Prince’s new album “Welcome 2 America” was recorded in 2010 — but it sure sounds like a sign of these times.
Indeed, the latest posthumous release from His Royal Badness — which drops from the purple heavens Friday — feels like a socially conscious statement made in response to the Black Lives Matter movement that stepped up in 2020.
“I swear that he’s speaking from the grave,” said Elisa Fiorillo, who, as a member of Prince’s NPG (New Power Generation) band, sang background vocals throughout the LP. “Now I listen to it, and I get it more than I did when I sang it, which is crazy. It’s like he read into the future.”
And 11 years after making “Welcome 2 America,” a prescient Prince has aligned himself with a different kind of revolution on songs such as “Running Game (Son of a Slave Master),” “One Day We’ll All B Free” and “Stand Up and B Strong.”
On the latter, Prince captures the BLM spirit of defiance and perseverance in the face of injustice: “Your knees get weak … Your heart grows cold/You’re tired of doing everything that you’re told,” he sings before leading a rousing call to “stand up and be strong.”
“With the album coming out now, it’s almost like what everyone needs to hear,” said Tal Wilkenfeld, who played bass during the March and April 2010 recording sessions. “He was very focused on the socio-political climate … He really cared to have a voice in what was happening in the world at large and make change.”
Liv Warfield — another NPG background singer who lent her voice to “Welcome 2 America” — said that Prince’s must-get message is to “wake up to everything around you.”
“I remember him saying, ‘Man, it’s feeling like the ’60s all over again,’ ” said Warfield. “We’re still fighting.”
As for why Prince didn’t release this protest music years ago, Warfield said, “I don’t think people were ready. The world wasn’t ready.” But, Fiorillo added, “he knew that eventually there’d be a time [for the album].”
While “Welcome 2 America” deals with some serious social issues — racial and beyond — making the album was funky fun. “He didn’t tell me what to play ever. It was like, ‘I want your voice on my record,’ ” said Wilkenfeld. “We’d do one, maybe two takes of everything, and that was it … It was off-the-cuff, it was spontaneous, it was raw, it was unrehearsed.”
Fiorillo recalled that the background vocalists would road-test the new music in Prince’s black Mercedes SUV, with the Purple One driving them around Minneapolis. “When we finished the songs,” she said, “we’d always go in the car to listen to the mixes.”
But for Fiorillo, the most special moment came when Prince — who she calls “her brother from another mother” — played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on guitar for her then 3-year-old daughter Olivia as the little girl sang along. “He made it very clear that he didn’t want me to leave my daughter at home all the time, that she would definitely be invited to [Paisley Park Studios],” she said. “That meant a lot to me.”
Warfield, who describes the NPG as a “huge family” — it even once included Prince’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia — said that her former boss was totally in touch with his inner child. “He was very much a kid inside,” she said. “He really loved to have fun, loved to crack jokes on folks, loved to clown, loved to play games. He loved playing ping-pong.”
Having “Welcome 2 America” come out five years after Prince’s death is bittersweet for Wilkenfeld: “I just wish he was here, you know? It’s so close to home, just all the memories flooding in of us making it … But I’m glad everyone gets to hear it.”