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EXCLUSIVE: Jackson Estate Moves to Block Release of Documentary About King of Pop’s Last Photo Shoots



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An unreleased documentary detailing photo shoots Michael Jackson did with Ebony/Jet Magazine and L’Uomo Vogue in the fall of 2007 is certain to please the late pop star’s fans – IF they ever get to see it.

The documentary opens with intimate footage of photographer Bruce Weber – the man in charge of taking Jackson’s picture for the L’Uomo Vogue feature – talking to his assistants about where they were when they first heard the Thriller album.

The photo shoots featuring in the documentary were organised by Jackson’s manager at the time, Raymone Bain, to commemorate Thriller‘s 25th anniversary.

“I want you to take it from the perspective of Mr. Weber, so you’re getting the making of the whole thing from his perspective,” Jackson instructs the film crew as he prepares to be photographed by Weber.

The documentary takes you through the process of pulling off a photo shoot with the world’s most iconic yet elusive entertainer – from booking the shoot, to getting Jackson there, to the makeup and styling process, and ultimately getting the shots required.

The film includes a number of stunning close-up shots of Jackson – both having his makeup done, and in action during the shoots.

The pop star looks healthy and vibrant as his photo is taken.

He can be seen striking poses and taking direction from those on set. At times he seems completely swept up in the adrenalin of being the ‘star’ of the show, busting out aggressive dance moves, punching the air powerfully, and ripping the backdrop to pieces with his bare hands.

Rushka Bergman, a celebrity stylist who had the task of picking clothes for the Vogue shoot, seems to have a cute little crush on the Jackson.

“I think that Michael Jackson was very sexy,” she tells the camera.

“I think that any time I put clothes on him, he looked better than any supermodel.”

In the footage, Jackson makes a special effort to shake the hand of every single photographer, assistant, makeup artist, lighting person, magazine representative and venue staff member on set – something that impressed his personal assistant, Michael Amir Williams, and Ebony/Jet editor in chief, Harriette Cole.

“What I loved the most about working with Michael Jackson is how kind he was to everyone,” recalls Cole.

“He was gracious to the elevator operator, the guard and the executives in the museum. He made sure to thank each person who was in ear shot when the shoot was over. He was generous and kind. Did some people feel intimidated by him? I don’t know if that’s the right word. More, I think some people were mesmerised. Some were pinching themselves wondering if they actually were in the presence of the King of Pop.”

The photo shoots took place in New York in September 2007 – L’Uomo Vogue on the 15th and Ebony/Jet on the 24th.

“Michael wanted to be photographed in an artistic setting and the Brooklyn Museum gladly accommodated us all,” recalled Harriette Cole at the time of the shoots. “We shot in the midst of ancient and contemporary history, and it was powerful to be in that space.”

“We worked with celebrity fashion stylist Phillip Bloch to develop concepts for wardrobe and then he and his team went shopping. We really wanted him to look elegant and timeless on the cover. We found a number of looks that would achieve that and presented them to Michael. He ultimately chose what he would be happy to wear, which turned out to be far more outfits than we had time to shoot.”

“Michael Jackson was the perfect fit for everything we put on him,” added Cole.

“He’s got the body that any woman or man would die for! At 49 years old, he [had] a slim dancer’s body … It was a lot of fun to work with someone who looks great in clothes, who knows how to move his body and who understands the camera. It was magic!”

“For a man nearly 50, he was still incredibly limber,” said Ebony/Jet Magazine’s Bryan Monroe of Jackson. 

“He showed off a few of his classic moves during the photo shoot – the leg twist/kick move in particular … He’s still got it.”

Unfortunately for Jackson’s fans – and Noval Williams Films (the company that acquired the rights to the unreleased footage) – the documentary’s initially planned June 25, 2014 release was blocked by lawyers for the pop star’s estate.

The footage was originally offered to The Estate of Michael Jackson in 2011 by a third party who filmed the source materials. That would have cost the Estate $1.25 million and afforded them the only known professional footage of Jackson from the final years of his life.

But rather, the Estate opted against purchasing the footage and, according to Novel Williams Films, never claimed in writing to the then-owner any ownership interest in the footage.

Following the Estate’s decision to pass up the footage, Novel Williams Films struck a deal with the third party for the rights in 2013 and proceeded to put together the documentary – Michael Jackson: The Last Photo Shoots.

However, when agreements were recently made for the documentary to be broadcast on Brazilian television, lawyers stepped in and claimed that the footage was private in nature and owned by the Estate.

“The makers of the documentary are attempting to exploit footage and photographs of Michael Jackson, which we believe are owned by his Estate,” said Estate attorney Howard Weitzman in a recent statement.

“The documentary contains footage of Michael during private moments that he never agreed could be publicly and commercially exploited without his consent and/or involvement. Michael never authorised or approved the use of this material in the film.”

Many fans were left in a state of disbelief that Weitzman would make the above comments considering that every single release the Estate has authorised since the superstar’s death has consisted of private materials ‘that he never agreed could be publicly and commercially exploited without his consent and/or involvement’ – including the This Is It film comprising Jackson’s private rehearsal footage, and the Michael, Bad 25 and Xscape albums, which include unpublished songs Jackson never authorised for release.

Noval Williams Films has since filed suit against Jackson’s estate and is asking the court for a declaration that they haven’t infringed any copyrights and that the Estate has no valid claims.

“As a record producer and composer, I have been greatly influenced by Michael’s music and his message of love to the world,” responded Craig Williams – writer and director of the documentary. 

“While it is terribly unfortunate that litigation with the estate is required in order for us to share our film with Michael’s fans, I am confident that we will be able to resolve this situation and Michael’s fans will soon be able to see our wonderful and positive film.”

The issue remains unresolved.

Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.

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  1. anilsai

    July 3, 2014 at 7:19 am

    why this estate doing like this..their tons of mj footage in the vaults but they are releasing same footage over and over again in the videos this documentary everyone wants to see it…but they stopped it..hope we all can watch it soon …

    • Mike Gunn

      July 3, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I agree with this. They must want to hurt legacy. It seems everyone except the estate seems to have great footage of MJ.

      • Ritika Chauhan

        August 4, 2014 at 5:12 pm

        I believe they are doing this so they could have something to release in the next 100 years.

  2. Q. Gabriel-Smith

    July 3, 2014 at 8:53 am

    This move by the Executors of the Estate is beyond BULLSHIT and their damaging actions against Michael’s image and Legacy have gone on for long enough and this has to be the final straw.

    They are quite happy to exploit his $2100 image when it suits them, YET-
    -let media publish heinous allegations and damaging fabricated stories over and over again WITHOUT complaint,
    -let a disgusting documentary about his autopsy be made and repeatedly aired,
    -allow an unopposed CNN to air an interview with the physician that drugged him to death on the anniversary of his passing,
    -release sub-par products again and again and again often with false claims (completely remastered to the highest quality my ass Vision),
    -let his image be used on a computer generated face on an impersonators dancing body and an impersonators voice on an album

    These corrupt Executors have repeatedly allowed Michael’s quality products and image be damaged, yet they rake in very healthy salaries regardless. They have burdened Michael’s Estate with debt with the IRS, yet they never stand up for him when disgusting lies are aired or publised, often leaving this job to his family or old lawyers to speak up and defend Michael. They try and block a positive film with a feeble and transparent excuse EVEN THOUGH THEY PASSED ON THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE THIS FOOTAGE THEMSELVES. This insanity needs to stop. These idiots have done enough damage.

    • MiMi

      July 3, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      Exactly! The objection that Weitzman gave is so lame and ridiculous.

    • gboete

      July 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Maybe we have to consider that for all the points that you have summed up there is no legal ground to do anything against it (because MJ is not portrayed in it). Up till now there is no law to prevent this. Te estate can only politely or firm, “ask” not to broadcast the autopsy, the Murray interview …..But footage, containing Michael, can be claimed (registered). And they (Estate) have to, they have to stand for the rights of the Estate, meaning Michael’s mother and children. I would love to see the docu, but I think that Craig Williams was a little too greedy when he asked for 1.25 million. Don’t you think that this is a lot of money ?

    • Elena Lucheroni

      July 3, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Q. Gabriel-Smith I quote every words!!! Estate’s doings and not-doings are a shame….

      • MjfanLA

        July 3, 2014 at 8:22 pm

        Craig Williams didnt ask for money to sell the footage he actually was the one to get the footage from the people who offered it from the estate after the estate passes. Read the article again. “Noval Williams struck a deal with the third party to obtain the footage after the estat passed”

    • Mike Gunn

      July 3, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      I think you need people on a board for the estate. maybe his son, a few fans. I am really cheesed of with teh job teh estate has doen with MJs legacy. I mean a VHS copy of wembly concert? Sorry, i dont buy the bull that they dont have it on film with the sound.

  3. Michelle Jackson

    July 3, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Absolutely and totally agree with you 1000% Q Gabriel-Smith – my exact thoughts and feelings.
    The world needs to see more postive and beautiful stories aired about Michael – and this photo shoot documentary is one such story. Why the fake estate is not trying to repair all the media’s damage done to Michael’s name and image is beyond me – surely it’s not rocket science to them that if the general public see and hear the truth and positivity about Michael they will be more likely to purchase his music – win win for everyone??? Also when I first learned of this last photo shoot doco, I emailed Craig Williams asking whether any of the profits would be given to charity in Michael’s name (wanted to find out if they were just another organisation wanting to make $$ from Michael). The following is Craig’s quick response to my query and another reason I really want him to be able to get the doco out (he seems much more in tune with Michael’s true wishes and legacy than the fake estate is – would like to know if they’ve honoured Michael’s will and donated 20% to charity – yeh right??) –

    On 21 September 2013 00:19, Craig wrote:
    “Hi Michelle
    Yes we have already had the charitable donation included in our plans. We know Michael’s giving, loving , healing heart is who he truly was and more than just his music he was about love and giving. Keep you posted as we move forward along in the journey.
    Craig :)”

    • stephanie

      July 7, 2014 at 12:47 am

      don’t listen to them

  4. Michelle Jackson

    July 3, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Or maybe now the fake estate has seen the footage and hence it’s $ value they want it for themselves – didn’t want it before that. Or that it may make some people see Michael for the beautiful person he always has been, they want to stop it – WHY do they want the general public to keep hating him??

    • Mike Gunn

      July 3, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Other than unseen footage on BAD 25 documentary why has the estate not released any unseen footage. Are they planning any more singles from Xscape or have they finished the promotion? I get the impression that revenues matter, not legacy.

  5. R-Fresh

    July 3, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Sorry guys but I’m going to do my usual “side with the estate” rant.

    I don’t agree with these comments at all, like them or not the estate exists and has a job to do unfortunatly and its absolutely in their interest to retain FULL control over these types of releases… if they can. For various reasons.

    I along with all of you would obviously love to see the footage but i think the reality of the situation is likely to prevail, though id be happy to be wrong. It would be nice if they listened to the fan interest.

    Im still yet to hear a viable replacement option from the fans on how to manage Michaels brand other than the estate. Id love to hear one but all i hear is the negative, which sometime does more damage than the estate itself. Non fans and press listen to it.

