Album Review: Prince’s ‘HITNRUN: Phase Two’

If there’s one thing we can always expect from Prince, it is the unexpected. While his entire career has been a case study in marvelous unpredictability, the past few years have been especially rich with intriguing capers; from spontaneous performances to cool awards show cameos, to last year’s same day double album drop, his sudden embrace of social media, and abrupt shut down of his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, it’s almost as though Prince temporarily changed his middle name to “Ta-daa!” (and who’s to say he didn’t? He’s Prince).

In keeping with the theme, Prince yanked all of his music off of streaming platforms such as Spotify earlier this year, moving his catalogue over to Jay-Z’s TIDAL not too long after its launch. And when it came time to release HITNRUN: Phase One in September, the album premiered and was exclusively available to stream on TIDAL for several weeks before it was finally downloadable from iTunes. Prince has continued his TIDAL reign, curating a weekly playlist, offering first-listens for new singles, and inviting subscribers to join him for virtual live performances. And for the diehard Prince fans who fondly reminisce about the NPG Music Club days and all the incredible music we got for a nominal fee, TIDAL features late-‘90s/early-‘00s gems such as The Chocolate Invasion, N.E.W.S., and One Nite Alone alongside more commercially-recognized jawns like Sign O’ the Times, 1999, and of course, Purple Rain.

Prince_HITNRUN Phase TwoBecause it’s the season of miracles and magical sparkly things galore, Santa Prince slipped an early holiday goody into our stockings with the unannounced release of HITNRUN: Phase Two on December 13. As with Phase One upon its initial release, Phase Two is currently only available to stream on TIDAL, and the albums are available to download as a bundle for $14.99.

While it’s always a thrill to get new Prince music, there is something especially dazzling about this latest collection that makes it particularly appealing as we approach the closing of the year.

Where the Joshua Welton-produced Phase One focused on getting as many bodies as possible onto the dance floor with tracks like the Judith Hill-assisted “Million $ Show,” “Ain’t About to Stop” featuring Rita Ora, “FALLINLOVE2NITE” (a sweet collab with The New Girl star, Zooey Deschanel), and the trap-tastic “X’s Face,” Phase Two is the afterparty, the wind down, the retreat to a private suite away from the crowds and the noise where a select group of the beautiful ones can mingle and do whatever sophisticated people do. The funky, danceable moments are still there for sure, but HITNRUN: Phase Two presents amore cohesive listening experience overall than its predecessor, and it’s nearly impossible not to play the album from top to bottom over and over again. The first album found Prince allowing someone else to man the booth and was heavy on the guest appearances (Lianne La Havas, Curly Fryz) and fun but ephemeral fare, but the second set is a return to form with Prince in the driver’s seat and songs that provide a little more sustenance.

Phase Two opens with “Baltimore,” featuring newcomer Eryn Allen Kane. Prince wrote the song on the heels of Freddie Gray’s murder, and it served as the centerpiece for his Rally for Peace held on Mother’s Day. From there we launch into the irresistible “RocknRoll Love Affair,” originally released in 2012 and featuring Andy Allo, but revamped with a heavy dose of brass courtesy of the NPG Hornz for this incarnation. Prince reminds us of his prowess with a love song with tunes like the gorgeous “Look at Me, Look at U,” “When She Comes,” and the stand-out “Revelation,” all of which deserve a spot on your “Netflix and chill” mix.

The sparse, bass-laden “Stare,”which made its first appearance back in the summer on Spotify (this was before the exodus), found a perfect home on this album, and is followed by a spirited update of the early ‘80s era previously unreleased fan favorite, “XTRALOVEABLE,”with its deliciously stacked vocals and frisky lyrics that invite the object of Prince’s affection to call him anytime she needs someone to take a shower with her. Word. The naughty but nice “Screwdriver,”which surfaced as one of the inaugural singles with 3rdEyeGirl in 2012, is tongue-in-cheek rock n roll, and the playful “2 Y. 2 D.”is a buoyant, horn-driven tale of a 21st century ingenue who is “old enough 2 do ya, but 2 young 2 dare.”

The sensual “Groovy Potential” seems to revisit Parade-esque horn arrangements without losing its fresh sensibility, and “Black Muse” picks up where the opening track leaves off, with a message of empowerment targeted at the melanin-rich among us and encouraging #BlackExcellence. The album’s final song, “Big City,” is the perfect end to a beautiful night: One more spin around the dance floor and into the arms of the one you love the most.

HITNRUN: Phase Two is cool and elegant with just enough attitude and soul to keep it grounded—kind of like your bougie friend who wears St. John suits but also eats chitlins. And because it’s only available on TIDAL, it carries with it an air of mystery for the simple fact that, in order to hear it, you’ve got to subscribe to the service (or sign up for a free 30-day trial). The biggest hiccup with this set up is that you can’t yet purchase Phase Two on its own via TIDAL, so if you already downloaded Phase One and don’t care to buy it again, you’ll have to wait until the new album comes to iTunes or some other digital wreckastow.

—Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is the Managing Editor for SoulTrain.com, a soul singer/songwriter, music journalist, blogger, and curator of the BohemeRockstar Music Blog (IG @BohemeRockstar), splitting her time between the Bay Area and LA. Download her EP Nuda Veritas on CDBaby and iTunes, keep up with her new music at soundcloud.com/rhonda-nicole, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock, and dig her musical musings at rhondanicole.com.

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