(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "KISS")
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A man, Prince, died a year ago today. It's an anniversary the world will not mark by hearing unreleased Prince songs. Six of them were to go out today until his estate sued, claiming the producer is not authorized to release the music. A judge has temporarily blocked that release. We're going to talk about it, though, with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson - is in our studios. Hi, Stephen.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. We should mention that of the six that are part of an EP, an extended play release, one single was published despite the order. It's called "Deliverance," and we're going to hear just a little bit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELIVERANCE")
PRINCE: (Singing) Deliverance is at hand, at hand. Deliverance.
INSKEEP: I like the sound of that.
THOMPSON: Yeah, I did, too. The song is from like 2006. It's a kind of a fusion, as you can hear, of rock and gospel, and it's - I think it's very soaring and stirring. And it's capturing that spiritual search that marked so much of Prince's life and music.
INSKEEP: And how much is known about the other five songs that haven't been released?
THOMPSON: Very little. You know, you can see lyrics floating around. There's not a lot of information about them.
INSKEEP: So it's not that this was like an album that was put together at one time. This is almost random bits of Prince that someone thinks are good that they've put together in this way.
THOMPSON: Well, they're from these sessions that were recorded between like 2006 and 2008. And this is clearly the material that was deemed up to snuff.
INSKEEP: Who is the producer who attempted to put this music out?
THOMPSON: It's a recording engineer named George Ian Boxill who worked with Prince during that period from like '06 to '08. He recorded and completed the tracks and is now releasing them saying that the world needs them.
INSKEEP: He says the world needs them. The family says something else.
THOMPSON: Yeah. The estate is saying that he does not own the songs...
THOMPSON: ...Which is a consideration in situations like these. They're saying that Boxill signed a record contract that he is now breaching. They also - I think - want and need to control Prince's recorded legacy. It's - that's their job, and it's hard to do that when you have sort of rogue actors taking it upon themselves to put that stuff out into the world.
INSKEEP: Is it just about money and control then as opposed to fearing that this music is terrible in some way or will make Prince seem worse?
THOMPSON: Yeah. I don't think - based on the quality of this song, I don't think it's necessarily a quality issue. I think it is about - certainly about money and control, but I think it's also about making - about managing Prince's legacy which is a huge and very difficult job.
INSKEEP: One other thing, when is it the right call to posthumously release songs by an artist?
THOMPSON: I mean, I think it's really hard to come down on that because you have so many different circumstances that go into not only a career but go into a death. You know, so you have cases where, you know, like where a lot of classic albums have come out this way posthumously that are vital to the rock and roll firmament - your Otis Redding and Tupac Shakur and Jimi Hendrix and Gram Parsons and Janis Joplin.
One of my favorites would be Johnny Cash who had a couple of albums come out after his death and which I think are beautiful. They're made with this incredible awareness of his looming mortality.
INSKEEP: Let's give some - give a listen to a little bit of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD'S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN")
JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) You can run on for a long time, run on for a long time, run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God'll cut you down. Sooner or later, God'll cut you down.
INSKEEP: The voice of Johnny Cash released posthumously. The voice of Prince, we don't quite have yet the posthumous music. But Stephen Thompson is telling us about it. Stephen, thanks very much.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.