Prince Lends a Hand to Hurricane Katrina Survivors With ‘S.S.T.’
Like millions of people around the world, Prince was affected by the plight of those in Hurricane Katrina's path. Unlike most, he was in a position to help do something about it — and so he did, writing, recording, and releasing his "S.S.T." track as a benefit single mere days after the hurricane wreaked its destruction.
Released as a download on Sept. 3, 2005 via Prince's NPG Music Club, "S.S.T." had several lives at retail, all with an eye toward raising money for relief. On Sept. 5, the song was made part of a Paisley Park download bundle that also included another benefit track, "Brand New Orleans," as well as the recording of "You Will Be Moved" that Mavis Staples cut for her 1993 Paisley Park LP The Voice. Finally, two months after the song's digital debut, "S.S.T." made its way to the CD single format.
According to Prince legend, during the days surrounding Katrina's landfall, he spent a lot of time listening to Sade's Promise LP, and was particularly inspired by the record's breakout single, "The Sweetest Taboo" — which ended up not only leading to the "S.S.T." acronym ("Sade's Sweetest Taboo"), but being referenced in the lyrics as well. "Who will b a guest in Ur tent? / R U gonna b happy with how Ur life is spent? / Did U have open arms 4 each and everybody U met?" Prince asks at one point in the song. "Or did U let them die in the rain / Endless war, poverty or hurricane? / It's time 4 another groove / Like Sade's Sweetest Taboo."
Hear Prince Perform "S.S.T."
While it's unclear how much money Prince's efforts helped raise for hurricane relief, the quick release of "S.S.T." and its attendant tracks were just one part of a career-long legacy of philanthropy — albeit one that remained largely unknown until after his sudden passing in 2016. As activist Van Jones told Rolling Stone, those behind-the-scenes efforts went hand in hand with Prince's artistic mission. "His cause was empowering and uplifting people," Jones argued. "That didn't stop when he walked off the stage or out of the studio. It was a current of genius trying to move the human heart."
"He wanted to be a catalyst for other people," added Prince's ex-wife, Manuela Testolini. "He would see a family on TV that was having trouble – they didn't have health insurance and had trouble meeting the needs of a sick child – and instead of saying, 'Wow, that's really sad,' he would leave a note on my desk saying, 'Call this TV station and find out where these people are so we can help them.' It was ongoing."