    • gboete

      July 3, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      I very much agree. See my answer to an earlier post.

    • Mike Gunn

      July 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      I think you need a board composed of his children, a few fans, maybe quincy jones, bruce swedien. People who did his marketing in the 80s. People who at least had a feel of how mj worked. I mean the hollogram for slave to the rythmn sucked. Even the experience game cgi was more convincing, which means it can be done. Why has the estate not released his videos by remeastering the original film? The did Vision but that looked photoshopped and not like how film looks whan its been restored. Why has the estate not released Monnwalker 25 or done anything for its legacy or released unseen footage? Why has teh estate released a VHS copy of the bad tour? (I do not buy the bull that they cannot locate the film with sound: buy his “the one” dvd and you see footage does exist, but teh estate cant locate this film footage can also be seen of the bad tour when he performs Man in the mirror in moonwalker. Why will the estate not release the Victory tour on DVD. It exists on film. Why does the estate not release videos with unseen footage of MJ? Can you start to see why the fans are what you call negative? The fans want things but the estate always has an excuse for not releasing it. Why is there no biopic of mj? A high budget film of the years 1979 to 1989 when MJ had the midas touch? There has been no documentary of mj on tv in recent years. Why? ask the estate. The cover for Xscape sucks. Only the original songs sound timeless. The contemporary versions will sound dated in a few years. I want to cry sometimes at the way things are going.

    • Pete

      July 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      I’d be happy with anyone taking charge who weren’t crooks completely taking the piss. There is only one reason to support the current estate in anything, and that’s if you’re an unprincipled whore.

    • Diane Anderson

      July 9, 2014 at 3:25 am

      I’m with you 100%, R Fresh. I’m really tired – and bored – by all this anti-Estate ranting. I’m not saying they do everything perfectly. I want to see this docu as much as anyone – seriously – but there isn’t a person here — or anywhere — that has any clue what it must be like to manage this MASSIVE estate and all it’s complications. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and accuse and denigrate the executors (just like tabloids did to Michael) but until someone can come up with an alternative and one who we can be assured 100% would have been Michael’s alternative, we have to accept what we have. I hope the Estate and the docu owners can work this out. It is so important to see Michael fit, well and happy after what we now know from the (bottom feeding) AEG trial.
      And, FTR, QJ IMO should not be on any board to make decisions about Michael’s affairs. He’s done enough MJ bashing that I have little, if any, respect for him anymore.

  6. Mas

    July 3, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Estate fucked up this time. But Xscape album is AMAZING! First thing they did right.

    • Mariam

      July 4, 2014 at 2:40 am

      AMEN !!!!

  7. Mack

    July 3, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    I am not an Estate defender, by any means. But if the following statement is true – then Weitzman’s claim is correct, this footage is “work for hire” and Michael Jackson is the author of that footage:

    “I want you to take it from the perspective of Mr. Weber, so you’re getting the making of the whole thing from his perspective,” Jackson instructs the film crew as he prepares to be photographed by Weber.

    We know MJ’s Estate profited from TII and I assume the same is true for Bad 25. If the above footage was authored by MJ, he also has the right to share in the profits from this new documentary. I don’t think we can assume the Estate doesn’t want it seen quite yet, but we can assume that they want MJ to get his cut. If he paid for that footage to be shot, he has a right to profit from it. This appears to be a valid copyright ddispute.

    • gboete

      July 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Yep, and I wonder, after reading what Michael said (and hearing him say that in footage) if it is correct that Mr. Williams has this footage in possession. Maybe he (Williams) did not get paid, for some reason, and he thinks that now he has the right to do anything with it. I am sure the production cost was not 1.25 million, otherwise Michael would not have agreed to do it. He simply could not afford it. Maybe we have to wait for the truth to come out. I don’t like to speculate, but I think many people will be surprised when they find out how it really went.

      • MjfanLA

        July 3, 2014 at 8:39 pm

        Of course Michael said film this and that because he’s Michael Jackson and is creative and has ideas of how he wants to look and be portrayed when he is being filmed. Obviously all stars are concerned about how the look and what’s being shot of them. This doesn’t mean Michael hired the to shoot him is means Michael was involved in what did and didn’t want shot. We will have to wait for the outcome.

  8. morinen

    July 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    It’s unfortunate that this release got blocked in a legal dispute. Footage of MJ in the last years would be very dear to fans. I wish the Estate just let it go.

    However, from the lawsuit docs, it looks like they likely do have legal ground to claim copyright co-ownership which means good chances the producer won’t be allowed to release it without the Estate’s permission. Also $1.25M seems a bit over the top. Maybe if they approached it more gracefully from the beginning and asked the Estate’s permission instead of trying to sell it to them for an insane amount, we’d be able to see it now.

    • MjfanLA

      July 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      If you read it correctly the Estate past on it and never made claims to the footage nor did they every state then it was a “work for hire” when it was offered to them nor did they ever present any evidence during this negotiations that they had a claim on the footage when it was offered to them so why all of a sudden they want to say it was a “work for hire” now that someone else acquired the footage and the rights to the footage after the estate passed on it? Simple because they messed up and passed o what could have been something else the estate could have made money on. They don’t known Michael and if they did they would have know that this footage was the start of his cenacle and into the public eye after the trial but they didn’t know that and made a boo boo and lost out. Williams legally obtained the footage and all rights from the third party and the third party held all rights not the estate. There is no work for hire because the third party owned it and shot it.

      • morinen

        July 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm

        According to Weitzman, though, when the owner communicated with the Estate, they didn’t mention their intention to release it commercially or sell it for commercial release. Hence, the whole “work for hire” issue didn’t come up. Of course, we may not know the whole story.

        The wise thing to do, imo, would have been for the party that was going to turn it into a commercial product (which would be Williams) to contact the Estate before paying money for the footage and check/clear it with them. Or, if Williams was deceived into thinking that the footage was owned and cleared by the party who sold it, he should sue them, not the Estate. But as I said, we may not know the whole story.

  9. MiMi

    July 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    – In July 2011, a lawyer representing the third party who shot the footage contacted Karen Langford from MJ Estate to sell the footage to MJ Estate. They showed portions of it to MJ Estate. They asked $250,000 to buy it, additional $250,000 for limited commercial usage (less than 10 minutes) and additional $750,000 to have full rights (so a total of $1.25 Million). Estate did not purchase it.

    WHY didn’t they purchase it to obtain the rights then? Seriously, Howard Weitzman raising a moral objection to the broadcast of this footage because Michael Jackson didn’t give ‘consent’ is laughable. And I’m gonna quote someone with whom I completely agree on this subject: “Michael Jackson didn’t ‘consent’ to any of the Estate’s posthumous products either. This footage is no more private than the footage of This Is It rehearsals.

    He didn’t consent to three fake songs on a “Michael” album. He didn’t consent to a box set where all his cherished music videos, which he put his heart and soul into and paid for out of his own pocket because they were so important to him, were carelessly shown in the wrong aspect ratio and frame rate, with his music presented in tinny stereo 2.0, rather than the 5.1 surround sound he insisted on while he was alive. He didn’t consent to the release of a grainy, strobing, degraded jumbtron VHS recording of a concert [Bad at Wembley] he specifically paid to have shot on celluloid movie film. ‘Consent’? That’s the argument the Estate wants to raise? Really?

    Hypocrisy in action. It would d be funny if it wasn’t so pitiful.

    The Estate almost certainly doesn’t own this footage or have any claim on it. A photographer always owns their own images, unless they specifically sign away the rights. This is just the Estate using bully-boy tactics to stop anyone else profiting from posthumous products Michael Jackson didn’t consent to. They want the monopoly on that particular business.”

    • gboete

      July 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      “I want you to take it from the perspective of Mr. Weber, so you’re getting the making of the whole thing from his perspective,” Jackson instructs the film crew as he prepares to be photographed by Weber.

      How do you understand this sentence then ? To me it looks like indeed Mr. Weber is the photographer, and he, or Michael will be the owner of the pictures or even Ebony or Vogue) But this has nothing to do with the making of the documentary. If Michael gives instructions for the filming, one might think that HE is the director, or producer, or financing it. In this case, the footage is owned by Michael. Is it fair then that Mr. Williams would take it an run away with it and charge the Estate for 1.25 M (for something that was owned by Michael) ? Like I said in an earlier post : the making of the docu surely did not cost that much money. I am NOT saying that this is the true story, but it is a possibility. So I would not beforehand point at the Estate as the “evil” ones. Let’s wait ….and be open minded.

      • Damien Shields

        July 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

        Where on Earth does the notion that Mr. Williams sought $1.25M from The Estate come from? $1.25M is the figure that the original owner of the photo shoots footage was shopping said footage and rights to The Estate for. Mr. Williams purchased said footage FROM that company in order to produce this documentary.

  10. MiMi

    July 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Oh, and did Michael specifically ever gave his consent that anyone can take his demos, “contemporize” them, remix them, and make a boastful ego-trip documentary on how they are “genius” who “made his demos/songs actually listenable”?

  11. ChrisB

    July 3, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Seems to me that at issue is who owns the footage or who has the copyrights to it. If Michael Jackson had the rights to it then selling it to the estate would be selling it something it already owns. The fan community may not always like what the estate releases but they do have the legal right to decide what is released. It is not the same argument to say the estate has released private stuff without Michael’s permission since the Estate now represents Jackson. It is comparing apples to oranges. I do hope they come to an agreement because it would be awesome for Michael Jackson’s legacy. It is now in the court’s hands.

    • gboete

      July 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      I totally agree, and I only hope everything will be correct, fair, and that some fans “think” before they write ….

    • Adam Schoales

      July 3, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      Exactly this.

      Like it or not, the Estate now is the arbiter of all things Jackson and that means that if you want to do something that he was involved in you have to go through them.

      This seems pretty cut and dry to me.

      It’s akin to someone having some un-released MJ vocals, making a song out of it, and then trying to release it on their own. They cannot do that because, even if they had recorded those vocals with Michael themselves the Estate now controls all things MJ related.

      Is it odd that they’d use the excuse about this being a private matter? Of course. Clearly they are blocking the release because they don’t want other people to make money off of Jackson’s likeness, presence, etc. But that’s a totally fair and valid argument, and this kind of control is important in the long run.

      Yes, in this case it may seem unfair, but let’s say the documentary was highly negative they could use the same power to block that.

      If the filmmakers poney up the money and strike a deal with the estate this all goes away. They didn’t and that’s why this is now a problem.

      • Mike Gunn

        July 3, 2014 at 10:14 pm

        Does this include MJ impersonators. Will they start legal disputes with them?

      • Q. Gabriel_Smith

        July 5, 2014 at 1:21 am

        To quote you’ “Clearly they are blocking the release because they don’t want other people to make money off of Jackson’s likeness, presence, etc. But that’s a totally fair and valid argument, and this kind of control is important in the long run.

        Yes, in this case it may seem unfair, but let’s say the documentary was highly negative they could use the same power to block that.”

