Seriously, Please Leave Prince’s Vault Alone

A new "60 Minutes" segment looks inside the musician's vault, but it's just further proof that it's none of our business

Prince performs during the "Pepsi Halftime Show" at Super Bowl XLI
Prince performs during the "Pepsi Halftime Show" at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
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This weekend, 60 Minutes visited Prince’s Paisley Park complex to get an early listen of the late musician’s previously unreleased Welcome 2 America album and a glimpse of his legendary vault, and while their cameras weren’t allowed inside for the latter, the sheriff’s department photos of the vault’s interior displayed during the segment as well as comments from those affiliated with his estate made it clear that its contents were never intended for public consumption.

The segment is pegged to Welcome 2 America‘s upcoming July release, so naturally it features a lot of speculation over what Prince would think of the album, which he shelved with no explanation in 2010, being released. “He knew it would see the light of day,” his longtime collaborator Shelby J. insists.

But of course, even those who knew Prince well don’t know for sure that that’s what he intended, because the musician left behind no will when he died in 2016. What we see of the vault in the 60 Minutes segment only serves as further proof that it was never meant to be made public; it’s messy, with many of the tapes and other archives stored in cardboard boxes on the floor. And as a 2014 clip of Prince on The Arsenio Hall Show reminds us, the 8,000 songs stored in his vault are mostly rough drafts or scraps that he had no intention of revisiting.

“I don’t go back in time and listen to it,” he said. “Like, I worked on it and brought it as far as I could right then. A lot of it I didn’t even finish.” (We’re going to go ahead and assume that when we’re talking about 8,000 songs — hundreds of album’s worth — the majority of it is unfinished.)

60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wortheim says the challenge for Prince’s estate is “monetizing the catalog while trying to do right by Prince,” but doing both feels impossible. Troy Carter, a former Spotify executive who joined the estate in 2018 and has overseen the relocation of the vault’s contents from Paisley Park to a climate-controlled storage facility in Los Angeles told Wortheim, “I want to make sure that Prince isn’t somewhere in heaven giving me the side-eye.” But how can you be sure he’s not when you’re rifling through outtakes or unfinished material that was never intended to be released and putting it out without his permission?

Carter notes that Prince didn’t enter the vault for years because he forgot the password to it, so he began putting tapes and other material in the “pre-vault” room. The fact that Prince was the only one who knew the password to the vault — that he didn’t even tell it to his closest confidantes as a backup in the event that he forgot the password or was no longer there to use it — is yet another clue that we weren’t supposed to hear this material. (The vault was drilled open after his death in 2016.) Longtime keyboardist and musical director Morris Hayes told CBS that Prince once told him the vault’s contents were intended for his children. The Purple One never wound up having children, but that doesn’t mean we should help ourselves to what was meant to be a private gift to family.

You can watch the full 60 Minutes segment below.

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