When Prince Officially Filed for Divorce from Warner Bros.
The end of Prince's tenure with Warner Bros. Records was very much like a divorce, right down to a document citing "irreconcilable differences."
Prince confirmed that he was terminating his recording contract via a terse Dec. 22, 1995 news release: "Over the course of their nearly two-decade long relationship, [Prince] and WBR have developed irreconcilable differences," the statement said, adding that Prince was "prepared to deliver the three remaining albums ... which will fulfill his contractual to WBR."
Like most marital splits, this one happened slowly and then all at once. Prince had already begun openly complaining about his label, had threatened to retire, had scrawled "slave" on his cheek during a televised performance, had changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. It's not like everyone couldn't see this one coming.
Still, making things official gave Prince one more opportunity to make his case. He later took to his then-newly launched former website, called TheDawn.com, to make clear what drove him from the only recording home he'd ever known.
"The press release wasn't very detailed, but it outlined my feelings as the holiday week approached," Prince said in a statement posted in February 1996. "While it was a message to everyone, it was more for the ears of the entertainment industry, and specifically it was geared towards the music industry and its musicians – both young and old, green and seasoned, struggling and successful. ... My ultimate message is a cry for solidarity amongst artists and a reprieve from the greed of entertainment executives."
Helpless to stop him, Warner Bros. didn't immediately respond. They'd have to make do with the additional albums, which the original news statement said were tentatively titled The Vault – Volumes I, II and III. Those, Prince added, would be followed by "a new recording entitled Emancipation, once he is free from all ties" with his former label.
"My path has been a long and arduous one," Prince said in the follow-up message posted to TheDawn.com. "In the beginning, both youth and excitement towards the opportunity to have an album produced made me, as Prince, naive. Savvy lawyers claiming to have my interest at heart, long in bed with the record companies they pimp, offered me what seemed to be a lucrative contract, without fully explaining the ramifications of its terms. I wrote an album a year for many years, until I realized a trap had been laid. I would never be able to leave the legacy of my music to my family, my future children or anyone, because 'Prince' did not own the masters – I did not, and still do not, own my art."
It remains unclear if Prince meant for The Vault - Volumes I, II and III to be released together or as separate LPs. Either way, he actually only had two studio projects left to complete his original six-album August 1992 deal, since Warner Bros. had already issued Love Symbol, Come, The Black Album and The Gold Experience.
Prince ultimately submitted a pair of archival releases in April 1996 – and only one explicitly referenced his legendary backlog of songs. Chaos and Disorder followed in the summer of 1996, but Warner Bros. decided to hold back the second album. The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale didn't arrive until 1999. By then, Prince was well into his new phase, releasing Emancipation later in 1996 and then Crystal Ball in early 1998.
He didn't issue another album on Warner Bros. until signing a new deal before 2014's Plectrumelectrum – and this time, he kept his master tapes.
"What I have learned as both an artist and a businessman is that a middle ground must be developed," Prince added. "All artists, whether new or established, must have a substantial ownership interest in the music they create. Conversely, all record labels need an incentive to market music and push it through their distribution systems; still, that incentive should not be ultimate control. Record labels have no right to enslave the creators."
Prince continued developing music for the Warner Bros. vault releases, despite their difficult and very public separation. Six of the songs included on Chaos and Disorder and The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale were recorded following the official separation announcement in December 1995.