        So why are they not blocking other negative documentaries then? So many have been made about him, and still continue to air. They maybe can’t, but they don’t even speak up or try. Nor do they try to protect his image at all, even when the family and fans cry out for them to file a complaint against disgusting UK media and their false allegations, they fail to follow through with an official complaint.

        There are plenty of people making money of Michael’s image on bootleg items of merch etc. And they hardly do anything to stop this. They stopped his OWN MOTHER from releasing a book about her son. Katherine (and J3) ARE the Estate. These greedy men are the Executors.

        They passed on their chance to purchase this film, and now they have changed their minds because they realised that they hadn’t thought of a way to monetize it themselves and were now going to miss out.

  12. Elena Lucheroni

    July 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    MiMi you perfectly hit the point. Right!

  13. Maggie

    July 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Makes you wonder about the Estate at times. The songs MJ wrote were put out as were other things, why not something worthwhile like the last photos…I’m sure fans would just love to see them as I would. What so private about them? Weren’t his songs that were in a vault private?

    • Mike Gunn

      July 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I believe his mother released the book Never Can Say goodbye but this is no longer available. Ask the estate why? The estate did not release a book for Bad 25, which could have been interesting because Thriller 25 book was released. There is not much poor quality leaked footage of mj on you tube. I would pay for the original if the estate ever releases it.

  14. Mister A

    July 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    ‘One scene is sure to send Jackson’s female fans into a frenzy…..’ Maybe his male fans might be sent in a frenzy too! You DO know MJ has Gay fans too, right?

  15. Tristan

    July 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Obviously the estate are terrified of anybody making any money off MJ without them getting a cut. As Damien mentioned, they have shown zero regard for MJ’s wishes or privacy with each and every release since his death..
    Hopefully this gets resolved quickly so we can see this film.. it sounds like it will be a really enjoyable watch for MJ fans.

  16. Ashley

    July 4, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Spectacular article!! I really do hope we get to see this!!

  17. S. L. Trout

    July 4, 2014 at 3:07 am

    This news about legal haggling is so disappointing. If the Estate was truly representing the best interest of Michael Jackson (beyond the ***financial***aspects), they would work to settle differences and make this documentary available to his fans. Video images are all we have of him now. This particular photo shoot was especially wonderful and shows Michael at his absolute best, physically and mentally. Please! This documentary is too important to be shelved.


    July 4, 2014 at 3:14 am

    I was there for the photo shoot. It was the first time I saw the KOP, until that day, I only knew Mr. Jackson.

  19. Fernanda

    July 4, 2014 at 3:20 am

    LOL… You forgot VISION DVD with “One more chance” B$! I wonder if Michael wanted to release it in that way or never do it in any way! 😉

  20. Fernanda

    July 4, 2014 at 3:22 am

    “As Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, Jackson’s bodyguards at the time recalled in their book ‘Remember the Time – Protecting Michael Jackson in his final days’; this was Mr. Jackson in ‘King of Pop mode’. (…)” -_-

  21. arya

    July 4, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Personally, I am not very keen on watching a documentary on MJ’s photoshoot. Why not concentrate on Xscape and release footages of MJ recording in the studios or talking about his songs? I was very much looking forward to the Xscape documentary, although it was nice to see people talking about their experiences working with MJ it would have been even better to see some pictures or footages as well. Bad 25 till date is the only documentary that I have watched many times because it has great information about MJ’s talent and how he made ideas work. And I have watched the MTV 1999 interview of MJ talking about Thriller and the process involved in creating it many times. Its amazing to hear it from the master himself. Why not dig in the vaults and make a documentary on things that he worked for? Making a documentary on his humanitarian work, his inspiration, talking about Neverland are also great ideas. I also loved the Immortal world tour documentary. What exactly would we benefit by watching MJ in his photoshoot? Also, it was meant to be private. I am sure MJ would never have wanted to release a documentary where it showed him stumbling and falling during the photoshoot.

    • Q. Gabriel_Smith

      July 5, 2014 at 1:11 am

      A documentary of his Humanitarian work and speeches (Oxford speech!) would be incredible. But it won’t sell records, so it won’t happen.

  22. Tina

    July 4, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I guess I’m an “unprincipled whore” then, because I support the estate in doing the job MICHAEL JACKSON chose them to do, not who the “fans” want in that position.. Their job is to protect and grow Michael’s estate for his children, the way HE wanted, which is exactly what they’ve been doing.They can’t and never will make every single fan happy.

    • Q. Gabriel_Smith

      July 5, 2014 at 1:10 am

      Then why are they doing such a bad job? They aren’t protecting his image and legacy at all, nor have they grown his Estate. They have created a $750 MILLION debt to the IRS.
      And what evidence is there that Michael chose these corrupt clowns, including Branca who MJ fired for his illegal acts prior? A very questionable will and what else?

      • Tina

        July 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Oh my gosh, It’s true!! ignorance really is bliss, isn’t it?! ESTATE/BRANCA HATERS, GET OVER IT!!!!

  23. CoCoKitty

    July 5, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Sadly so many are on the side of the “documentary” and badmouthing the estate.. how quickly memories fade – perhaps if the estate were to release some NEW footage, fans wouldn’t be so desperate for ANYTHING Michael.
    HOWEVER, those connected to this photo shoot were also the ones who thought it FUNNY and profitable that Michael TRIPPED AND FELL during this shoot and they were more than happy to release that video and photos to the press. Sorry but I don’t see them as a ‘victim’ of the Big Bad MJ Estate.

  24. Heath Claiborne

    July 6, 2014 at 9:34 am

    If you have read any of my past comments on here, you will find that I am an ardent MJ supporter. What I am about to say will rub many the wrong way, but I’m just being candid.
    The estate probably is not enthusiastic about showing this footage because at this point of Jackson’s career, he looks like a mannequin woman. It is just flat out sad and weird to a new generation of pop culture who did not grow up with the electrifying and charming image of the 80s. This is the brand the estate wants to preserve. Anything post Dangerous does not help the cause.
    I am a DJ. The younger generations at events and weddings don’t often request Michael Jackson because they grew up familiar with the negative impression of him of his last years. If they do request MJ, 90% of the time one of three songs: Thriller, Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal. Every once in a while you get something else, maybe Beat It or The Way You Make Me Feel, but that’s it.
    This is the way legacy branding works. For example if you have ever heard about a Dollywood, the theme park in Tennessee based on Dolly Parton’s career, you will see they mostly use images of her from about 10 years ago. Why? Because she looks like a plastic mannequin/grandmaw now… trying to preserve an image without just being able to age gracefully. When she dies one day, the park will likely begin using images closer to her prime rather than try to use images “sort of” closer to her living age. This is our culture…we are programmed to worship youth rather
    than celebrate and honor our seniors.
    Bottomline, the new generation doesn’t care about that brand of Jackson from the photo shoot. As a matter of fact they make fun of it because it’s bizarre and creepy, just like watching granny Madonna grope on stage with young performers.
    The estate is trying to make $. Period.

    • Mike Gunn

      July 6, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      Is that why the estate has not released the Victory tour but used a post History era photo on the Xscape album?

      • Heath Claiborne

        July 8, 2014 at 7:42 am

        No. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about the Victory tour except hardcore fans such as those that make comments here. However it is why they covered his face up with a Saturn like ring collar.

    • Raven Woods

      July 7, 2014 at 4:21 am

      Heath Claiborne, what you are saying is exactly WHY this documentary is so important and why it needs to be seen. In case you haven’t been paying attention (evidently you haven’t) there is a precise reason why an entire legion of female MJ fans are clamoring for this release. There are many of us who find Michael in his mature era incredibly sexy. The so-called “freak” image of him was not based on footage like those we have from these photo shoots. It is based on those awful, unflattering (sometimes even photoshopped pics) that the tabloids regurgitated over and over. The tabloids loved to be in control of the image of Michael that the world saw in his last years. Precisely what I love about the concept of this film is that it is a celebration of Michael’s physical beauty at almost fifty years of age.

      Secondly, although I believe the release of “Love Never Felt So Good” as the lead single off Xscape was an obvious ploy to appeal to the nostalgia factor, I have not seen any evidence that the estate is only attempting to sell the youthful MJ brand. The Cirque du Soleil show, for example, encompasses his entire career. They made the conscious decision to feature a mature era photo of Michael prominently on the Xscape cover. For the virtual hologram performance, when they could have chosen any Michael era to represent, including his Thriller-era image, they opted instead to go with a Dangerous-era representation. So, frankly, I think you are way off base on this one, not to mention your comments are so downright demeaning that I seriously doubt you are a supporter.

      If Michael’s female fans alone support this doc, heck, it should make a killing. Beyond that, if it encourages others to re-think what they were led to believe about the caricature myth created by the tabloids, that is even better and all the more reason why it needs to be seen.

      I don’t pretend to know what is going on behind the scenes with this doc or who is in the right as far as the legalities of it, but I pretty safely assure that the reasons behind it have nothing to do with MJ’s appearance or any desire to only sell his 80’s image.

      • Heath Claiborne

        July 8, 2014 at 7:33 am

        I’m sorry, there may be “legions” of older hardcore female MJ fans who don’t think he looks like a caked make-up woman during this period, but there are not “legions” of MJ fans of the new generation. Maybe some fans of MJ music, but not of MJs physical appearance post Dangerous years.
        He looked horrible in This Is It, and his face was intentionally hidden in the One More Chance video. I’m not sure why you used the hologram as an example because I said, “post-Dangerous.” Regardless, the reason they used this image of him during the Dangerous period is because Slave to the Rhythm was RECORDED DURING THE DANGEROUS period in 1991… good grief Captain Obvious! In both Immortal and One, producers use music from his entire career, but much less imagery in post Dangerous years. On the Xscape cover, his face is covered with a Saturn-like ring. I think that photo looked OK, the space modern theme fit a look of “contemporized” music of synth sounds and Timberland snap beats rather than a too retro look.
        So basically your logic is because I candidly remarked I think that MJ looked like a mannequin during this time frame, I am being very demeaning and therefore I must not be a MJ supporter? …….because obviously ALL true supporters think he looked just swell?
        That really makes sense Miss Sensitive Pants

        • Pyrefly

          April 27, 2016 at 10:56 pm

          Heath, I’m gonna’ apologize in advance for being a long-winded, pontificating jackass. With that said:

          What the absolute fuck are you talking about? You speak of Michael as if he’s never been feminine before the 90s. Michael Jackson has ALWAYS been feminine. It’s like when people point out how “weird” Michael ended up, as if he weren’t ALWAYS fucking weird. However, weird is absolutely not synonymous with bad. Weird is a large part of what made Michael extraordinary and beautiful – and immortal. But I digress.

          Even in his teens before a stitch of cosmetic alteration, his voice, mannerisms and persona can be considered quite feminine for a male – Michael has always been a combination of traditionally feminine and masculine characteristics. I find Michael’s androgynous nature to be highly alluring and suspect countless other fans do as well, regardless of gender identity or sexuality. Whether people realize it or not, Michael’s appeal transcends black and white perceptions of attraction and beauty.

