2019 American Music Awards

Here's What Morris Day Thinks About the Posthumous Prince Releases

John Rohne
Morris Day

Hot off his wildly entertaining memoir 'On Time,' the funk legend talks unreleased The Time music and Prince's Vaults.

Just a couple weeks after funk legend Morris Day hit Jimmy Kimmel Live! to perform his frisky "Lil Mo Funk" alongside Snoop Dogg, the former frontman of The Time is doing what he does best: Keeping it real while playing it cool.

"I’m just working on that word that I kind of hate but think is kind of cool – branding," Day tells Billboard with a laugh. If his deliriously funky Kimmel appearance – complete with his iconic one-liners about mirrors and that "what time is it?!" squawk -- fell into the "on brand" category, his recently released memoir is something far more layered. On Time: A Princely Life in Funk, written by Day with esteemed journalist David Ritz, finds the veteran funkster seamlessly melding three voices perpetually cascading around his head into a vital, illuminating and wildly entertaining autobiography.

One voice, of course, is Morris Day, a top-notch musician who met Prince as a teenager in Minneapolis and was propelled onto the R&B charts with The Time and into the pop mainstream by playing the Purple One's vain, patronizing enemy in the film version of Purple Rain. Another voice is that guy: MD, the hyper-confident, unrepentantly egotistical alter ego of Morris Day who appeared onscreen in that 1984 classic -- and, according to Day, far too often in real life back in the '80s thanks to too much of the white stuff.

The third voice, perhaps surprisingly for a memoir, isn't even Day's: It's Prince's.

"When I was presented with the idea of doing a book, the last thing I wanted to do was just another book, if you know what I'm saying," Day tells Billboard of his eccentric memoir. And rest assured, On Time is anything but another paint-by-numbers rock tell-all. With Morris, his late friend/boss and his occasionally toxic alter ego all competing for ink, the complicated narrative that unfolds feels more dimensional than most rock tomes – even if the book does technically find Day and Ritz putting words into an icon's mouth.

And while some might blanch at speaking for the departed visionary (and the memoir candidly wrestles with that oddity), Day tells Billboard that writing in Prince's voice "was kind of easy." After all, Morris and Prince shared a lot in the studio and on the road, from the messy to the sublime. "I knew what he would say in a given instance because we've been down that road so many times," Day says. "That part was pretty easy."

You could say the same for the early days of the Time – at least, compared to what came later. "We got a deal [with Warner Bos.], sight unseen, based on 'Get It Up,' and we didn't really have a band at the time. Prince and I had basically done the record ourselves," he recalls. "We had jammed a lot, we had skeletons of songs, but I look up and then we have two weeks and a deadline to finish [the debut album]," he says. Even if he lost his voice toward the end of the marathon recording sessions for debut album The Time (1981), there's still wonder in his tone when speaking of it. "To hear my music on the radio for the first time was magical. After that, I'd had a taste of it, so getting back to it was cool, but it's hard to beat that first vibe."

While The Time did well, producing two top 10s on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with "Get It Up" and "Cool," follow-up albums would go on to bigger things: What Time Is It? (1982) and Ice Cream Castle (1984) reached the top 40 of the Billboard 200 and produced Billboard Hot 100 hits in "777-9311," "Jungle Love" and "The Bird." But as the Time struck it big, tensions were taking their toll.

"His main thing more than anything was control," Day tells Billboard of Prince. "That was over being threatened or anything – he just wanted to be in control. Early on I was getting offers to produce other people and everything was getting squashed. It put us in a situation where [members of the Time] couldn't get out there and make the kind of money we could potentially have made because we were being controlled so much."

Day followed Prince's marching orders, but the band's Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis didn't. They took a risk, working with Atlanta electro-funkers the S.O.S. Band in their free time -- or at least, what was supposed to be their free time until weather intervened and caused them to miss a gig opening for Prince. "The nerve of them to produce the S.O.S. Band, and then miss the airplane because of the snowstorm, that was out of bounds for him," Day remembers. "There had to be repercussions to that."

In other words, they were canned. Prince told Rolling Stone the decision to sack Jam & Lewis – who would later go on to massive success working with Janet Jackson – was Day's. And while he takes exception to that in his memoir, placing the call squarely on Prince, he doesn't regret sticking in the Paisley Park camp.

"I feel like I followed the path I was supposed to follow," he says of his decision to honor Prince's wishes.

After a mid-80s hiatus, Prince and Morris Day dusted off the Time and banded together for Corporate World, a finished Time LP that Prince unexpectedly hit pause on. Some of its songs would appear on the soundtrack to 1990's Graffiti Bridge (a semi-sequel to Purple Rain), with others cropping up on the Time's final album, 1990's Pandemonium. While Bridge was met far less rapturously than Rain, Pandemonium netted the Time their highest Billboard 200 peak (No. 18) and, with "Jerk Out," their highest Hot 100 peak (No. 9) and first No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

Only two Corporate World tracks remained unreleased, and to this day, Morris Day would love to see the title track come out. "The song 'Corporate World' was a great song and deserves to be put out," Day says in no uncertain terms. Even so, he's wary of the flood of material coming out of Prince's vaults posthumously.

"I think he would have something to say about what the estate's doing," Day says, pointing to the estate's decision to release scratch vocals and unfinished material. "I pretty much distance myself from the whole thing. Right now, it's a circus to me. They're putting a lot of private moments out now that would never see the light of day. I know he never intended for a lot of this stuff to be heard. I'm not really interested in it to be honest."

As for upcoming music, while he's "open" to a potential reunion of Time members as The Original 7ven (who dropped the album Condensate in 2011), there's lingering wariness. In Day's eyes, part of what made The Time fly was Prince's strict control.

"Back in the day, we had one person, we were signed to Prince's production company, so one person would take the lead and that was okay. When we did The Original 7ven project, there's too many chiefs in the room. [Prince] would piss us off at times, but it kept the egos at a minimum. Now it's tough to get stuff done without too much drama," he says with a laugh.  

So while Morris Day continues to funk, On Time could be the final word on the Time. At least it's a high note. "I'm really proud of the book. I think we did something significant and I hope people give it a shot," Morris Day opines, before MD chips in: "They'll find it hard to put down."

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