|The Rainbow Children is the 24th full-length studio album by Prince.
It was released worldwide in November 2001 (two years after his previous studio album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic and five months after the compilation album The Very Best Of Prince), but was released as a single untracked audio file the previous month as NPG Music Club Edition # 9, the October edition of the club's monthly offerings (taking the place of the monthly NPG Ahdio shows and other downloads).
The album was first previewed during the Prince: A Celebration - The Rainbow Children week-long festival at Paisley Park Studios, Chanhassen, MN, USA in June 2001, with Prince sitting in the audience and hearing feedback from the audience following the album's playback. The album was distributed worldwide by the independent label Redline Entertainment.
Album sessions took place in late 2000 and early 2001 at Paisley Park Studios. Horns were added to five of the tracks in February 2001.
The album was largely a solo recording project by Prince, although John Blackwell played drums on most tracks, marking his first appearance on a Prince release. Additionally, Larry Graham played bass guitar on The Work Pt. 1 and Last December, The Hornheadz played on five tracks, and Najee played saxophone and flute on some tracks. Background vocals and spoken parts are provided at different points by Milenia, Kip Blackshire, Mr. Hayes and Femi Jiya.
The album opens with narrative in a distorted low voice by Prince that continues through many of the album's tracks. It introduces the story of the "Rainbow Children", who "go about the work of building a new nation" with "accurate understanding of God and his laws". "The Wise One" and his woman are tempted by "The Resistor" "as prophesied". The woman succumbed, and was banished from the land along with five others, who became "The Banished Ones" (this was long thought to be as being written about Prince's separation from his first wife Mayte, which she confirmed in her 2017 biography "The Beautiful Ones").
The Wise One trusted in God to bring him another woman (read: Prince's soon-to-be second wife, Manuela Testolini). The term "Rainbow Children" seems to indicate a group of people who have obtained some kind of spiritual enlightenment, "flying on the wings of the New Translation" (likely referring to the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures used by Jehovah's Witnesses, the religious group Prince belonged to at the time of recording).
The Banished Ones take over the world, except for the palace of the Rainbow Children, which they surround with a "digital garden"; they try to remove The Wise One (king of the Rainbow Children) from power. The Wise One eventually "obliged with an invisible deed", and The Banished Ones return to the place they were born, "Menda City" (a play on words of "mendacity").
The Rainbow Children are then "willing to go door-to-door in search of those willing to do the work" of dismantling the digital garden. The Wise One then seduces "The Muse" who is sent to be his wife, bringing her into "the sensual everafter", implanting in her a "seed of knowledge", asking her to repeat "1 plus 1 plus 1 is 3". The Banished Ones are chased away by the Rainbow Children, who deconstruct the digital garden. "The haze was finally broken" following the removal of the garden, and people understood that nobody else would "be able to lay claim to the treasures of the Rainbow Children". The Muse awoke, "this time as a queen", leading to a wedding between The Wise One and the Muse.
The narrative ends in The Everlasting Now, with the narrator stating "from this day forward 'til times indefinite, those who love Christ are the ones who benefit. All the players' ice melted into one platinum chain and in a downward spiral it dripped down the drain."
The album produced one commercially-released single, The Work Part 1, but this was released six months prior to the album and did not mention any related album in its artwork. Two promotional singles were also sent to radio, She Loves Me 4 Me and Last December.
Prince toured extensively in North America, Europe and Japan to support the album on the One Nite Alone... Tour, which largely focused on the album (although named after a subsequent album).
The album only reached number 109 on The Billboard 200 and number 33 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. It fared better on the Billboard Independent Chart however, reaching position 4 and remaining in the chart for 17 weeks.
Outside of the USA, The Rainbow Children failed to chart, except in Japan and France.