Former Prince a slave no more

Betsy Powell

TORONTO - After years of saying little in public, the former Prince has had more to say about his new three-CD set, Emancipation, than on anything else in his 19-year music career.

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Stylistics hit. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Garcia sat nearby wearing a dress with the word “baby” written across her chest and an arrow pointing toward her stomach.

Whatever his reasons, EMI, the record company distributing Emancipation and handling publicity, says no statement is expected from Paisley Park, the Artist’s studio and home base outside Minneapolis.

Asked if he has anything to say to fans about the matter, the Artist replies softly: “Everything is wonderful. They should stop worrying.”

And so the mystery continues, a sad and tragic footnote to an otherwise joyous time for the Artist, who says he’s delighted to be discussing his new mega-release, his first since leaving Warner Bros. after 16 albums.

“This is what freedom feels like,” says the smiling 38-year-old, wearing a small goatee and no longer writing “slave” across his face.

He may now carry the ball, but he’d never be mistaken as a bulky footballer, though on Monday he wore a brown-and-yellow jersey with his band’s name, New Power Generation, stitched across the back.

His emancipation came after he cut ties with Warner, in part because the label wouldn’t release his albums as fast as he was recording them. He released Emancipation on his own NPG label.

“Warner made me appreciate freedom.”

He arrived in Toronto around noon with a small entourage, including a hair-and-makeup artist and a bodyguard.

Surprisingly, in this television age he limited interviews to print reporters, seven in all, before heading for Montreal by nightfall for another half-dozen today. He has, however, done some big U.S. talk shows, including Oprah Winfrey’s.

While the Artist says he’s “free” to talk now because he’s no longer a paid employee, he clearly is out to sell records. Emancipation, which debuted in Billboard’s Top 200 at No..11 three weeks ago, has dropped from 38 to 58 this week.

But the Artist doesn’t look worried. In fact, he laughs heartily recalling jokes about his name.

“I hear tons of them,” he says. “I went on David Letterman’s show and he had a whack of them.”