24: The Exodus Has Begun

Exodus (1995)
If I was a music-critic, I’d never make the gauche error of sticking my neck out and suggesting this slab of gospel p-funk was on a par with Prince’s greatest material. That’s far too off-script. Safer instead to stick with the agreed narrative that Prince lost his mojo in the 90s after losing a battle with hip-hop and was unable to ever reach his 80s peaks again. However, I’m not a critic. I’m a fan writing about the music that moves me and therefore unburdened by the baggage of general consensus. This is love, not lore, so I’m saying it: I think The Exodus Has Begun funks as hard as any of his big hitters. ALL OF THEM. 1999, DMSR, Controversy – it’s on that level. Fight me!

I offer no qualifying statement to redeem myself in your rolling eyes. No personal memory as alibi to dam my draining reserves of kudos. I genuinely think the song, on its own terms, deserves to be a classic and seeing it gather dust, only available on an obscure deleted release that no-one mentions nor seems to care about, is a travesty.

Out of my top 50 or so Prince songs, The Exodus Has Begun is the only one I don’t own on vinyl, and the only one unavailable on Spotify or Apple Music. Most of my CDs have long been retired to an attic I no longer live under, but (ironically, given its name) the Exodus CD is one of the few that never left. A back-up because ripped mp3s are too ephemeral to rely on. If I accidentally wipe my computer I don’t want to be hunting down lo-fi YouTube rips to get my weekly fix. Shudder.

Although I’d sell off family members to get the Exodus album repressed on vinyl, I don’t mind the gaping void on streaming services. That’s because, although I listen to Spotify, I find myself flailing in the vastness. The psychological gear-shift needed to go from tending a record collection to having immediate access to NEAR EVERYTHING is one a Digital Native couldn’t understand. Yes, the limits of choice have expanded beyond comprehension but those limits defined me. Cultivating a record collection went hand in hand with cultivating a self. You can’t sculpt an identity with a playlist, and yet spending money on music now feels like an indulgence. I’m cursed with an antiquated mindset that desires possession of music in a culture that wants only to lease it. A monogamist in an era of free love.

Soon, having a music collection will be as eccentric as owning a loom. Throw another Shellac on the mangle grandad! But at least I get to hear non-licensed epic p-funk bastards like this, without waiting in vain (sorry, wrong Exodus album) for distant board rooms to agree on licensing deals that will never arrive.

Exodus was Prince smuggling new music out to his fans, free from the confines of his contract which he intended to only fulfil with old vault material. He had done it before with NPG Records’ debut release Goldnigga, but on that album he was careful to hide his involvement. He took more liberties on Exodus, a title which, as Mayte told the press, represented “an exit from a way of thinking and a way of doing… something new”. He promoted it behind a thin pseudonym and an even thinner face-covering, and sung lead vocals on a couple of tracks, including the song we’re discussing now which ends with Sonny T eulogising over the death of the Prince persona. Who knows what legal ambiguities need to be cleared up, what pieces of cut Gordian red tape need reknotting, before this album can grace the streaming world. It’s not like there’s much public demand. Most people don’t even seem to know this Europe-only release exists so don’t expect to see it on Spotify anytime soon. 20th Century Archivists 1 – 21st Century Streamers 0.

Oh. It’s on Tidal. Fine! You win this round young folk. But the Cloud won’t be around forever. When the sky turns purple and the servers go down, I’ll be in my bunker blasting out The Exodus Has Begun while you’re scrabbling down the backs of digital sofas for long-forgotten mp3s to block out the sirens and screams. I just hope it’s reissued on vinyl before then. CDs don’t chime well with my Apocalypse aesthetic.