Never turn down an invitation to Paisley Park Studios. Days after receiving an invite to speak with 25-year-old producer Joshua Welton about HitNRun—next month’s Prince album, streaming exclusively on Jay Z’s Tidal service starting September 7—I made my first speedy pilgrimage to Minneapolis. Last year, Prince unveiled the 3rdeyegirl power trio (guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Kristine Nielsen and drummer Hannah Welton), his first new band since the New Power Generation debuted in 1990. PlectrumElectrum by Prince & 3rdeyegirl dropped alongside Prince’s Welton-coproduced Art Official Age last September. Both albums marked Prince’s most exciting work since his 1996 triple album, Emancipation.
“So when he comes in here, you can just hide that phone,” Welton advised with a laugh. After a run-through of HitNRun (a particularly funky, powerful album with guest appearances by Rita Ora and Judith Hill) and a quick interview, Prince came down to Studio B for a few surprise words about Tidal, music streaming and the record industry. He wore purple and gold like the Minnesota Vikings, MPLS emblazoned across his zip-down jacket. His Afro was back to its 1979 For You fullness. He was laid-back, full of conversation and, as usual, averse to being officially recorded for this exclusive EBONY.com interview.
EBONY: What made you decide to move your catalog to Tidal and away from the other streaming services, and why is HitNRun about to be exclusively available on Tidal?
Prince: Tidal is a new company, it’s brand new. They’re just getting their footing, and I think when there’s a company like that, or the OWN network—situations where we finally get into a position to run things—we all should help. It’s been a lot of fun.
We’ve changed the format of how our music appears. Where it would normally say “RELATED” and have a bunch of random stuff pop up—I love D’Angelo but he’s just getting started, he came way after—what we did is we changed that to INFLUENCES. Then all these black and white pictures come up and you can go back and look at all the people who influenced me. Then in each one of those situations, Tidal allowed us to go and work on those pages.
That’s the problem with these formats is that there’s a lot of laziness out there. They have to do so much, so a lot of times it’s just a program. It’s an algorithm. I didn’t want to be a part of that.
EBONY: What is your perfect model of the music industry? You’ve been vocal about the changes it needs to make for decades now.
Prince: Technology is getting all of humanity to the point where we’re gonna be able to dial up our own experience here. So I may have a version of it, and Jay Z may have a version of it, and Kendrick Lamar may have a version of it. There isn’t gonna be one size fits all. You could see that with hip-hop, really. They didn’t say “courtesy of,” they just jumped on people’s records when they felt like it. You’re talking about grown men asking another grown man permission to sing. So yeah, there is no perfect.
Different situations call for a different approach, a different set up. The Musicology Tour for example, when we bundled the record with the tour, it was perfect for that time.
EBONY: We’ve got this rare audience with you. What would you most like to express to the EBONY readership at the moment?
Prince: I’ve always made it a point when I’ve spoken with EBONY to encourage ownership. Because we can look at situations, with Tidal for example. Apple, Pandora, Rhapsody, Deezer, when you give them your record, you might get paid six months later. Beyoncé, her last album came out, $18 million went into the kitty the very next day. She didn’t get that money. She got paid on a royalty scale, just like all the other artists. That’s what I’m talking about.
LeBron James, his deal is a completely designer deal, completely different than any other basketball player. So that’s what we need for the future. To stay afloat, it’s gonna need the Kanye Wests and the Kendricks and people like that who can make product and get people excited about stuff. And they’re going to dictate what the deal is gonna look like. And that’s what’s fun about the times now.
Miles Marshall Lewis is the Arts & Culture Editor of EBONY.com. He’s also the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Follow MML on Twitter and Instagram @furthermucker.