Judith Hill has made high-profile appearances in Michael Jackson’s This Is It, the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom and NBC’s The Voice. But it took a little help from Prince to release her first LP, Back in Time, on March 23 as a 48-hour free download sent to Live Nation’s email list.
The album was produced and co-funded by Prince to help promote a forthcoming Live Nation-backed tour featuring Hill, and was downloaded more than 50,000 times in its first 24 hours, according to Hill’s reps. After Hill referenced Prince as a dream collaborator in a 2014 interview, the singer invited Hill to write and record at his Paisley Park studio in Minneapolis. Working with him and recording live to tape "was like a breath of fresh air," Hill says. "It's rare that people still make music like that, and we initially made the record to be a live show. We imagined the show first and wrote the music accordingly, and always recorded on tape. It was very exciting to make that kind of record."
But Back In Time is also at the center of a heated legal battle between Hill and her former label Cherry Party, founded by music executive Jolene Cherry. On March 25, Hill, 31, filed a complaint in New York's Supreme Court against Cherry, The Cherry Party and Jolene Holdings in New York’s Supreme Court alleging that the Sony-distributed imprint “proved to be incompetent, erratic, unstable and wholly unable to perform [its] obligations.” Further, Hill accused Cherry of character defamation after The Cherry Party publicist Gina Torres planted a January 2 New York Post article alleging Hill's participation in a song designed to be a love letter to Kim Jong-Un, inspired by Sony's film The Interview. Though the Post story states the song leaked online, sources confirm to Billboard it was never recorded.
Cherry responded with a March 27 lawsuit against Prince in L.A.'s Superior Court, accusing him of “tortiously interfering” with an exclusive recording agreement that Hill signed with Sony and The Cherry Party in 2013. Five songs Hill recorded under her recording deal with Cherry Party -- "Cry, Cry, Cry," "Angel In The Dark," "Beautiful Life," "Cure" and "Jammin' In The Basement" - all appear on Back In Time as well, the complaint states.
Sony was not a party to either lawsuit, and a spokeswoman for Sony's Red did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the status of the distribution company's deal with The Cherry Party. Reps for Prince and Live Nation had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
“It has been a long time coming for my first record,” Hill tells Billboard. “I love what we did with Live Nation as an unconventional way to declare freedom and get the music out.”
An edited version of this article first appeared in the Aprill 11 issue of Billboard.