Prince Predicts Fake News While Preaching ‘The Truth’
On Valentine’s Day 1997, Prince released the title track from his 21st album, The Truth. The song, paired with “Don’t Play Me,” was released via a limited edition mail-order CD single that is now a plum collector’s item for Prince completists. The accompanying full-length album wouldn’t actually reach fans for another year when it was included as a bonus disc to the 1998 vault clean-out, Crystal Ball.
While “The Truth” pre-dates the current political climate by 20 years, Prince saw the era of “fake news” on the horizon, “What if half the things ever said / Turned out 2 be a lie / How will U know the Truth?” In the next verse, he broadens the scope to address how lies can assuage the fear of death; as an ominous clock ticks down, Prince sings, “What If time's only reason / Was 2 give us all somethin' 2 fear'? And if so y'all, the end of the journey's so clear.”
In his book Prince: Life & Times, Jason Draper calls The Truth the best part of the Crystal Ball set, “The performances are more intimate than anything Prince had recorded in years.” James Hunter of Rolling Stone added, “On the title track of The Truth ..., the Artist comes off like Tracy Chapman's older brother, the formal genius, turning his meticulously natural singing voice to tough questions about responsibility and honesty.”
As the song closes, Prince (who privately supported a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors) envisions a world where everyone in the 1 percent shares the wealth, "If there was just one day / That everybody tell the truth / We'd all trade bank accounts and move 2 Neptune."
The Truth album was intended to be EMI’s follow-up to Emancipation, but that plan was scrapped when the label went under the following year. In his book, Picturing Prince, longtime Prince photographer and graphic designer Steve Parke laments the fate of the album that he designed the artwork for, artwork that never saw the light of day, “The Truth album is one of my favorites by Prince, a real sidestep towards acoustic that ditches a lot of his standard, go-to sounds.” While shooting Prince in a pinstripe suit for the album, Parke was treated to a private, gritty, 15-minute acoustic blues set. Afterward Parke asked Prince, “When are you going to put out an album that sounds like that?” Prince replied, “I’m saving it for when I’m old.”