When Prince released Diamonds and Pearls in October 1991, it represented both a sea change and return to form.
The 13th album since his 1978 debut, Diamonds and Pearls was Prince's first release with the New Power Generation — a band formed with several musicians who toured with him in the years since the Revolution. Where the Revolution, which disbanded in 1986, was synth-heavy, NPG were more guitar and percussion-centric. The new group was anchored by Rosie Gaines, a powerhouse vocalist and songwriter from the Bay Area, and rapper Tony M.
Aesthetically, the holographic album cover — which depicts Prince in close contact with two new faux girlfriends named Diamond and Pearl — reflected the sensuality and excess long associated with the Purple One.
Fans devoured saucy singles such as the title track, "Gett Off," "Insatiable" and the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, hit "Cream." The title track was nominated for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal at the 35th GRAMMY Awards; "Gett Off" was nominated for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal the previous year.
Thirty-two years later, on Oct. 27, Paisley Park Enterprises, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Records will release remastered standard, deluxe and "super deluxe" versions of the album in digital and various physical formats on Sony’s Legacy Recordings. The latest of several posthumous album reissues, this new suite of Diamonds and Pearls releases include a variety of fresh amenities.
For example, the super deluxe edition includes 33 unreleased studio recordings, 14 live songs, 15 remastered singles (which include remixes and edits) and three hours of video, including a full live performance of the album at Glam Slam, Prince’s former Minneapolis nightclub. The album wasn’t accompanied by a tour in America, so it’s a show that Stateside fans never got to see.
"Prince collectors are excited about every release, though mileage varies," says Scott Woods, author of Prince and Little Weird Black Boy Gods. "The gold for collectors is really in unreleased material…. Even if you don't like Diamonds and Pearls, you have to love the dozens of unreleased tracks that come with it.
"I don't know most of the unreleased tracks, so it's about to be Christmas in October for me," Woods adds.
The unreleased songs provide a gift of insight into some of Prince’s musical interests that he explored in the early '90s, including hard guitar-driven rock, house, hip-hop and New Jack Swing. Yet the original release of Diamonds and Pearls showcases Prince's experimental nature.
"He took some chances — especially on me, to bring me into the fold," admits Tony M, a.k.a. Tony Mosley, the New Power Generation’s rapper who was also a dancer and appeared in Purple Rain. The pop community felt like Prince had ditched them and his fan base didn't want to hear rap, Mosley shared. "So how are we going to bridge this gap? There were plenty of times I felt like I was swinging at both sides."
Mosley co-wrote and/or appeared on several songs on Diamonds and Pearls, including "Gett Off," and he contributed heavily to several of the previously unreleased songs on the super deluxe edition. Many of the previously unreleased songs contain riffs and iterations of ideas that appear on the original album track listing, so listeners can get a notion of how he refined the known songs along the way.
Since Prince was notoriously guarded about all of the unreleased material in his vaunted Paisley Park vault, he may not have wanted his fans to hear some of the works in progress that are included in the super deluxe edition. But they offer a much-welcomed window into his creative processes that will strengthen a fan’s ardor for the artist.
"[Prince] was so protective and so reclusive on a lot of this stuff," Mosley says.
"Some of [the tracks], we were like, ‘Man, this is it, you need to drop this now!’ But it would never see the light of day. I’m glad, in the same breath, that some of these things are coming out, because you see a different side to him… it gives the fans an opportunity to see how he progressed and began to put songs together."
While none of the tracks were finished, the foundation was there, Mosley explained. "Once he brought in the musicians to expand upon the original idea, you start to see it flourish and grow and bloom into something totally different."
"I remember being fascinated with the rapper on the album, Tony M," Public Enemy frontman Chuck D wrote in an essay that accompanies the super deluxe edition called "He Taught Everyone You Can Never Make Too Much Music." "I thought he was just dope, thought what they were doing was funkier and more on point than anything that was going on in the rap circles and R&B at that moment, and they were on it.
"Prince definitely used rap as an instrument. He kept the tempos up and strong, and the music was giving it air and space, and I don’t think a lot of rap records were doing that," he continued.
The beyond-prolific Prince didn’t exactly have patience for the long album cycles that were typical from major labels of the era. While he was touring the Diamonds and Pearls album, he was writing songs that would appear on 1992’s Love Symbol.
"By the time [Diamonds and Pearls] came out, we had three more albums in the can and he was ready for the next project," Mosley recalls, "and I just remember listening to the argument over and over and over again. You know, Warner Brothers looks at it from a business perspective — they’re, like, ‘Dude, there’s five more singles on this album, we need to work this.’ And Prince was like, ‘I’m done, I’m ready to drop the next one.’"
Remembered for its nakedly brazen jams (and the accompanying assless outfits) as well as its super sweet ballads, Diamonds and Pearls remains a highly listenable effort among Prince’s vast discography.
"It holds its value," Mosley says of hearing the album today. "We were moving so fast at the time and we were just constantly recording and you didn’t really have time to sit back and reflect on what you had just created because he had moved on. So you had to move at that pace. When I go back and I start to listen to a lot of that stuff, I say, man, we really did some different things, some creative things.
"It was frustrating at times. But, he had his vision, and one thing he always schooled me to do and taught me along the way, he said, ‘Tony, I don’t write for everybody else, I write for me and what I’m feeling," Mosley recalls. "So when you write, don’t write to impress a certain demographic or community, write what comes from you.’"
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