When Prince Gave Away ‘20Ten’ and Went to ‘Studio Rehab’
“Wouldn’t it be great if someone made an album and gave it away for free? Like air. You could just have it.”
Those were Prince’s paraphrased words in a Q magazine article in 1994, two years before he resisted music industry conventions and became independent from Warner Bros. During the '90s and early '00s, he experimented with unique methods for distributing his music, including CD-ROM, mail-order and internet streams and downloads — though a cost was almost always involved.
In 2004, he circumvented industry norms again by giving away his album, Musicology, with each concert ticket, and thus landing a No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 chart. (Billboard and SoundScan subsequently altered their methodology to give concertgoers the option to forego CD purchases with tickets moving forward.).
And on July 10, 2010 — 16 years after the Q interview — Prince gave away a free copy of his latest album, 20Ten, as a covermount with multiple European newspapers and magazines. Having declared the internet to be “completely over,” he did not make the project available online.
“It's the best way to go,” he told the U.K.’s Daily Mirror, which made copies available to 2.5 million readers. “No charts, no internet piracy and no stress.”
Three years earlier, Prince included free copies of Planet Earth in the U.K’s Mail on Sunday newspaper, much to the dismay of retail stores and his distributor, Columbia Records. But unlike 20Ten, the project was still available to buy in other places.
A mix of soul, R&B and pop, the music of 20Ten is largely a one-man operation, except for horn work by Maceo Parker, Greg Boyer and Ray Monteiro on “Compassion.” Prince solicits vocal assistance from the power of trio of Shelby J., Liv Warfield and Elisa Fiorillo Dease for most of the tracks.
The women’s lush harmonies especially stand out on “Future Soul Song,” “Sticky Like Glue” and “Act of God.” Prince would utilize them again on his final album, 2015’s HITnRUN Phase Two, calling both Shelby J. and Warfield “powerhouses” in an Ebony interview that year.
“It was such a fun experience,” Fiorillo Dease said in an interview with The Violet Reality. “He knew that Shelby’s, Liv’s and my personality was like the perfect meld. … Our voices blended perfectly. He knew what he was doing. We were his angels.”
Prince told the Daily Mirror that “Future Soul Song” was his favorite track on the album. “It was recorded as a demo years ago and the quintessential version will be after the audience knows the song and we record it live,” he said.
Prince also told Le Parisien that 20Ten was “a personal diary of the year.” His social commentary is most direct on “Act of God,” which tackles the bank bailout following the 2008 global financial crisis. He also yearns for escape on “Lavaux” — “Life back home depresses me,” he sings — and urges listeners to have empathy for each other on “Compassion.”
The year 2010 proved both busy and rewarding for Prince. In June, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards, where he wore a shirt with the album cover and title for 20Ten. In December, he kicked off his “Welcome 2 America” tour. (The first two Madison Square Garden shows sold out in 30 minutes.)
But after more than 30 years of releasing an album almost every year, he took a hiatus. His next two projects, PlectrumElectrum with 3rdEyeGirl and Art Official Age would come out four years later in 2014.
“I used to record something every day,” he told Rolling Stone that year. “I always tease that I have to go to studio rehab. … I had to see what it’s like to stop making albums.”
When Prince returned, he continued to make waves in the industry, reaching an agreement with Warner Bros. to finally own his master recordings, and teaming up with Jay-Z to distribute his music through the Tidal streaming service.
Still, there are some dreams he didn’t realize before his untimely death. Back in that 1994 interview with Q, he imagined unique partnerships between musicians and media.
“He speculates about producing music that you would listen to as you read this article,” journalist Adrian Deevoy wrote at the time.
“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” Prince said. “And although I am an artist without a contract, that’s just the sort of thing I can’t do.”
With 20Ten more readily available, we can help Prince fulfill his wish. Queue it up on Tidal, Spotify or Apple Music and give this article another read.
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