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A Prismatic Prince Shines Again On 'Welcome 2 America'

Recorded in 2010, Prince's <em>Welcome 2 America</em> is a previously unreleased, 12-track album.
Kevin Mazur
The Prince Estate
Recorded in 2010, Prince's Welcome 2 America is a previously unreleased, 12-track album.

When Prince died in 2016, he left a massive library of unreleased recordings at his studio Paisley Park, which his estate has been sorting through ever since. On July 30, the world will finally get to hear the album Welcome 2 America, a 2010 project from the artist's vault.

"Welcome 2 America / Where U can fail at Ur job, get fired, rehired / And get a 7 hundred billion dollar tip," the prescient icon speaks-sings with the cadence of a poet in the title track. "Come on in, sit right down / And fill up your pockets."

Although it was recorded over a decade ago, the album grapples with lingering issues like racial injustice and political corruption. Prince often spoke about systemic problems, especially within the music industry, says keyboardist Morris Hayes, a longtime collaborator and friend of the artist, in an interview with Noel King of Morning Edition. Although Prince was hugely successful, he was unafraid to confront the same system that benefited him financially, Hayes says.

But, Prince wasn't always deep in thought, reflecting on the state of the world. There was another side to him — "the side that was just purely fun," Hayes says. As a co-producer of the album, Hayes made sure to include the light and the heavy, the easy-listening and the thought-provoking.

"Prince always was about balance when it came to albums," Hayes says. "He looked at albums as stories. Like a book, it's got chapters, it's got ups and downs."

Listen to Noel King's full interview with Morris Hayes in the audio player above, and read on for highlights.

Noel King, Morning Edition: Tell me a little more about your collaboration. What role did you play here?

Morris Hayes: It was really interesting. When Prince called me to come in, it wasn't like any other call. He had built me a house next door to his, about a mile away from the studio. So I get a call like that all the time — come down and check something out he's been working on. But when I got there, he was sitting in his car in the parking lot and he told me to hop in. He starts playing this project. And what was really different is he told me you could take it home. He said, "I want you to produce it — co-produce it." And he said, "Just overdo it. I'll take away what I don't need. Just do your thing." And I was, like, I wanted to check his temperature! So, that was cool because he's a micromanager. He would stand over you and be very impatient. I was able to go home in my own studio and just, you know, listen to clap sounds over 20 minutes, which he would never do. That's like watching his beard grow, and he would never accept that. I would bring everything back in, and it was great because it was like opening a Christmas present every day. I'd take it in and see what his reaction was. And he didn't send me back home to fix anything, so I guess everything I took in, he liked.

[Prince] had a reputation for working fast, for being efficient. You said he was a bit of a micromanager. What was it like being in the studio with him?

It was fun at times, but he meant business. He's a taskmaster. Going in, he has in his head what he wants to do. Prince would tell me all the time, "I see it done in my head first, and then I'm just executing at that point." That's why he's so impatient, because he knows what he wants to happen and he knows that it can happen quickly. He's now just making sure all of us are on the same page with him.

Why do you think in that particular case he said, "Take this one home. You deal with it, bring it to me. I'll let you know what I like. I'll let you know what I don't." As opposed to hovering?

I think by this time — and this is 2010; I would leave two years later — I think Prince had built up enough trust. I'd been around since the [1980s]. Prince would call me "The Glue." Because he said, "Morris, you know what to do, just fill it up. You're the glue. Just put it together." I'm really grateful, though, because I do realize Prince has many, many hit records that he did himself. Didn't require me to do anything. That was just him being benevolent and being kind to me to allow me to work on this project. He didn't have to do it. He had plenty of musicians that he worked with. And so I was very honored to get to call.

Let me ask you a sensitive question. You've got a guy who's an artistic genius. And during his lifetime, he puts out the albums he wants and the songs he wants. And then he passes on, and we are now hearing songs that he did not mean for the world to hear, right? These were in the archive. He didn't release them during his lifetime, which I would think to mean he didn't want them out there. How do you feel about all that?

Well, I would disagree with the premise that he didn't want it out there. I remember one time we were in the car — we were in LA somewhere riding around — and Prince was telling me, (you know, he was very cheeky at times), "Morris, I got these songs and they're better than 'Purple Rain!' " I'd be, like, "Come on, get out of here! That was at the zenith of your career!" And he put this CD in, and it just blew me away. ... At the end of the day, I can't say exactly what Prince would do. I don't think anybody can because he just kind of went as he felt like it. But I think if I had to go on what happened historically with me and what he said to me, I would think at some point he did intend for it to come out.

Do you miss him?

Oh, my gosh, all the time! I can't even tell you how many times I'll be in a store, driving my car, sitting in traffic — and somebody else's car pulls up, and Prince's music is playing. It happens all the time. And you can't look at the color purple without invoking the memory of Prince for me. He was my friend. He was my brother. He was my boss. And I have a huge amount of respect.

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Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Phil Harrell is a producer with Morning Edition, NPR's award-winning newsmagazine. He has been at NPR since 1999.
Kelley Dickens