Prince's final studio project, the unreleased Black is the New Black, found him crafting an uncompromising blend of rock, jazz and soul – and opening himself up to true collaboration.

"I think that at that point in his life, Prince wasn’t aiming to please anybody," recalls saxophonist Adrian Crutchfield, who performed on Prince's last four officially released studio albums. "He just wanted to play music that he wanted to play. Black Is the New Black was Prince innovating and experimenting without having to explain it to anybody. It was fusion. It was jazz, but it was Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone, too. It was all the music genres he enjoyed, all tied in together."

Black is the New Black was recorded between late 2015 and early 2016, according to PrinceVault, and stands as the final studio project Prince worked on before his 2016 death. It was to be credited to bassist MonoNeon (who played on the record alongside Prince), Crutchfield and drummer Kirk Johnson. MonoNeon's real name is Dywane Thomas Jr.

"At the time, Prince had a new protege named Judith Hill. He was putting Judith’s band together, which included bassist MonoNeon, a few of the horns from NPG Hornz, and Minneapolis guitarist/singer Jesse Larson who was on The Voice," Crutchfield explains. "In 2015, I ended up leaving and going on tour with Bette Midler, because Prince was doing more touring with [backing band] 3rd Eye Girl than he was with the NPG. Once the Bette Midler tour was over, Prince called me back to Paisley Park."

"At this time, it was a much different scene," Crutchfield adds. "Instead of a massive band, it scaled down to me, MonoNeon, Kirk Johnson on drums and Prince. That was the beginning of Black Is the New Black. It was just the four of us, and we recorded eight or nine songs. They were all really killin’, really hip. They were songs that everybody could get into, not just the jazz heads, the funk heads, the rockers or the urban music people. Everybody would appreciate them. Black Is the New Black wasn’t necessarily Prince’s jazz album, but it was the essence of what jazz is supposed to be."

Listen to 'Ruff Enuff' by MonoNeon With Prince

One track from the sessions, "Ruff Enuff," was released via Tidal in January 2016, and a snippet of another, "Soul Patch," was shared by Prince on Instagram. PrinceVault speculates that a version of the stand-alone Prince single "Free Urself" was also destined for the album.

Crutchfield fondly remembers the true collaborative spirit Prince shared with his fellow musicians during his unexpected final years. "It wasn’t just him," he says. "We were writing with him. To my knowledge this was one of the first times where he was opening up, allowing people to co-create with him. If you look at (2015's) HITnRUN: Phase Two, he actually gave us credit on the record. Usually on a Prince record, it says 'performed and recorded by Prince.' On this one he gave us credit, not only for playing, but also for arranging. So, I think he was at a different point in his life where he wanted to co-create with people."

Listen to Prince Perform 'Free Urself'

 

 

Prince Year by Year: 1977-2016 Photographs