Pop star doing away with middleman

G. Brown

He’s a chronic overachiever, one of pop music’s most creative forces. He’s also a major pain whose indulgences and weirdness have made him a punch line in recent years.

Now the Artist - formerly the artist formerly known as Prince - is entering a new career phase. He’s the first big star to go it alone without the support of a record company or distributor, selling his new album via the Internet and a toll-free number.

“Humans r capable of anything they put their minds 2. But 1st they must break free from the “slave mentality.’ They must learn 2 Do 4 Self,” the normally reticent musician said in an idiosyncratically spelled e-mail exchange last week.

“All of mankind should be in control of their own destiny. Control freak is a compliment. The people around me understand that our paths r interconnected now 4 a reason. So they r here by their own choice. They r control freaks 2. I am just a willing participant in their dreams and vice versa.”

The Artist’s plan is a radical departure from industry norms, and many have questioned his marketing instincts since he severed his 18-year connection with Warner Bros.

As Prince, he had his records distributed by the corporate giant. But he was unhappy with his last lucrative contract, primarily because the label wanted to restrict his productivity, effectively promoting a new album only every year or two. He wanted the company to release his material as fast as he recorded it.

Matters deteriorated to the point where, in 1993, he disowned the work he had recorded as Prince, announcing that he would fulfill his contract by releasing relatively weak music from countless studio tapes.

He set up another label, arranged independent distribution and promptly scored a told-youso hit with the Prince-like “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”

And he tore up his identity and started again. Prince apparently expired only to be reincarnated with a wave of his publicist’s wand - on his 35th birthday, he adopted his new, unpronounceable name, a glyph combining the symbols for male and female.

He scrawled the word “slave” on his face, his summation of his relationship with Warner Bros.

After getting freed from the deal, the artist formerly known as Prince proudly called his first three-disc-long album “Emancipation.”

It was released on his own NPG Records less than a year ago, and he signed a worldwide manufacturing and distribution deal with EMI Records.

His pact with EMI ended when the label folded earlier this year. An even freer man (who’s now let it be known that he can be addressed as The Artist), he hatched a self-employment scheme that bypasses the music industry’s middlemen.

He’s feeling absolutely giddy about his forthcoming albums, “Crystal Ball” (a three-CD set) and the acoustic “The Truth.”

“’Crystal Ball’ is obese! All the classic bootlegs are on it - “Days “O’ Wild,’ “The Ride’ and “Poom Poom’ 2 name a few. There r many trax no one other than the New Power Generation (his band) have heard as well.

“’The Truth’ is a brand new recording. This past year has been very turbulent and enlightening. It has been the most educating year of my life thus far, so it was important 2 my psyche 2 get it all down in 2 song.”

The albums are to be distributed only through the Artist’s Web site (http://www.love4oneanother.com) and 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone number. “Crystal Ball” will not be released or even manufactured until he receives 100,000 orders for it (at $50 a pop).

But just when the Artist’s detractors are ready to write him off as a casualty of self-indulgence and ego, the irrepressible imp delivers electrifying live performances. He’s on the road indefinitely, and his next date is Sunday night at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre with Chaka Khan opening.

“Music and the xchange between the audience and myself gives me all the energy I need,” The Artist, who is now 39, said. “After the Love4OneAnother Benefit Tour, I had grown quite close 2 the Prince material, as well as the prospect of playing new music with the New Power Generation.”

The Artist is also bucking the system on tour.

He’s giving advance notice of only weeks per show, an effort to deter scalpers and merchandise bootleggers.

“Having no managers, agents or promoters, this turned out 2 b the 1st tour based upon being at the right place at the right time. Being free allows one 2 respond 2 “the call’ at will.”

Minneapolis’ favorite son created his playlist by considering the requests of “friends” on the Net - “.”How Come U Don’t Call Me,’ “Little Red Corvette,’ “Take Me With U,’ “When U Were Mine,’ “The Ride’ 2 name a few,” he said.

“As of yet, none of the new songs from “Crystal Ball’ and “The Truth’ r in the set. We’d rather wait until the audience can own their own copy.”

The Artist is setting groins to grinding from coast to coast with a touring version of the New Power Generation, a superb ensemble that obviously pushes all his creative energy buttons.

In concert, the first-rate funk grooves and hard, ultra-rhythmic embellishments are smooth, versatile and precise.

“NPG’s main strength is their ability 2 jam! Only 5 songs in the show have a predetermined length.

Their respect 4 “the flow’ is what gives them this ability. They listen well.”

Mayte, a member of NPG and the Artist’s “Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife” (as he put it in “Emancipation"), is back home.

“Mayte is my soulmate and she understands all of this. She is preparing 4 her own tour with the NPG Dance Company.”

The Artist is also headlining the World Healing Honors benefit concert in Los Angeles Thursday night.

He helped organize the all-star show to aid Muhammed Ali’s campaign against bigotry, racism and intolerance.

“I called many musicians and hipped them 2 the importance of the event,” he said.

“The world is in a state of flux. It’s time 4 r level of love4oneanother 2 increase. It’s time 4 heaven. I will c it in my lifetime.”