          Both men and women have always been attracted to Michael because he’s this fascinating juxtaposition of pretty, sweet and soft spoken against a fierce, hard edged intensity on stage. His voice was a pure, trilling sound that wasn’t distinctly masculine or feminine, but a more otherworldly union of both spectra.

          There’s a reason why he appealed to so many different types of people and it’s not because he was ever a rugged, masculine “every-man” type of guy. I’d also say him being perceived as sexy is largely irrelevant. Who cares if the average mainstream basic ass female doesn’t find him sexy.

          Many do find him sexy in all eras, (as I have seen constantly on fan boards) but I don’t believe that sex appeal is what inherently draws most people to Michael Jackson in the first place. I mean, sex was not his brand, he did not deliberately try to be sexy. It’s not like he’s famous for being a Playboy Bunny or an extra on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. He’s famous for line dancing with spectres, wide eyes, wearing pink Mickey Mouse sweaters and being dipped in the sparkly section of Jo-Ann’s Craft Store.

          “Sexy” is just too narrow of a concept. Some people only have sexy but Michael had WAY more than that. I think a lot of people are attracted to Michael in ways that simultaneously define and blur lines of aesthetic, romantic, sensual, platonic and sexual attraction.

          For instance, I truly believe a large deal of men are attracted to Michael Jackson in a way that’s not necessarily sexual at all, but it’s the kind of thing they’d be hard pressed to admit so they rely on his dancing/music to be the arbiter of their interest when it’s really more than that. But it’s precisely why I think it’s a bit off base for this article to say “female fans” would be drawn to a certain scene as if dudes – be they gay, straight or otherwise – wouldn’t. Like men don’t think Michael was a sweet, adorable bastard? Bullshit they don’t.

          The truth is, a lot of people were attracted to Michael for many reasons, he was a magnetic motherfucker. I think young people who aren’t familiar with the 80s God would have still been all over Mikey if he were alive and on fire like he was s’posed to be right now. I’m young and a lot of my peers are assholes, but they’re just ignorant of who Michael is. For the young and unknowing to the older and jaded, if people would just be open-minded enough to realize he never “really” changed. But I’m off tangent again.

          Do not even sit here and tell the lie that a feminine Michael Jackson is not appealing in our current era of pop culture where androgyny and queerness are more readily laced within the forefront of social media, music and television than ever before.

          Michael Jackson never needed to be, act or look like a regular dude and he wasn’t meant to. In reference to the photoshoot, Michael DID look pretty damn good in the footage I’ve seen, better than he’d looked in years. The trailers are completely positive – Michael is glowing with smiles and giggles and an obvious good mood. People who’ve met Michael have spoken about this transfixing “aura” he exudes, including straight men. It’s like unicorns, kittens, rainbows and glitter are falling out of his ass and everyone loves it.

          You dismiss this documentary because you are going solely on his appearance, which means you’re missing the entire damn point of it. It needs to be released because this is one of the rare moments where we are privy to Michael as a person, where we get to see him laugh and have fun and feel comfortable. In so many interviews he was obviously in disarray, feeling violated and treated like a circus freak.

          But this is so different. You can FEEL the beauty of Michael Jackson and THAT is what is important, that is why people – casual fans, hardcore stans, haters and bums on the street need to have the opportunity to see the goddamn documentary in its entirety. A lot of people don’t know who Michael was and it’s because they’ve not tried to look, they’ve only taken the shit on a plate the mainstream media serves and called it a day. The type of footage that’s shown in this doc allows people to see and understand him more readily without a filter of bullshit.

          I remember listening to the recording of the 2007 Ebony Interview back then and thinking about how marvelous Michael sounded, I replayed it so many times. He seemed happy and excited, he sounded ridiculously young and full of vitality – I never thought we’d lose him so soon. This documentary features that same Michael and it would be a fucking shame if The Estate really felt the way you do – that revealing Michael, the real, human, special creature that he was to our modern world would hurt him.

          The reality is that we NEED more material like this. It helps dispel the manufactured caricature the media has used as a stand-up routine all these years. It’s like those clips and flashes circulating Youtube – of Michael being shy and embarrassed, of Michael speaking earnestly about magic, where we hear the laughter, the smile in his voice, his mannerisms. These moments showcase Michael not as an entertainer, not as a money making slot machine, but as a human being. An uncommonly gentle, mellifluous, charmingly weird, breathtaking human being who deserves respect, who deserves love. I suppose that’s it in a nut shell – this documentary displays why Michael deserves love.

    • Diana Rose

      July 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      you know, MJ looked better than he had in years during this time period. I believe it’s probably because Makeup artist Karen Faye was out of the picture….. but he looks way better in this footage than he does in Living With Michael Jackson doc and even This is It, which were the last glimpses people had of MJ besides the trial stuff… Michael Jackson loooks realy good in this footage. really really really good…..If I keep going I’ll embarras myself but yeah… you’re a dude Heath Claiborne. Of course you don’t see it.

  25. Chicago

    July 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    you know…what I really hope can be done, is that these people and the Estate negotiate something to where we can see this documentary…my issue with the way they wanted to do it is that it would be shown only on Brazillian television. If we can have it as a Worlwide Network TV special I wuold be very very happy. If the estate can work out advertisement for Xscape into the airng of the Doc that would be good too right? Maybe the music from Xscape can be used in parts where MJ isn’t talking like they used various music in The Making Of Ghosts IF the Estate and these people can work this out without either one playing dirty it could be a really good thing. If they can’t it will be a huge Estate FAIL

    • Raven Woods

      July 9, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Heath Caliborne is more than a dude. Complete jackass is more like it.

      • Heath Claiborne

        July 11, 2014 at 8:07 am

        Maybe. But I’m candid and logical. The context was speculating why the estate may or may not have interest in releasing this footage. This “dude” believes that most women do not find that photo above an attractive masculine man, which I would surmise most ladies prefer (when I use the word “most,” this is the group the estate likely has vested interest). If you kissed that “sexy” face you would have caked makeup all over your lips! Now, don’t get your panties all in a wad…just messing with you. I’m not P.C.,and I’m not a fawning follower…I would never stand outside a hotel screaming for a signed pillow case from ANYONE.
        However that man is the greatest entertainer of my generation, and I admire and respect the man and the music.

        • Diana Rose

          July 11, 2014 at 11:22 am

          from what I’ve seen his appearance in this footage is reminicant of how he looked during HIStory era. healthy and robust. Whether Michael seemed masculine or feminine looking was never an issue for me. He was always beautiful and attractive in some way or another. most women are way more relaxed than men when it comes to those bounderies. Why does it matter so much when you got people like Prince, Steven Tyler, all the 80’s hair band members David bowie back in the day… all those guys looked effeminate and women flocked to them. They stil do btw… nobody seriously makes fun of their looks or sexuality either..
          Steven Tyler wears makeup, ladies perfume, womens clothing, womens shoes sometimes… and it’s hot. Did you see the women all over him when he was on american idol??
          Michael in this footage may look sorta womaish to you but he’s gorgeous no matter how you want to descrbe it. His body language and his behavior seems totally masculine and confident. The public didn’t get to see him as that confident intelligent person as often as they should have. Alot of people by now relaize he had a skin disease and some other issues maybe but are ready too look past that to see the person. Yeah some people will make jokes about him looking like a woman or something, but what else is new? He looks alot better and healthier than in the bashir interview, and somehow we got through that schitstorm. I wan to se this footage and if that means the haters get to see it too so be it…

          • Diana Rose

            July 11, 2014 at 11:28 am

            and Heath Claiborne isn’t a jackass either. he seems to be an okay dude to me Raven. He just has a differing opinion, which is totaly okay.

          • Diana Rose

            July 11, 2014 at 11:43 am

            how old is older heath? I’m in my twenties. and I have other female friends who are younger who feel the same way.

          • Heath Claiborne

            July 11, 2014 at 10:30 pm

            Diana always graciously and sweetly defends others. 🙂
            Thank you. All your points are very good and I agree.

            My original opinion was the estate is most interested (not solely,mostly) in mainstream popular culture, and I speculate (which I emphasize I don’t really know) that the estate is interested in not only preserving a legacy, but rebooting his legacy for tens fans, and hose who grew up learning about a tainted, weird reputation unfairly and maliciously created by the cold media.

            Pop culture is popular because it is the easiest group to be a part. It is the easiest sector to program and market to because they are the most vulnerable and easiest to influence. Everyone wants to be accepted and be a part of something so they feel like they have a purpose.

            I view the the population in 3 general groups: (this is a gross generalization so please be slow to be offended)

            The first group is the popular mainstream market. This is the largest group by far. They generally just like what whatever their friends like, or what they are told to like. They are not trend setters; they are followers. These are the same people who join bandwagons and trends. These are the kids wearing the latest logos on their shirts like the Sneetches with stars on their belly in the Dr. Seuss story.

            The second group is the ones who try so hard to be cool and shun pop regardless of the quality actual quality and talent. You know ….the ones who read a underground article then tell you how some fringe band is so great, or wear something like a Clash shirt or something discriminating but definitely never popular to the mainstream….that would be uncool.

            The third group are those who simply recognize good music and talent regardless whether it is popular or alternative. They are not swayed by what others think. If they like it and enjoy it, then it is so.

            (There is one last group I forgot. Such as the old man walking the mall in S.A.S. beige loafers with brown socks and plaid shorts because he don’t give a S***!
            They are the coolest of all because all they care about is who they love and where they are going.)

            The estate IMHO is focused on group 1.
            This is where the money lies and to be mined.

            My opinion is that much of group 1 grew up influenced negatively by the media, and created a marketing stymie. These documentary and photos don’t help that cause towards the mainstream, especially the younger popular market. I think more find it strange than sexy, that’s all. Just my opinion.

            I knew when I used my never subtle adjectives that I would get a rise from someone emotional or sensitive, and I might indeed be a jackass because I made the remark knowing it would happen.:)

          • Raven Woods

            July 16, 2014 at 2:44 am

            Diane, I think you hit on something important which is what I was trying to say. Michael displays a dashing confidence in himself and his mature looks in these shots which wasn’t always on display. Throughout most of the 00’s he was very reclusive and the public only saw him as he was caricatured in the tabloids. From the Bashir doc to the Arvizo trial, everything was focused on the negative and the “freakish.” We rarely got to see instances where Michael “owned” his looks and sexuality during this period. Rather, he was always being portrayed as the butt of some late night comedian’s joke. Again, as I’ve said before, a very important reason why this documentary needs to be seen.

          • Heath Claiborne

            July 16, 2014 at 8:25 am

            40 years old, can’t say 39 anymore…

        • Raven Woods

          July 16, 2014 at 2:54 am

          Well, I will apologize for the “jackass” remark but keep in mind that you say you are only being candid and speaking your mind. Okay, so when I am candid and speak my mind, I am accused of being sensitive and having my panties in a twist. What’s the difference? No, it is called having an equally strong opinion and the confidence to feel I am right in expressing it. And I simply don’t agree that the estate is only interested in promoting the youthful image of Michael. There is nothing substantial to support such a theory. It is what you think because it is your OPINION-as a guy, no less- that this is the only commercially viable image of Michael that the public will accept. To get back to the original issue, I doubt seriously that has anything at all to do with the issue of this documentary. It is Williams, after all, who is suing the estate, not vice versa.

