A Prismatic Prince Shines Again On 'Welcome 2 America'

Jul 27, 2021
Originally published on July 28, 2021 12:48 am

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."

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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, HOST:

When Prince died, he left a vault, a literal bank vault, in his home studio complex, Paisley Park. Inside of that vault were an unknown number of songs, possibly thousands, that had never been released.

MORRIS HAYES: When I went to Paisley back in the early '90s, it was already full then.

KING: Then that's Morris Hayes. He was a keyboardist with Prince's band, the New Power Generation. And he collaborated with Prince for years after that. And then in 2016, when Prince died, his estate started going over all of those unreleased songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "WELCOME 2 AMERICA")

KING: On Friday, we get a new album. Prince and Morris Hayes produced it back in 2010 but never released it. It's called "Welcome 2 America."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME 2 AMERICA")

PRINCE: Welcome to America, where you can feel at your job, get fired, rehired and get a $700 billion tip.

KING: "Welcome 2 America" the song is a critique of capitalism and hypocrisy. It's a critique of the United States.

Morris Hayes says that even after he became a multimillionaire, Prince loved calling out hypocrisy, even to the most powerful people in the music industry.

HAYES: Like, we'd be at a Grammy party. And he'd have Jimmy Iovine, like, in a corner. Like, Jimmy, would you make your kids sign a contract? And Jimmy's like, oh, my God, Prince. We're at a party. We're having fun. And Prince was like, no. I want to know.

And, you know, he was relentless. And he would just finally get him to say, like, yeah, I wouldn't do it. And he said, that's all I want you to say, Jimmy. That's all. And he would do it at the most odd places at the most odd times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME 2 AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Hope and change.

PRINCE: Everything takes forever. And truth is a new minority.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Truth.

PRINCE: Oh, welcome to America.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Welcome.

KING: Tell me a little more about your collaboration. What role did you play here? What was the best part of it? What was the hardest part of it?

HAYES: Well, it was really interesting. When Prince called me to come in, you know, he had built me a house next door to his about a mile away from the studio. So I'd get a call like that all the time. Like this - come down and check something out he's been working on.

So what was different this time is he was sitting in his car in the parking lot. And he told me to hop in. And he starts playing this project. He says, I want you to produce it, co-produce it. And he said, just overdo it. I'll take away what I don't need. Don't worry about it. Just do your thing. And you could take it home. And I was like - I wanted to check his temperature. But he was like...

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: ...Yeah. So - because he's a, you know, micromanager. And he would be very impatient. And I would bring everything back in. And it was great because it was like opening a Christmas present every day. He - I'd take it in and then just 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PRINCE: (Singing) She tried to tell me before I cared (ph). She's said you miss her. And now she's scared. You can't mislead them, even though she young. She wants her freedom. She wants to run.

KING: You said he was a bit of a micromanager. You knew him for a very long time.

HAYES: Yeah.

KING: What was it like being in the studio with him?

HAYES: Well, it was intense. I mean, you know, it was fun at times. But he meant business, you know? He goes in - Prince would tell me all the time, everything that I do, Morris, I see it done in my head first.

KING: Ooh.

HAYES: And then I'm just executing what I'm doing at that point. So that's why he's so impatient is because he knows what he wants to happen. And so it can be very tense. It can be very fun. I mean, we've cut eight songs in a day. I mean, it's like, you know...

KING: Ooh.

HAYES: ...You have to keep up. What I just try to make sure is I'm not the problem.

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: You know? I recall the one song that - he's very good friends with Dr. Cornel West. And Prince with kind of binge on YouTube sometimes. And he would - he kind of went down a wormhole on Dr. West. He told me - he said, yeah, I saw Dr. West talking about Curtis Mayfield. And he said, you know, Brother Prince is great. But he's no Curtis Mayfield. And Prince was like, really? You know?

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: And - (laughter) - so he just - he said, I can do Curtis, but Curtis couldn't do me...

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: ...You know, that kind of thing. And he made this song as a kind of a hat tip to Dr. West - "Born 2 Die."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN 2 DIE")

PRINCE: (Singing) Ooh. Born to die, born to die - she sells everything A to Z - anything just to keep her free from the hustle of the streets...

KING: Why do you think in that particular case he said, you know what - 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 wanting to do it in the studio and kind of hovering?

HAYES: I think Prince had built up enough trust. I'd been around since the '80s. And I think - Prince would call me the glue because he said, Morris, you know what to do.

KING: Let me ask you a sensitive question. You've got a guy who's an artistic genius, right? 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?

HAYES: Well, I would disagree with the premise...

KING: OK.

HAYES: ...That he didn't want it out there. I asked Prince - I remember one time, we were in the car. We were in LA somewhere riding around. And he was very cheeky at times and would be like, (Imitating Prince) you know, Morris, I got these songs. And they're better than "Purple Rain."

And I'd be like, come on, man.

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: Get out of here. I'd say, Prince, that was at the zenith of your career. And he put this CD in and just blew me away. I was like, oh, my God. And so I said, Prince. Now notice I said we got to put this out. I said, we got to put it out.

KING: (Laughter).

HAYES: You know. It's we now. So - and so he was like, no. And I said, but why? I said, Prince, we'll be back. We'll be back, you know?

And he said, no, it's for my kids. I said, you don't have any kids. What he meant was he was building up a, you know, legacy for his kids, you know, that he thought he would have and that they...

KING: Oh.

HAYES: ...Would release it. But he built the vault to protect what he created. I don't know why he would build a vault to preserve this if he didn't plan on doing something with it. I think it was intended for it to be heard. Prince on his worst day was better than most people on their best day.

KING: Yeah.

HAYES: And so it's not like he has a bunch of duds laying around in the vault. That's great music in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE DAY WE WILL ALL B FREE")

PRINCE: (Singing) You go to bed just to learn it was all a dream - day after day, just yearning for something in between.

KING: That was Morris Hayes. He collaborated with Prince on an unreleased album back in 2010 called "Welcome 2 America." It's finally coming out this Friday.

Mr. Hayes, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

HAYES: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE DAY WE WILL ALL B FREE")

PRINCE: (Singing) But one day, one day, we'll all... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.