A wide grin crept across the face of Morris Hayes as he settled into a chair in front of the "Studio B" soundboard at Paisley Park. The aura of his longtime friend, collaborator, and bandmate Prince Rogers Nelson hung in the air as Hayes cued up tracks from Prince's upcoming album "Welcome 2 America."
"[You] have to ease into it, you know," quipped Hayes, Prince's longtime keyboardist and musical director. Prince recorded the songs on "Welcome 2 America" in 2010, six years before his death, and tasked Hayes with adding production value to the album.
Hayes gave correspondent Jon Wertheim a preview of the music that is scheduled to be released this Friday, July 30.
"It's very raw," Hayes said about the new record. "With 'Welcome 2 America' it's a lot of different stories and the different songs, and everything just kind of has its own little chapter in the book."
Known for his prolific output and an infinite well of creativity, Prince was often an enigma to those outside his orbit. He frequently defied convention and the "Welcome 2 America" world tour was no exception. It started in 2010 and notably absent from the performances were songs from the album of the same name.
"We had been recording all of this material, and then we were going to do the tour and we did a photoshoot and when I looked at the songs we were going to be doing for the tour, none of the songs we have recorded were on that set list, like, none of them," said Shelby J., a longtime Prince vocalist who sang on the upcoming album.
Instead, the music was stowed in Prince's storied vault. Hayes said Prince once told him the trove of unreleased material was intended for his children. When he died at age 57, Prince was not married and left no will. There were no children to inherit the vault and its legacy. The Prince estate is now overseen by Comerica Bank while Prince's sister and five half-siblings wrangle in court for control of the musician's assets.
As for the new album, Hayes told Wertheim it features Prince's famous falsetto and one of the new tracks, "Born to Die," is a nod to the 1970s sound of Curtis Mayfield.
"Prince was very good friends with Dr. Cornel West," Hayes told Wertheim. "But there was this early footage of Dr. West talking about Curtis Mayfield and about the music of the struggle back in the day, in the '70s. And he said, 'Yeah, brother Prince is great but he's no Curtis Mayfield.' And Prince was like, 'Really?'…'So I set out to show him that I could do Curtis, you know, but Curtis can't do me.'"
The album "Welcome 2 America" is one of Prince's most political offerings. And his bandmates, now his musical successors, believe it is the perfect time to release the music.
"I just think 2010, it might not have been absorbed the way that it will be now, with everything we've been through in the last 10 years," said singer Shelby Johnson. "It's right on time."
The video above was originally published on April 11, 2021 and was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.
Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment/The Estate of Prince Rogers Nelson & Getty Images