          • Heath Claiborne

            July 16, 2014 at 8:22 am

            You initiated the engagement by concluding my comments are demeaning, and therefore I’m not a true supporter. You accused me. I teased you after the accusation, but accuse you of nothing. That’s the difference.
            Your opinion is valid, maybe more accurate than mine.
            No apology needed. I am a jackass, but a huge MJ fan! 🙂

        • sal

          July 23, 2014 at 6:27 am

          The estate could make it available on the website for the hardcore fans like they did with the Bad documentary. The don’t need to put it on VEVO. Personally I thought MJ looked great in the Off The Wall and Thriller era. He doesn’t look any worse in this photo shoot than he did during the Living With MJ documentary. It is another part of MJ’s history so it should be made available. Only hard core fans pay attention to this stuff anyway.

  26. Heath Claiborne

    July 11, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    * for new fans, not ten fans

  27. Diana Rose

    July 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    lol @ Heath Claiborne “ten fans, and hoes”

    • Heath Claiborne

      July 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

      Haha! Exactly, the estate is going after the fans and hoes…

      Whoops, sloppy iPhone attempt while stuck in DJ booth…I have lost all grammatical dignity

  28. google

    September 21, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Remember to add a link on each oof the written content.
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  29. Ebony Exclusive .com

    October 28, 2015 at 11:26 am

    I really need to get a password for this site…theres a video i need to see so bad but cant find…best video ever but i cant find it for free…

    Ebony Exclusive .com –

  30. Aurora

    September 8, 2020 at 7:43 am

    y ¿En qué quedó el documental? ¿Al fina se publicó o no?

  31. Noach

    July 18, 2021 at 10:27 am

    But La Toya later recanted her claims, and nobody in the Jackson family ever confirmed any of these rumors. The King of Pop was open about his father’s corporal punishment. He wept during a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey as he accused his father of physical abuse. (Joseph Jackson recalled it this way: “I whipped him with a switch and a belt. I never beat him — you beat someone with a stick.”) But Michael had many opportunities to blame his father for sexual mistreatment, and he never did. There is no known evidence to support the claim.

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Cascio Tracks

Supreme Court Judge Grills Sony Lawyer Over ‘Contradictory’ Arguments in Alleged Michael Jackson Fraud



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A lawyer defending Sony Music and the Estate of Michael Jackson in a consumer fraud lawsuit has today argued that the billion-dollar corporations should be able to sell forgeries to unwitting consumers – without being held liable for doing so.

During the California Supreme Court hearing, which was streamed live around the world, Sony attorney Zia Modabber was pulled up for presenting contradictory arguments when attempting to justify the record company’s false attribution of three songs to Jackson on the 2010 Michael album.

The hearing centred around a class action lawsuit filed by Californian consumer Vera Serova – a Michael Jackson fan who purchased the Michael album under the premise that it was a collection of unreleased songs performed by the King of Pop.

In her lawsuit, Serova contends that three of the songs on Michael – “Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” – are forgeries, and that Jackson’s estate and Sony misled her and millions of consumers around the world by falsely representing those forgeries as authentic Jackson material.

Today’s Supreme Court hearing focused specifically on Sony and the Estate’s culpability in the matter.

The corporations argue that the First Amendment (free speech) gives them the constitutional right to lie to consumers without remedy, and that they should be removed from the lawsuit because of this.

In fact, Sony and the Estate have been petitioning to be removed from this case for 6 years, alleging that plaintiff Serova strategically filed her lawsuit to prevent the record company from exercising their First Amendment right to participate in the public dialogue regarding the authenticity of the songs.

The dialogue in question is the wording on the reverse side of the album cover, which stipulates that the vocals on the album were “performed by Michael Jackson” (see below).


In a 2016 hearing regarding this matter, attorney Zia Modabber argued on behalf of Sony and the Estate that if anyone were to be held liable for the fraud it should be the original producers of the songs – Eddie Cascio and James Porte – because they provided them under the false pretence that they were authentic.

Today, in front of seven Supreme Court Justices, Mr. Modabber made the same argument on behalf of Sony and the Estate.

In what was a rollercoaster hearing, Modabber told the court that Sony and the Estate were “100%” certain that the vocals on the songs in question were authentic based on an investigation conducted by former Estate attorney Howard Weitzman in November 2010.

A few minutes later, in a complete about-face, Modabber claimed that neither Sony nor the Estate were in a position to know who sang the vocals – a backflip which Justice Groban took issue with:

“How can it be both? Why is Sony saying with 100% certainty that Michael is the singer if you weren’t certain? Which is essentially what I hear you saying now.”

Mr. Modabber also made a number of arguments throughout his 30-minute presentation which seemed only to benefit plaintiff Serova’s side.

At one point, Modabber explained the identity of the artist is what gives art its meaning and value. In other words, if Michael Jackson wasn’t singing on the songs in question, they’d be irrelevant and worthless:

“The identity of the artist is part and parcel of the art. It imparts meaning to the art.”

The attorney, on behalf of Sony and the Estate, went on to give an example:

“There’s a song that Michael wrote called Leave Me Alone, and it’s about being persecuted by the press. When Michael Jackson sings that song – because it’s Michael Jackson singing it – it gives a certain meaning to that song. If I sang that song – nobody cares about me – it doesn’t have the same meaning as if Michael Jackson sings that song. And that’s why authors and the source of the art are part of – and intimately connected to – the art itself… It undeniably adds to the meaning of the art.”

Without Michael Jackson’s name on the songs in question, they couldn’t commercially exploit them.

Therefore, according to Sony’s logic, the company had no choice other than to falsely attribute the authorship to Jackson in order to give them meaning and value in the eyes of consumers.

In what can only be described and an own goal, Modabber continued by asserting that the consumers of art want to know who the artist is, and that he cannot think of a scenario in which the identity of the artist doesn’t matter:

“Imagine art, out in the world, with no attribution of authorship. Imagine you just didn’t know who it came from or what the source was. It’s not the same. There is a character and a quality and an impact and a curiosity by those who consume the art about where it came from and what the source was. It adds meaning to it. We want to know who it is. We want to know where it came from. We want to know what inspired it. And part of that is the identity of the artist. And so I can’t think of a situation where the identity of the artist doesn’t matter.”

More to come when the California Supreme Court hands down their ruling on this matter.

For those of you who are interested, a podcast series detailing my investigation of this case, called Faking Michael, is currently in production. Subscribe to Faking Michael on Apple PodcastsSpotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.

Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.

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Creative Process

Invincible, ‘Xscape’ and Michael Jackson’s Quest for Greatness



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Below is a chapter from my book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault, revised for this article. The full book is available via Amazon and iBooks.

In order to fully appreciate the origins and evolution of “Xscape” – an outtake recorded for Michael Jackson’s Invincible album – it’s important to first understand Jackson’s relationship with its co-writers.

The journey begins in early 1999, when in-demand producer Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins received a phone call from renowned songwriter Carole Bayer Sager.

Bayer Sager’s working relationship with Michael Jackson dates back to the late 1970s, when she and producer David Foster co-wrote “It’s The Falling In Love” – a duet recorded by Jackson and R&B star Patti Austin, which was released on Jackson’s Off The Wall album in 1979.

Two decades later, Jackson and Bayer Sager were again working together.

During her 1999 phone call with Jerkins, Bayer Sager explained that she and Jackson were writing songs for Jackson’s next studio album at her home in Los Angeles, and that they wanted Jerkins to join them.

“He was this guy who went around Hollywood, and around the industry, saying his dream was to work with me,” explains Jackson.

“I was at Carol Bayer Sager’s house, who is this great songwriter who has won several Academy Awards for her songwriting, and she said: ‘There’s a guy you should work with… His name is Rodney Jerkins. He’s been crying to me, begging to meet you. Why don’t you pick up the phone and say hi to him?’”

Jerkins recalls that in the end, Bayer Sager made the call:

“Carole called me and said that she was gonna have a writing session at her house with Michael Jackson and she wanted me to do a track. I was like, are you serious?”

And so the producer immediately booked a flight from New Jersey to Los Angeles and headed straight to Bayer Sager’s home.

“I went over there and it was just an amazing experience. I was in awe,” recalls Jerkins.

“I’ve always heard people that worked with him say, ‘When you meet Michael, it’s crazy!’ But I’m the type of guy who’s like nah, I’ma be okay, I’ma be cool. It’s just another artist. And then once I got there, and was in his presence, I was like whoa, this is crazy!”

Jerkins explains that not seeing Jackson at the industry events or private parties added to his untouchable mystique, but that once the pair got in the studio together a friendship was born:

“Once I got in the studio, and once he felt comfortable with me, and I felt comfortable with him, it was like the best thing ever. And we just built a really solid friendship throughout the years. And we stayed working and stayed in contact and he was just a great guy.”

But the collaborative relationship between Jackson and Jerkins almost didn’t come to fruition.

Jackson recalls that when he met Jerkins at Carole Bayer Sager’s home in early 1999, Jerkins asked Jackson if he could have two weeks to work on a collection of ideas to present to him:

“He came over that day and he said, ‘Please, my dream is to work with you. Will you give me two weeks and I’ll see what I can come up with.”

Two weeks later, Jackson met with Jerkins for a second time, and Jerkins played him the collection of tracks he’d come up with.

“The day that Rodney met with Michael, he played him all these records,” recalls Cory Rooney – a songwriter and producer who was working as the Senior Vice President of Sony Music at the time.

“Michael was like, ‘It’s not that the guy’s not talented, but everything he plays me sounds typical. Like Brandy and Monica,’ whom Rodney had worked with previously.”

According to Rooney, the pop star didn’t want to fit in with the current industry sound of the time. Jackson wanted to pioneer his own new sound.

“And Michael just said, ‘I don’t wanna sound like Brandy and Monica. I need a new Michael sound. Big energy.’ And this is after Rodney played him twenty records.”

At this point, Jackson wasn’t sure whether Jerkins was the right man for the job.

“So Michael came back to me and said, ‘I don’t know if he’s the guy.’ And I was so sure that Rodney Jerkins was the most rhythmic, hard-hitting sound out there in terms of producers – other than Teddy Riley who was that at one point for Michael – I just said this is the guy. Rodney’s the guy.”

Rooney’s belief that Jerkins could essentially be Jackson’s ‘new Teddy Riley’ was no coincidence given that Jerkins grew up idolising Riley’s production style.

“Teddy Riley was the producer that changed my life,” recalls Jerkins.

“I remember being eleven years old and trying to emulate Teddy Riley. He was everything. He was everything to my career. Then having the opportunity to meet him at fourteen years old, and to play my music for him, and him telling me that I was good enough to make it was the inspiration and extra encouragement that I needed to know that this was real; that I wasn’t just some kid in a basement trying to make beats, but actually someone who could have a career.”

Riley went on to mentor Jerkins for years, and was reportedly responsible for Jerkins’ first encounter with the King of Pop at age sixteen, five years before he got the chance to work with Jackson.

