delivering a beautiful send-off for a fallen icon. The latest posthumous release from the legendary Prince exists somewhere in the middle.
Welcome 2 America was initially produced in 2010 — it's unclear exactly why the album was initially shelved but, given that that time period was a low point in Prince's career as a studio artist, the possibilities are endless. Between the battles with labels, obscure methods of distributing his music and a string of lacklustre albums that was punctuated by 2010's 20TEN, it makes sense that maybe he needed to take a step back and re-evaluate things — but it's a shame that he did.
Welcome 2 America is a fantastic record. From the outset, its atmosphere is smooth, sexy, funky and cosmic as Prince casts an ominous and revealing light on America and its true nature in the modern world. Even though this album was recorded throughout the 2000s and completed 11 years ago, it's an incredibly relevant work that shows just how transcendental Prince remains five years after his death. As an artist, he'd transcended almost any label cast upon him — he defied the gender binary and created music without genre — but after hearing this, it's clear that he transcends time. The stories and made observations on his surroundings that he made on this album are even more relevant today than when they were recorded.
It's an incredibly impressive collection of songs, especially considering the era in which it was initially set to be released. It's a nearly flawless tracklist, with the only real weak point being "1010 (Rin Tin Tin)," though it's not quite bad enough to ruin the experience or break up the album's flow. For an artist who was seemingly in a pretty substantial lull, to be able to make what would've been easily his best album in decades just speaks to Prince's mastery of his craft — his decision to shelve it just speaks to how enigmatic a character he was.
Despite how fantastic this album is for the most part, there is an incredibly dark cloud cast over the music. This is due to the undeniable fact that Prince would never have wanted a label owning, distributing and profiting off of his art, and it's a sentiment that he expresses on this very LP. The track "Running Game (Son of a Slave Master)" sees Prince exploring his feelings on being a Black artist in the predominantly white music industry. He discusses the greed and deceit of record labels, describing the record executive as the "son of a slave master, keeping it going." It's a gorgeous, powerful track with lush, layered instrumentation from the funky bassline to plucky guitar riffs that echo throughout, accenting every lyric. It's a message that becomes even more powerful in the context of his third full-length posthumous release in less than four years.
This is where the disconnect with this record occurs. Prince was notoriously against record labels and the way they treat artists and their art as products for profit. Yet, since his death, the floodgates have opened on his mythical vault of unreleased music. We've seen the aforementioned three full-length posthumous releases — Welcome 2 America, live album Piano & a Microphone: 1983, and demos collection Originals — alongside expansive deluxe reissues of 1999 and Purple Rain (with over 80 unreleased songs and demos between them). It's a very clear disregard for the wishes of an artist who was known for being a meticulous perfectionist with an insurmountable level of talent and incredible vision.
This is the biggest thing going against an otherwise formidable piece of art, and it's neither Prince's nor the album's fault. Welcome 2 America is nothing short of incredible — it's a '70s funk- and soul-inspired ride that is equally rich in thought-provoking content and magnificent musical mastery. It's an album that had a clear vision and direction and was well on its way to completion when Prince passed, and it was put together incredibly well by Legacy Recordings afterward. But it's nevertheless conflicting to hear the emotion Prince puts into songs like the title track and "Running Game (Son of a Slave Master)" just to have himself proven right once again, with the release of that very music.
Welcome 2 America is an incredible listen and an album that proves that even when Prince had reached his lowest point, he was still capable of creating magic. It's a tight, concise body of work that is a few missteps short of perfection but is still far and away his best release since 1987's Sign o' the Times. Almost every song here is fully fleshed-out, with glorious, funk-driven instrumentation that takes cues from the classics while being injected with Prince's inimitable flare. It's a wonderful experience to hear 'new' Prince music that finds him in rare form once again — it just feels wrong knowing that he probably wouldn't want us to. (Legacy)