A new video for Prince‘s passionate cover of the spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep” focuses on the impact of gun violence on American youth, augmented by the artist’s own words. After showing gun injury and fatality statistics among children, the video displays a quote from the Purple One taken from another video he’d made for his song “Baltimore,” written in the wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray: “The system is broken. It’s going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life … ” The music, however, culls from a recently rediscovered cassette Prince recorded when he was on the precipice of superstardom, Piano & a Microphone 1983, which comes out Friday.
The clip, shot in New York by filmmaker Salomon Ligthelm, opens with footage of African-Americans attempting to console a young man as his spirit watches over. The music is sparse, as Prince plays funky, jazzy chords that breathe along with him as he inhales and exhales the song’s words. The footage then shows the spirit as he sees his family and friends mourning him and follows him as he goes to his own funeral. Midway through, Prince makes a diversion, singing some of the lyrics to “Strange Relationship” – a pop song he’d later record for Sign ‘O’ the Times (complete with the F word) – but somehow it fits the morose mood, which Ligthelm amplifies by taking a break halfway through to show the young man’s mother’s breakdown. It ends with another poignant Prince quote.
In the years before his death, Prince was incredibly active as a philanthropist. After hearing about Gray’s death, he organized his Rally 4 Piece on Mother’s Day and encouraged the city’s citizens to reflect on violence. In an interview with Rolling Stone shortly after Prince’s death, one of the artist’s friends, CNN commentator Van Jones, said he’d often use meetings like this to bring opposing sides together. “A lot of times, he would do these tricky things, where people [in power] are coming because they think or assume or hope they’re going to meet him,” he said. “And then they get stuck in a green room for an hour with their worst enemy and wind up being friends. And they never met Prince in their life. He would do stuff like that to people all the time.”
Piano & a Microphone 1983 contains a little over a half an hour’s worth of Prince alone with a piano, playing some of his biggest hits and riffing on new ideas at the time. Among the tracks are “Purple Rain,” a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and the “When Doves Cry” B side “17 Days.” In related news, the artist’s estate recently made nearly two-dozen Prince albums available for streaming for the first time ever.