Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Originally scheduled for release in November of 1987 -- following the double-album Sign o' the Times by a matter of months -- Prince pulled The Black Album weeks before its release, guaranteeing it near-mythic status. Urban legends spread like wildfire: Prince believed it was too bleak to release; Warner Bros. balked at its explicit lyrics; no CDs were ever pressed, and all the LPs were destroyed. That final rumor was certainly untrue, since bootlegs immediately appeared, and when it finally received official release in the fall of 1994, nearly every die-hard fan already had the record. That limited-edition release of The Black Album turned out to be a bit anti-climatic, since the album itself isn't a lost masterwork -- it's fun, but not much more. If anything, it's a little labored, as Prince works hard to win back the black audience he willfully abandoned after Purple Rain. So, he serves up "When 2 R in Love," an urban ballad every bit as nondescript as the genre, and offers "Dead on It," trying to one-up rappers with a mocking attack that winds up as one of the lamest things he ever waxed. The rest of the eight-song album is brilliant, pure funk, ranging from the unrelenting "Le Grind," a deliriously lustful plea to supermodel Cindy Crawford; the hyper-tense James Brown workout "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton"; to "Bob George," a perverse tale of a macho lunkhead (Prince, electronically affecting a deep, idiotic drawl) who discovers his lady just slept with Prince -- or "that skinny motherf*cker with a high voice," as Bob calls him. All this may not add up to a lost classic, but it is a terrific little record that still delights, even after its mystique has faded.