The Artist Formerly Known As Prince: The Versace Experience: Prelude 2 Gold (NPG Records/The Prince Estate)

At the height of his controversial standoff with his record label, Prince Rogers Nelson decided that he would reinvent himself as “The Love Symbol,” an unpronounceable image that was a hybrid of an ankh and the female sign. It was an image he had used before, most notably as the title to his 1992 follow-up to his smash hit album Diamonds And Pearls.  His 1995 album, The Gold Experience, would be the first official release under The Love Symbol. Before the album was released, Prince engaged in an odd little promotional exercise, one that resulted in one of his most sought-after rarities, a cassette entitled The Versace Experience: Prelude 2 Gold that was given out to attendees of the Versace Fashion Week show.

The Versace Experience: Prelude 2 Gold is an interesting encapsulation of what The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was up to musically. At fifteen tracks running for 33 minutes, one might be tempted to think of this as an album, but that’s really not the case. Instead, it’s more like an audio collage that happens to contain a few songs in between. Frustratingly, a number of the songs start of with a voiceover Prince saying “Versace Experience,” a concept that worked well with on the first track, a unique mix of “Pussy Control,” but one that quickly grows tiresome. Exclusive edits of a handful of tracks from The Gold Experience actually better the longer, more meandering album versions; “Shhh” and “Gold” reveal gems that could be found in the otherwise overwrought originals. A remix of “Eye Hate U” is quite lovely, even if it ends abruptly; for this version, a brief snippet of album track “319” bookends the number.

But The Versace Experience is more notable for a handful of songs taken from projects that were never officially released, and it’s extremely annoying that some of the best material here comes in the form of snippets less than a minute in length. “Sonny T,” from the unreleased third album from Prince’s instrumental side project Madhouse, is so enticing, yet at less than thirty seconds, its tease frustrates. Better is the second Madhouse track offered here, “Rootie Kazootie,” a mellow jazz instrumental number quite reminiscent of Herb Alpert, and it shows what a delight that record might have been.  Two songs appear here from his band New Power Generation; the first, “Get Wild In The House,”  is a remix of the band’s contribution to the Pret-A-Porter soundtrack from the year before, while “Free The Music” is an unreleased song, offered here only in excerpt form. The listener is also given a taste of Prince’s ballet, Kamasutra. “Kamasutra Overture #5” is credited to The New Power Generation Orchestra, and is a drop-dead gorgeous classical piece, but he’s only giving you less than a minute of it. Frustrating!

Considering the archival nature of releasing such a rarity, would it have been toomuch to ask to include the full versions of these songs? Then again, The Versace Experience: Prelude 2 Goldwas not designed to be something the whole world would hear, so even though the package feels skimpy—there’s a good 40 minutes left unused, after all—it’s still an interesting curiosity from a talented and unstoppable musical mind.

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