One consolation prize for having to live in a world in which Prince’s body lay dead in the ground, it seemed for a time, is that he’d live on through his music like no pop star ever had. That’s because without its notoriously hawkish creator in the way, his famed vault of unreleased recordings seemed poised to be raided and distributed to the public. Rolling Stone reported that employees of Prince’s studio compound Paisley Park said Prince left behind thousands of hours of unreleased material. BBC reporter Mobeen Azhar descried its vastness to the New York Daily News this way: “There is enough unreleased studio material for him to put out an album a year for the next 100 years.”
But the road to release has been bumpy. We’ve seen some posthumous releases of new old stuff—namely, “Moonbeam Levels” was tacked onto last year’s hits compilation Prince 4ever and a Deluxe Edition of Purple Rain containing 11 previously unreleased vault tracks arrived in June. Holding up future vault releases, though, was a botched distribution deal the singer’s estate struck with Universal that was rescinded when it was discovered that Warner Bros is to own the rights of Prince’s pre-1996 music until 2021 (Universal was led to believe it would be taking over such rights in 2018).
And now, there is word of further complication: According to reps for Prince’s estate and Comerica Bank & Trust, which is in charge of managing the estate, precious vault material has been damaged due to improper storage. According to distressing court documents obtained by Variety:
During its inventory, the Personal Representative discovered several indications of damage and degradation due to poor humidity and temperature controls. It encountered cardboard boxes that were adhered to shelves and had to be peeled off, mold and water damage on the materials, rusting film canisters, degrading film that smelled of vinegar (a sign of acetate degradation), and evidence of water intrusion on walls and ceilings in the vault and elsewhere. … [additionally], Paisley Park is now a museum and open to the public, further heightening security concerns.
Per Variety’s report, there isn’t mention of when this damage took place—it seems hard to believe that Prince would be so reckless with his own work, but the world is a weird place that’s full of surprises. Sometimes it snows in April, ya know?
The documents, by the way, were drawn up in response to a petition to remove Comerica as the manager of Prince’s estate put forth by three of his heirs, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and John Nelson. Their complaint cited the failed deal with Universal as well as Comerica’s decision to move the contents of the vault from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. This kind of estate infighting is just the latest example of the chaos that has characterized the attempts to run Prince’s posthumous career. It’s also the latest example of something that is stressing the fuck out of us Prince fans, who have our hearts set on exploring worlds Prince hinted at but never got around to showing us.