When Prince suddenly and unexpectedly departed this thing called life in 2016, at the age of 57, he left behind one of the most impressive and prodigious bodies of work ever created by a musician. On top of the 39 hit-filled studio albums and five films he put out in his lifetime, legend has it that the Purple One also kept as many as 8,000 unreleased songs stored in a subterranean vault beneath his unique and secretive recording complex at Paisley Park, in the suburbs of his hometown Minneapolis.
In the five years since Prince’s death, his estate has been faced with the thorny question of what should be done with all this unheard music. Under the stewardship of Lady Gaga’s former manager Troy Carter, the archive itself was moved to Iron Mountain, a climate-controlled storage facility in Los Angeles, and a team of archivists were put together to sift through the material. Initial vault releases played it relatively safe: expanded versions of classic albums Purple Rain, 1999, and Sign o’ the Times, along with 2019’s Originals, a compilation of Prince’s demos of songs he wrote for other artists.
Then, last year, archivist Michael Howe stumbled across the holy grail: a complete yet unreleased Prince album. Howe has said he found a trio of CD-Rs with a tracklist written out in Prince’s own handwriting, along with a scrawled title: Welcome 2 America.