When I was invited to write a tribute regarding my favorite Prince album, my first thought was” Now how in the heck can I do that?” My next thought was, “Well, all of them.” I mean, how on earth do you determine which is your favorite out of all of those great albums? I mean GREAT albums. What other artist has his body of work categorized by “eras”? ( e.g., Purple Rain era, Slave era, Emancipation era, etc.)
So due to it seeming to be an overwhelming and impossible task, I just did not even allow myself to think about it. I would read the other great tributes and agreed with all of them. Hence, my dilemma remained. Then one day, out of the blue, it came to me. Emancipation. Because it is what freedom sounds like. It is what victory sounds like. Yes. For those reasons, Emancipation is my favorite Prince album.
Most Prince fans know about his highly publicized battle with Warner Brothers, which stretched out over a number of years. And, that was the period of time when Prince wrote “slave” on his cheek. The analogy to the word slave has not been fully explored in the truest and most raw form. And to do so, one must first get inside the mind of Prince, and listen and read his own words about his music.
He referred to his songs as his “children,” but like the real historical American slaves, he did not own his children, the slave-owner, (WB) owned them. And the master could do what he wanted with the children of slaves. Sell them off to never be seen or heard from again, and make a huge profit, while the parent remained in involuntary servitude, and without even an apology, let alone any sort of compensation.
So, knowing that Prince was super-intelligent, it is not a stretch to see that when he tried to own the masters of the songs he created, arranged and recorded, and tried to have a say, he would have felt that same anguish, frustration and anger. And, along with his knowledge of history, he equated his situation with the same as being a “slave.” Prince was also upset that the money he made was not sufficient as to royalties, etc. Thus, he was always trying to develop new ways to market his work directly to his fans.
The legal struggle was long, difficult, and arduous. After all, this was indeed Warner Brothers, an entertainment powerhouse which was also one of the original “founding families” of the Hollywood entertainment machine. So, his task was an uphill battle.
One can only imagine the songs which he created during that period of time which we would not hear until the legal battle was over. And then, one day, it was not only over, but he had won! And won a victory not only for himself, but for all artists. All artist to include those artists who prior to his birth and during the 1950’s and onward, had been cheated out of their earnings while the record companies made millions… Yet those artists passed away in obscure poverty, while their music lived on — profitably so — but their heirs received nothing. A symbolic victory for the travesty. Some even became footnotes in music history instead of the headliners which they should have been.
Even though historical slavery was based upon race, the servitude in the music history crossed those lines. White-owned record companies abused artists both White and Black. And, Black- owned record companies abused the Black artists who made mega millions for them. So what Prince accomplished was no small matter. It was a very big deal.
Suddenly, the “slave” was no longer a “slave” and he had the rights to retain his “children” and the power to exercise total “parental” control.
So against that backdrop, comes the album Emancipation, with songs he must have saved until he was in control. And most importantly was the song, “Emancipation”: “Break the chains.” One need only see the standing ovation he received at the NAACP Image Awards that gave him the 1997 “Key of Life” award. He appeared singing the song with his hands in chains, and finally breaking free of the chains. (See video below.)
The lyrics of Emancipation clearly express his jubilation.
“Free 2 do what I wanna.”
“Free – don’t think I ain’t!”
REAL freedom – he fought for it and he got it. He earned it and he deserved it. And, because of Prince, artists are now free. One need only listen to the intro by Stevie Wonder prior the Prince performance: the words “free” and “freedom” were emphasized.
Emancipation is my favorite album because there is absolutely nothing as beautiful, nor as exhilarating as the sound of victory and freedom.
Prince 1997 NAACP Image Awards:
© 2017 RayeEllen