Death is not an end, but a beginning. Prince Rogers Nelson believed that in his bones. So it was that the night Prince died, a new era, the era of the vault, began.
By the time Prince was 40, he had written and recorded more songs than any artist could possibly release in a lifetime. Material, it seems, is the musical genius’s burden. To house all of his unreleased recordings, Prince constructed a vault in the basement of his Paisley Park complex in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Legend has it that as many as 8,000 songs are stored in the vault. For diehard Prince fans, the vault has been like an insurance plan — a way of guaranteeing the artist’s eternity, despite his premature death. At the same time, the vault has been frustratingly impenetrable and almost impossible to make sense of, especially considering the legal battles that have enveloped it ever since Prince died without a will in 2016.
On Sunday night’s episode of “60 Minutes,” correspondent Jon Wortheim dug into the vault’s status with a brief segment tied to the upcoming release of Welcome 2 America — the first release of a standalone Prince album that is comprised of new and original material. Previously, Prince’s estate only put out deluxe versions of some of the artist’s biggest albums, like 1999 and Sign o’ the Times, or compilations like Originals which was made up of Prince’s recordings of hits that he wrote for other artists.
The segment revealed that in its current state, Prince’s vault is more of a minefield than a treasure chest. The challenge, Wortheim summarized, is “monetizing the catalogue while still trying to do right by Prince.” That enormous task has been left to Troy Carter, a former Spotify executive and Lady Gaga’s previous manager. Since joining Prince’s estate in 2018, Carter has overseen the relocation of the majority of the vault’s contents from Paisley Park to Iron Mountain, a climate-controlled storage facility in Los Angeles, and created a team of archivists whose job it is to propose new releases of vault material.
Carter joked with Wortheim about the pressure of the job. “I want to make sure that Prince isn’t somewhere in heaven giving me the side eye.” In that spirit, the upcoming release of Welcome 2 America is an important first test, and according to Carter, the judges will be the Prince fans who think they have heard everything.“Whenever we can find things that the fans haven’t heard, it’s like a victory,” explained Carter. With it’s 10 previously unreleased tracks, Carter is hoping Welcome 2 America is a win.
The album is one of Prince’s more politically-charged works. It covers current issues like police brutality and disinformation which fewer people were discussing when Prince recorded the album a decade ago. “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 to Jon Wortheim. “It’s right on time.”
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