And so despite his reservations, based on Rooney’s strong recommendation that Jerkins could deliver, Jackson remained open-minded about working with the producer.

“So Michael said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Cory. Do you think Rodney would mind me telling him that he kind of needs to reinvent himself for me?’” recalls Rooney.

“I said of course Rodney wouldn’t mind. I said I’ll have the conversation with Rodney, then you can have the conversation with Rodney. So I went, on my own, and talked to Rodney and told him what Michael felt.”

Following Rooney’s heart-to-heart conversation with Jerkins, the producer met again with Jackson. Rooney recalls:

“At that point, Michael set up the meeting and said to Rodney, ‘I want you to go to your studio and I want you to take every instrument, and every sound that you use, and throw it away. And I want you to come up with some new sounds. Even if it means you’ve gotta bang on tables and hit bottles together and make new sounds. Do whatever you’ve gotta do to come up with new sounds and use those new sounds to create rhythmic big energy for me.’ Michael put the challenge to Rodney, and Rodney accepted.”

“I remember having the guys go back in and create more innovative sounds,” recalls Jackson.

“A lot of the sounds aren’t sounds from keyboards. We go out and make our own sounds. We hit on things, we beat on things. They are pretty much programmed into the machines. So nobody can duplicate what we do. We make them with our own hands, we find things and we create things. And that’s the most important thing, to be a pioneer. To be an innovator.”

“He changed my whole perception of what creativity in a song was about,” explains Jerkins.

“I used to think making a song was about just sitting at the piano and writing progressions and melodies. I’ll never forget this crazy story. Michael called me and says, ‘Why can’t we create new sounds?’ I said, what do you mean? He was like, ‘Someone created the drum, right? Someone created a piano. Why can’t we create the next instrument?’ Now you gotta think about this. This is a guy – forty years old – who has literally done everything that you can think of, but is still hungry enough to say ‘I wanna create an instrument.’ It’s crazy.”

Jerkins recalls that following Jackson’s orders, he went out and began sampling sounds to use in their records:

“I went to a local junkyard and I started gathering trash cans and different things, and I began to hit on them to try to find sounds. Michael told me to. Michael said, ‘Go out in the field.’ That was his term. He used to say, ‘Go out in the field and get sounds. Don’t do it like everybody else and go to a store and buy equipment. Go out in the field and get sounds.’ So I went out in the field and got sounds.”

After building a library of junkyard sounds to use in the tracks Jerkins, his brother Fred, and songwriter LaShawn Daniels – who form the Darkchild production team – started the writing process.

But they were unsure of exactly how to write for Jackson, especially since he hadn’t been thrilled with the first batch of songs.

Cory Rooney recalls:

“Rodney called me and said, ‘Cory, we’re still confused. We don’t know what to write about. We don’t know what to do.”

At the time, Rooney had just written a song for Jackson called “She Was Loving Me,” which Jackson had flown to New York to record with Rooney at the Hit Factory.

Above: Invincible outtake “She Was Loving Me” by Michael Jackson

Upon his return to LA, Rooney says that Jackson played the track for Jerkins and his team.

“Rodney said, ‘Cory… he loves your song. All he keeps playing for us is your song. What is it about your song that you think he loves? So I told him I got a little tip from Carole Bayer Sager. She told me that Michael is a storyteller. She said Michael loves to tell stories in his music. If you listen to Billie Jean, it’s a story. If you listen to Thriller, it’s a story. If you listen to Beat It, it’s a story. He loves to tell a tale.” 

The Darkchild production team began working on music for Jackson at an LA studio called Record One, where other Jackson collaborators including Brad Buxer, Michael Prince and Dr. Freeze were already working on their own ideas for the pop star.

“Rodney was running his sessions like twenty-four hours per day,” remembers Prince.

“They even brought beds in to sleep on. When Rodney would get tired, he would go and lay down and Fred would come in and work on lyrics. When Fred would get tired, he’d go and wake up LaShawn, who would come in and work on some things.”

“Michael would call the studio at two or three o’clock in the morning to just check in and see what we were doing,” recalls Rodney’s brother, Fred Jerkins III.

“He was constantly motivating us to think beyond the scope of our normal imagination with these songs. It was incredible.” 

“I used to sleep in the studio,” recalls Rodney.

“At every studio that I worked, I would make sure that they had a pull-out bed or something brought in for me because I would stay there for weeks at a time.”

Recording engineer Michael Prince recalls that the Darkchild production team worked so hard that the studio engineers couldn’t keep up:

“At some point, I remember the engineers coming to me and saying, ‘We can’t keep doing this. This is killing us!’ And I was like, just tell them. They’re people too! But they hung in there as long as they could.”

Producer Rodney Jerkins says that his work ethic was inspired by Jackson.

“He told me that if I was willing to really work hard, that we could make some magic together, and that’s what I did… I went in the studio and just really locked in and started creating nonstop every day.”

“We were in the studio for maybe a month before Mike came in, and we had all our ideas down. We had our melodies down, everything,” recalls Darkchild songwriter LaShawn Daniels.

“So when Mike finally came in, it was like the President coming in. The place was swept. Security came in, and it was going crazy.”

But it was Jackson’s knowledge of each member of the Darkchild production team that impressed Daniels the most:

“He came into the room and – surprisingly – he knew who each one of us was and what we did in respect to the project! Mike was so in tune with music as a whole that the stuff he told us still blows my mind.” 

In a further attempt to point the Darkchild production team in the right direction when working on songs for Jackson, Cory Rooney suggested that they start simple:

“I told Rodney, let’s start with the rhythm. I said if you’re confused on the rhythm, just start with that four on the floor beat, because that never goes wrong. And just create your rhythms to counter the four on the floor.

With that advice in mind, the Jerkins brothers and LaShawn Daniels wrote a song that they believed was a hit.

“And that became the track for You Rock My World. And the rest is history because LaShawn Daniels and everybody dug in and wrote a story to it.”

Rodney Jerkins explains how “You Rock My World” came to be:

Rock My World came about because I’m a fan of old Michael – like Off The Wall, Thriller, and The Jackson Five.”

Jerkins recalls that while Jackson was demanding new sounds, he felt it was also important to write songs that retained Jackson’s classic sound:

“Michael was like, ‘I want you to go outside and to take a bat and smash it against the side of a car and sample it.’ And I was doing it! He had me at junkyards with DAT recorders. And I was like, that’s all good, I’ll give you that, but you have to do this over here. And Rock My World was actually the first song that we wrote for Michael.”

By the time the demo to “You Rock My World” was ready for Jackson to hear, studio sessions had been shifted from Record One in Los Angeles to the Hit Factory and Sony Studios in New York City.

Rooney recalls that at that time, the Darkchild production team called him and invited him to come down to the studio to take a listen:

“They called me at the Hit Factory and said, ‘Cory, you’ve gotta come over. We think we’ve got it.’ When I walked in and they played me Rock My World, I almost passed out! I thought it was so amazing that I almost passed out. I was really, really blown away.”

Rooney recalls that he took the song to Jackson, so that he could hear the track:

“When I first played it for him he, asked me: ‘Do you love it?’ And I said yeah, yeah, I love it! And he said, ‘Well, I know you wouldn’t have come over here and played it for me if you didn’t like it, but do you love it?’ And I looked him right in his eyes and said Michael, I love it. I love this record. And he said, ‘Okay. I’ve got to be honest with you. I do like it. I don’t know if I love it yet, but I like it, and I’m going to just keep on living with it.’”

Rooney continues:

“If Michael is just a little bit interested in a song, you’re never gonna get him in the studio to record it. And so he lived with it, and showed up at the Sony studios in New York about a week later, with Rodney, and he kind of ran through the record.”

Darkchild songwriter LaShawn Daniels – who was an integral part of writing “You Rock My World” – remembers the moment Jackson came to the studio to work on the track.

“He had Rodney just play the track, and he said, ‘Who’s the guy doing the melodies?’ And it was me!”

Above: Snippet of the “You Rock My World” demo sung by LaShawn Daniels

Daniels continues:

“So I came into the room and Michael is standing there – freakin’ Michael Jackson! – and Mike comes up to me and says, ‘Rodney, play the track.’ And Rodney says, ‘Sure.’ Then Michael says to me, ‘Can you sing the melodies into my ear?’ And I’m like, are you serious? He’s like, ‘Just sing it in my ear.’ So I go right next to him, and I pull towards his ear, and I start singing.”

Daniels recalls that Jackson stopped him, and suggested they make minor change.

“He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘No. Let’s change this part.’ And I’m like, oh, my god! When he asked me to do that, I was done. I couldn’t even continue, and I had to stop. I said, Mike, listen, I appreciate you being so cool, but you can’t be this cool with me. I don’t even know what to do right now. And I can’t concentrate on the melodies because I’m singing to Michael Jackson! And he burst out laughing and just made us comfortable.”

Former Sony executive Cory Rooney recalls that from there, Jackson had Jerkins repeat the track a few more times before recording a scratch vocal to see how he felt about it with his own voice on it.

“He played with it a little bit and sang the first few lines. And then he played it back, listened to it with his voice on it, and said, ‘Okay, now I love it! So let’s go to the top, and I’m gonna kill this record.’ And everybody was so relieved.”

Rooney recalls that Jackson loved the background vocals LaShawn Daniels had recorded, and he wanted to include them on the Darkchild tracks – something that Jackson had also done with songs he recorded with producer Dr. Freeze a year prior.

“Michael said: ‘Man, you’re killing it. I love it! Sounds great.’ He loved LaShawn Daniels’ background vocals so much that he left them on You Rock My World and other songs they worked on together. Michael did the main notes but he left LaShawn in the background.”

Once “You Rock My World” was completed, Jackson challenged his newfound collaborative team to create even greater material.

“Those times with Michael… he taught me to challenge myself,” recalls Daniels.

“When we came up with the Rock My World melodies and everything, it felt great. We knew that was the record. But he came back and he said, ‘Challenge yourself. I’m not saying that this is not it, but can you beat it? If you can beat it, you’ve only touched greatness even more!’”

To guarantee that their focus would be on his project – and his project only – Jackson reportedly paid Rodney Jerkins the Darkchild production team not to work with anyone but him.

“He told me he wanted me to camp out and work on his album,” recalls Jerkins.

“I was slated to do about seven or eight artists… and Michael said, ‘No, no, no. You have to really focus on my project. I need you to really focus on this.’ And I was like yeah, but I got bills to pay. And he said, ‘I’ll take care of those. Tell me what they’re gonna pay you and how many songs and I’ll take care of it.’ So I ended up not working with all those different artists and just focusing on Michael.”

As production on the album progressed, the Darkchild team returned to New Jersey to continue working on unique sounds for Jackson, crafting rhythmic tracks from their library of sampled sounds – including sounds from those initial junkyard recordings.

“The process of working with Michael Jackson was so intense because he pushed me to the limit creatively,” explains Jerkins. 

“He loves to create in the same kind of way that I like to create,” Jackson says of Jerkins.

