|Crystal Ball is Prince’s 20th full-length studio album, the fourth to be credited to , and the second triple album in succession (following Emancipation). It was shipped to customers who had pre-ordered in January 1998 (14 months after the release of his previous album, Emancipation), with a retail release following on 3 March 1998. It was his first album to be released and distributed independently of any record label.
It is the first full collection of outtakes and songs from Prince’s legendary "vault", and contains tracks recorded under the name Prince as well as under the then-current moniker . The full album was credited to , however. The album package (titled only as Crystal Ball) also included the album The Truth (the direct-order edition also included the album Kamasutra by The NPG Orchestra).
Each of the album’s three CDs contains 10 tracks and lasts almost exactly 50:00 (mirroring Emancipation’s 12-song, 60:00 disc lengths). This means the material could have fit on only two CDs.
The album was initially mentioned on Thedawn.com a few days before the release of Emancipation, and was mentioned in the booklet of Emancipation upon its release in November 1996. It was initially only available through phone pre-order (using 1-800 New Funk). Love4oneanother.com gave updates on the album over the next several months, saying that the album would only be produced when 100,000 orders had been placed, and stating the album had been completed on Independence Day, 4 July 1997.
A few short samples of tracks (including Days Of Wild) were posted on the website during the summer of 1997, and the packaging was hyped as an innovative design. Customers who had placed orders several months before release showed frustration online with the delays. On 5 September 1997 it was announced on Love4OneAnother.com that The Truth a;bum would be included with the package:
A bird of high distinction says EVERY1 who orders CRYSTAL BALL, the new album of previously-bootlegged jams, will now receive THE TRUTH on CD as well! ...NPG keep rolling!
Then on 30 December 1997, the including of another added surprised was announced as well:
... there is now an added surprise 4 the friends who pre-ordered early!! 1-800-NewFunk will deliver... naysayers will eat words on toast when the Ball drops! , presumed to alluded to the inclusion of Kamasutra.
In addition, several customers reported receiving a t-shirt with their order (exact t-shirt varied by customer), and a copy of the Emancipation lyric book. Several customers received a follow-up in August 1998, of a cassette copy of The War, credited to the New Power Generation. Some customers did not receive this, however, and some people who did receive it did not order Crystal Ball, so it is unclear how the mailing list was created.
Sessions and compiling
The album is largely made up of tracks recorded in two periods: 1985-6 and 1993-6. The only exception is Cloreen Bacon Skin, recorded in March 1983.
No tracks were recorded especially for this album (although 2morrow was recorded after his last album, Emancipation, was completed, so Crystal Ball was the first album for which it could be considered). Additionally, the album contains seven remixes or alternate versions of previously-released tracks, Love Sign (Shock G’s Silky Remix), So Dark (a remix of Dark), Tell Me How U Wanna B Done (a remix of The Continental), Interactive, Good Love, Get Loose (a remix of Loose!), and P. Control (Remix).
As such, this album marks the first time material has been re-used from one album to another, although this album should perhaps not be viewed as a cohesive, canonical piece in the way others could.
avoided using tracks which strongly featured the Revolution, as he intended to release a companion album, Roadhouse Garden, in 1999, containing previously-unreleased Prince and the Revolution material (this album remains unreleased, however).
Copyright information on the album is given as 1997.
No singles were released from the album, although Love Sign and P. Control had both previously been available as promo-only singles connected to their original albums, 1-800 New Funk and The Gold Experience respectively. Although videos for Acknowledge Me, Interactive and 18 & Over were made a few years before this release (and not connected to any albums), they were not used as promotional tools for Crystal Ball. Days Of Wild was released as a limited-release single in 2002, using a different live version than included here. did not tour or make any TV appearances to support the album.
The album reached number 62 on The Billboard 200, and number 59 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.