“I pushed Rodney. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and pushed him to create. To innovate more. To pioneer more. He’s a real musician. He’s a real musician and he’s very dedicated and he’s really loyal. He has perseverance. I don’t think I’ve seen perseverance like his in anyone. Because you can push him and push him and he doesn’t get angry.”

“Michael would call me at four o’clock in the morning and say, ‘Play me what you got,’” remembers Jerkins.

“I’m like, um, I’m about to go to sleep. But that’s how he was. He was so into the creative zone. On most of the stuff I did with him, the snares were made out of junkyard materials.” 

One of the songs that sprouted from the 1999 Darkchild sessions in New Jersey sessions was “Xscape” – originally penned as “Escape” per an early ASCAP Repertory listing.

Xscape was a record that I actually wrote the hook for myself,” recalls Fred Jerkins III, adding that he even sang the very first demo of the track:

“I don’t do any singing on songs at all. But on that one I actually had to sing the demo first, before it went to LaShawn to do the final demo version. So I actually had to get in the booth and sing it, and then the rest of the song was built around the hook idea.” 

An early demo of “Xscape” was first shown to Jackson during a phone call with Rodney Jerkins.

When Jackson heard what they’d come up with, according to Jerkins, he went crazy:

“He was like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what I’m talking about!’ It made him want to dance… Michael, he just loved to dance and would always tell me, ‘Make it funky.’ So musically I kept the promise and he kept the promise melodically, and we made up-tempo songs that made you wanna dance.”

As with Cory Rooney’s “She Was Loving Me” a few months earlier, Jackson was so in love with “Xscape” that he wanted to recording it immediately.

Instead of travelling to New Jersey – where the Darkchild production team was working – Rodney Jerkins had Jackson use a new recording technique designed by EDnet that allows engineers to capture high-quality audio through a phone line.

And so Jackson sang the background vocals – usually the first part of a song Jackson would record – down the phone while Rodney recorded them.

“From that point we would go in and do the complete demo version,” recalls Rodney’s brother, Fred Jerkins III.

“LaShawn was the one who would demo on all of the songs for Michael, and he did a good job of trying to imitate him. We would try and provide the best feel for Michael about how the song should be.”

When the demo was ready, producer Rodney Jerkins collaborated with Jackson on the lyrics before recording the lead vocals. Co-writer of the track, LaShawn Daniels, explains:

“What we did with Michael – because he was a great songwriter – is we had the tracks and we put the rhythm of the melodies down so when he came in he could hear the basic idea of what we wanted to do, but allow him to be a part of the creative process of lyrics and all that type of stuff.”

Allowing the hook to lead the way, the track’s lyrics became a defensive musical exposé in line with previously-released tracks like “Leave Me Alone” and “Scream” – about how the pop star’s privacy is rarely respected, and how details of his private life are often twisted or fabricated when reported on in the media.

Above: Invincible outtake “Xscape” by Michael Jackson

As with all of his music, Jackson was intimately involved with every nuance of “Xscape”.

Over the course of two years, Jackson and Jerkins continued to tinker with the track, adding new sounds and samples while bringing it closer and closer to completion.

“I tell them to develop it, because I’ve got to go on to the next song, or the next thing,” explains Jackson of his collaborative relationship with producers and songwriters.

“They’ll come up with something, working with my] ideas, and they’ll get back to me, and I’ll tell them whether I like it or not. I have done that with pretty much everything that I have done. I am usually there for the concept. I usually cowrite all the pieces that I do.”

“That was our process,” explains Rodney Jerkins.

“That’s the way we worked. We just kept at it until it was ready. We just worked on ideas, added this and that to the mix. Michael was like, ‘Dig deeper! Where’s the sound that’s gonna make you want to listen to it over and over again?’”

Engineer Brian Vibberts recalls working with Jerkins on “Xscape” at Sony Music Studio in New York City during the summer of 1999.

Vibberts, who also worked on Jackson’s HIStory album in 1995 and music for his Ghosts film in 1996, claims that Jackson was physically present at the studio far less during the Invincible sessions when compared to previous projects.

“Rodney would send the song to Michael, then talk to him on the phone. Michael would give him input on the song and request the changes that he wanted made. Then we would do those changes.”

One of the changes that was made to the original Darkchild demo was the addition of a cinematic spoken intro.

“He called them vignettes,” says Rodney Jerkins. “I call them interludes.”

“It was a really fun process, working on that project,” adds Rodney’s brother, Fred.

“We would actually sit in the studio in LA and act out the whole Xscape concept, the intro, just acting crazy and making video footage and all that kind of stuff. Almost like our video concept of the song.”

Another interesting addition to “Xscape,” which Jackson brought to the table, is the Edward G. Robinson line from the 1931 film Little Caesar: “You want me? You’re going to have to come and get me!”

Fifteen years prior, the same line was lifted from the film and sampled in an unreleased version of Jackson’s demo for a song called “Al Capone,” as outlined in the Blue Gangsta chapter of my book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault.

In “Xscape,” however, Jackson himself speaks the famous line, shortening it to: “Want me? Come and get me!” ‘

Of the decision to include the Little Caesar line, producer Rodney Jerkins says: “It was MJ’s idea.”

By the middle of the year 2000, the Jackson’s new album seemed to be nearing completion.

Since he started working on it in 1998, Jackson had recorded more than a dozen tracks including “She Was Loving Me,” “You Rock My World,” “Xscape” and “We’ve Had Enough” – the latter of which spawned from the early 1999 writing session Jerkins attended at Carole Bayer Sager’s home in LA.

Above: Invincible outtake “We’ve Had Enough” by Michael Jackson

With enough tracks in the bag to finish the album, the mixing process began.

To assist Jackson’s team with mixing the album, producer Rodney Jerkins brought an engineer named Stuart Brawley on board.

“Michael’s longtime engineer of many years, Bruce Swedien, was looking for someone to come on board to help mix what we all thought at that time was a complete record,” recalls Brawley.

“It was supposed to be a month-long mixing process in Los Angeles and I just jumped at the opportunity to be able to work with both Michael and Bruce.”

But what was supposed to be just one month of mixing ended up being much more.

“It turned into a thirteen-month project because as we were mixing the record that we thought was going to become Invincible, Michael decided, in the mixing process, that he wanted to start writing all new songs,” recalls Brawley.

“He was like, ‘Let’s start from scratch… I think we can beat everything we did,’” recalls Rodney Jerkins of Jackson’s decision to start afresh by writing new songs.

“That was his perfectionist side. I was like man, we have been working for a year, are we going to scrap everything? But it showed how hard he goes.”

“It just turned into an amazing year of watching him create music,” recalls engineer Stuart Brawley. “We ended up with a completely different record at the end of it.”

While some of the early material – including “You Rock My World” – would ultimately make the cut, the majority of what became the Invincible album was recorded between 2000 and 2001.

During this period, the Jerkins brothers and LaShawn Daniels continued working on new songs, while Jackson’s longtime producer Teddy Riley also joined the team.

At the time, Riley was working out of a studio that was built inside a bus.

Upon joining the project, Riley would park his bus outside whichever studio Jackson was working in, and and the pop star would bounce back and forth between Riley and Rodney Jerkins.

Meanwhile, arranger Brad Buxer and engineer Michael Prince worked out of makeshift studios set up in local hotel rooms.

Towards the end of the project, Riley moved his sessions to Virginia – where he had a recording studio – to finish the tracks he was working on.

Recording engineer Stuart Brawley – who was instrumental in recording and editing some of the newer songs, like “Threatened” – recalls what it was like to work with Jackson:

“It was amazing just to have him on the other side of the glass when we were recording his vocals. It literally was that ‘pinch me’ moment, and I don’t get those. He was just one of a kind. There was no one else like him.”

“Being in the studio and just having the a cappella of Michael’s vocals and listening to them, you start to really understand how great he really was,” explains Rodney Jerkins of Jackson’s performance on “Xscape.”

“The way he crafted his backgrounds, the approach of his lead vocals, and how passionate he was. You can hear it. You can hear his foot [stomping] in the booth when he’s singing, and his fingers snapping.”

During the second phase of the Invincible album’s production – between 2000 and 2001 – Jackson and Jerkins continued to work on “Xscape.”

“Wait until the world hears Xscape,” Jerkins recalls Jackson saying to him.

“MJ loved everything about it. The energy, the lyrics. It’s kind of a prophetic song. Listen to the bridge. MJ says, ‘When I go, this problem world won’t bother me no more.’ It’s powerful.”

“The thing about Michael is he will work on a song for years,” adds Jerkins.

“We never stopped working on the song Xscape.”

“A perfectionist has to take his time,” explains Jackson.

“He shapes and he molds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t… If it’s not right, you throw it away and you do it over. You work that thing till it’s just right. When it’s as perfect as you can make it, you put it out there. Really, you’ve got to get it to where it’s just right; that’s the secret. That’s the difference between a number thirty record and a number one record that stays at number one for weeks. It’s got to be good. If it is, it stays up there and the whole world wonders when it’s going to come down.”

Jackson continues:

“I’ve had musicians who really get angry with me because I’ll make them do something literally several hundred to a thousand times till it’s what I want it to be,” says Jackson. “But then afterwards, they call me back on the phone and they’ll apologise and say, ‘You were absolutely right. I’ve never played better. I’ve [never] done better work. I outdid myself.’ And I say, ‘That’s the way it should be, because you’ve immortalised yourself. This is here forever. It’s a time capsule.’ It’s like Michelangelo’s work. It’s like the Sistine Chapel. It’s here forever. Everything we do should be that way.”

After three years of work, the Invincible album was released on October 30, 2001.

Above: Television commercial for the Invincible album

The album contained 16 songs. But to the surprise of some who worked on the project, “Xscape” was not one of them.

“There’s stuff we didn’t put on the album that I wish was on the album,” explains Jerkins, whose unreleased material includes “Get Your Weight Off Me” and “We’ve Had Enough” – the latter of which was later released by Sony on a box set called The Ultimate Collection in 2004.

A number of tracks Jackson recorded with Brad Buxer and Michael Prince also missed the cut, including “The Way You Love Me,” which was also released on The Ultimate Collection box set.

Several tracks Jackson worked on with producer Teddy Riley did make the cut. But one, called “Shout,” did not.

Above: Invincible album outtake “Shout” by Michael Jackson

“Shout” was slated to be on the album, but was replaced at the last minute by a track Jacksons’s manager, John McClain, brought brought to the table called “You Are My Life” – co-written by McClain with Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and Carole Bayer Sager.

“I really want people to hear some of the stuff we did together which never made the cut,” laments producer Rodney Jerkins.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff just as good – maybe better [than what made the album]. People have got to hear it.”

Despite it not being included, Jackson continued working on “Xscape” with Jerkins.

The producer explains that selecting the tracks for an album isn’t always about which tracks are best in isolation, but which tracks fit together to create a cohesive and organic flow:

“Michael is like no other. He records hundreds… really, hundreds of songs for an album. So what we did [was] we cut it down to 35 of the best tracks and picked from there. [It’s] not always about picking the hottest tracks. It’s got to have flow. So there’s a good album’s worth of [unreleased] material that could blow your mind. I really hope this stuff comes out because it’s some of his best.”

Engineer Michael Prince recalls a conversation he had with fellow engineer Stuart Brawley about the unreleased track “Xscape” after the Invincible album had been released.

“I was talking to Stuart Brawley on the phone… And I said to Stuart, this song is awesome! And he goes, ‘I know. It’s an amazing song. I really, really wish they would have put that on the album and took something else off. I told Rodney, I told Michael, but they’re not putting it on the album.’ And after I heard it I felt the same way. I really like the song Xscape.”

“I had a conversation with MJ in 2008, and I asked him if he was a fan of the British act Scritti Politti,” adds Prince.

“He said he was. I asked him that because the original version of Xscape has some of the same type of short staccato sounds and sampled percussive sounds that Scritti Politti use in their music. They also used very inventive sequencing, as Michael and Rodney Jerkins did on Xscape.”

“When we originally did Xscape, Mike felt it was some of his best new music,” recalls Rodney Jerkins.

“So I asked him, Michael, how come Xscape is not going on Invincible? And Michael was like, ‘Nah… I don’t want it on this project. I want it on the next project.’ Michael was very clear in telling me that one day that song has to come out… It was one of his favourite songs… It was one of those songs where he specifically said to me, ‘It has to see the light of day one day’… He felt compelled to let the fans hear it. What does it do for a song that Michael really loved to just sit in the vault somewhere?”

And eventually Jackson’s fans did hear it – but not in the way he or Jerkins had hoped.

In late 2002, “Xscape” leaked online.

“The reality is that you get upset when something gets out there that’s not supposed to be out there,” explains Fred Jerkins of his feelings about the leak.

“You want it to come out the way it should, and to give it the best possible chance of doing what it needs to do. But at the same time, as a fan – if you step aside from the songwriter side – you’re excited that you have something out there. And you watch other people get excited.”

Reflecting on their work with Jackson on “Xscape” – and the Invincible project as a whole – the thing that sticks with Darkchild teammates Rodney Jerkins and LaShawn Daniels more than anything is his desire to be great.

“Michael embodied greatness in everything that he did,” says Jerkins.

“Not just as an artist, but as a humanitarian and as a person. That was his life. He was all about being great and he preached it all the time.” 

Since he was a teenager, Jackson’s artistic philosophy has been to ‘study the greats and become greater,’ and for the duration of his four-decade career, that pursuit of greatness never faded.

“Michael would be in the lounge watching footage on Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Charlie Chaplin,” recalls Jerkins.

“And I walk in and I say, what are you doing? And he said, ‘I’m studying.’ Now mind you, he had all of the Grammys, millions and millions of albums sold, and I said why are you studying? And he said, ‘You never stop studying the greats.’ And he was about 40 years old when we were working together. That was a serious, serious lesson for me as an up-and-coming person to hear him say that, and to witness that.”

“Even if you’re sweeping floors or painting ceilings,” explains Jackson, “do it better than anybody in the world. No matter what it is that you do, be the best at it.”

In 2013, President of Epic Records at the time, L.A. Reid, recruited several of A-list producers to reimagine 8 unreleased songs from Jackson’s vault.

Rodney Jerkins was one of those producers.

Initially Jerkins was hesitant to be involved, and resisted producing his remix until he had heard the material other producers were contributing.

“I care,” explains Jerkins.

“Michael was a friend of mine. I had a good relationship with him. He knew my family and I knew his family. So I would tell L.A. I’m not doing a song until I hear the rest of the album… I wanted to make sure that everything stood up to what Michael would have wanted. That was important to me.”

Eventually, when he felt the project was worthy of Jackson’s dedication to greatness, Jerkins agreed to participate.

The song he produced was “Xscape”.

Above: Rodney Jerkins’ remix of “Xscape” from the Xscape album

On May 9, 2014, five years after Jackson’s death, “Xscape” was officially released by Epic Records on an album of the same name.

“It’s about being great. It’s about being groundbreaking. If it can’t be great, we shouldn’t be doing it,” explains Epic boss L.A. Reid of his philosophy when putting the album together, adding:

“Michael Jackson tapped us on the shoulder and said would you just do me one small favour and remind people that I’m the greatest.”

Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.

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Creative Process

‘Blue Gangsta’ and Michael Jackson’s Fascination with America’s 20th Century Underbelly



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Below is a chapter from my book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault, revised for this article. The full book is available via Amazon and iBooks.

Released in 1987 as part of the Bad album, “Smooth Criminal” is the culmination of years of Michael Jackson toying with the idea of doing a song based on early 20th-century organised crime in America.

The King of Pop’s ongoing fascination with the mobsters and gangsters of the criminal underworld is well-documented, and extends beyond his songs to his film projects.

For example, the “Smooth Criminal” short film borrows from the narrative of the life of Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond, an Irish-American gangster based out of Philadelphia and New York City during the prohibition era.

During the final years of his life, Jackson had reportedly wanted to direct a full-length feature film based on the concept, even inviting longtime collaborative partner Kenny Ortega to join him as co-director on the project. 

The song “Smooth Criminal” itself evolved from Jackson demo of the same era called “Al Capone,” named after the infamous Chicago-based gangster figure.

Above: “Al Capone” by Michael Jackson

An unreleased version of Jackson’s “Al Capone” demo took inspiration from yet another gangster tale of the same era – the William R. Burnett-written book and subsequent 1931 film adaptation Little Caesar, which tells the story of a hoodlum who ascends the ranks of organised crime in Chicago until he reaches its upper echelons.

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Edward G. Robinson in his breakout role as Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello (a.k.a. ‘Little Caesar’), the film includes the famous scene in which a defiant Rico shouts: “You want me? You’re going to have to come and get me!”

Producer and musician John Barnes, who helped Jackson bring “Al Capone” to fruition, sampled Rico’s words in the unreleased version of the track.

Together with producer and engineer Bill Bottrell, Barnes also sampled a series of gunshot sounds, as well as vocals from various James Brown songs.

The samples were pieced together and edited to create a virtual gangster-inspired duet between the King of Pop and the Godfather of Soul – something that Barnes says Jackson absolutely loved.

An even earlier song called “Chicago 1945” – which Jackson worked on during the Victory era with Toto band member Steve Porcaro – also makes reference to Al Capone in its lyrics.

And so when songwriter and producer Dr. Freeze came to Jackson with a demo called “Blue Gangsta,” the pop star was excited about the idea of resurrecting his fascination with gangster themes in his music.

Written by Freeze and recorded by Jackson during the very early Invincible sessions, “Blue Gangsta” originates from the same era as “Break of Dawn” and “A Place With No Name.”

All three songs were recorded by Jackson during his time collaborating with Freeze and engineer CJ deVillar at the Record Plant in 1998.

“I introduced him to many songs,” explains Freeze, who also worked with Jackson on a number of tracks that were never completed, including one called “Jungle.”

For “Blue Gangsta,” Freeze says:

“I wanted to make a new ‘Smooth Criminal.’ Something more modern and rooted in the 2000s. That was the idea.”

Above: Michael Jackson’s short film for “Smooth Criminal”

Freeze composed the original “Blue Gangsta” demo on his own – including the background vocals, synthesisers and horns – before presenting it to Jackson.

Then, once Jackson had given the demo his tick of approval, the pop star brought in some of the industry’s best session musicians to play on the track. 

Brad Buxer – who did everything from digital edits to arrangements on all of Jackson’s albums from Dangerous in 1991 to The Ultimate Collection in 2004 – plays keyboards on the song.

Greg Phillinganes – who contributed his talents to each major studio album Jackson participated in between 1978 and 1997 (with the exception of Victory in 1984) – plays the Minimoog.

And legendary orchestrator Jerry Hey – who did the horn arrangements on everything Jackson did from 1978 to 1997 – fittingly leads the horn section on “Blue Gangsta.”

“The song was just awesome,” recalls engineer Michael Prince of “Blue Gangsta.”

Prince, along with arranger Brad Buxer, spent several years working on music with Jackson and Freeze.

“Michael obviously loved ‘Blue Gangsta’ because to bring in some of those musicians is very expensive,” says Prince.

“I mean, you’ve got Jerry Hey doing the horn arrangement – it’s no wonder the brass on ‘Blue Gangsta’ was so incredible.”

“Michael was the world’s biggest perfectionist,” says Buxer.

“Not only with music, but with sound. How loud it is. How it affects you. Where it hits your ear. What frequencies. A million things. So you’re not just talking about songs or mixing – you’re talking about arrangement, amplitude, and the instruments selected for the production.”

Talented percussionist Eric Anest – who played on a number of Jackson’s demos in the mid-to-late 90s, including “Beautiful Girl,” “The Way You Love Me” and “In The Back,” – was also given a copy of “Blue Gangsta” to see what he could bring to the table.

“Eric did wonderful percussion work,” recalls Buxer.

“Industrial types of percussion,” adds Prince, explaining that Jackson would never settle on an idea, sound or musician until he’d explored all the available options.

“Eric, Paulinho Da Costa or even Steve Porcaro might get the track for a day or two, and then send it back to us with forty tracks of what they’d added. Then we’d have to figure out what we were keeping, and what we weren’t. Sometimes we scratched it all.”

As previously noted by engineer Michael Prince, the caliber of session musicians used by Jackson on “Blue Gangsta” was a reflection of his love for the song. They weren’t just tinkering about the studio.

The same applies to the team of engineers who worked on it.

“Sonically, we always try to make sure we have pristine, detailed sounds,” explains Jackson, adding that he uses, “the best engineers and the best technicians available.”

And he wasn’t kidding.

Jackson recorded his lead vocals on the track were recorded by an all-star cast of engineers including CJ deVillar, Jeff Burns and Humberto Gatica.

Gatica in particular is one of the most acclaimed engineers in the history of modern music, having not only worked on Jackson’s Thriller, Bad, HIStory, and Invincible albums, but also on tracks with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Andrea Bocelli, Barbra Streisand and many others.

An early version of Jackson’s 1998 recording of “Blue Gangsta”

Engineer and musician, CJ deVillar, believes that it’s possible that Jackson was at the peak of his vocal powers during the “Blue Gangsta” recording sessions.

“He may have been in his prime at that time,” says deVillar.

“Michael was forty years old when he recorded ‘Blue Gangsta.’ His mental attitude combined with his physicality was at its height, in my opinion. The calisthenics he was pulling off and the way he worked the microphone… it was ridiculous!”

DeVillar continues:

“When I was in that chair recording him I felt totally educated. And usually I’m running it. I’m producing it. But I felt totally educated when recording him. The responsibility was enormous to me.”

“Working with Michael Jackson was amazing,” recalls engineer Jeff Burns of the recording sessions.

“He really is an American treasure and a once-in-a-lifetime talent. The first day I met him, we were recording his vocals. I was running the recorder for him that day and was a little bit nervous to do punch-ins on his vocals. I had worked with a few singers where I did lots of ‘punches’ on their vocal tracks to correct timing or pitch problems. Anyway, I was amazed when Michael started singing that his voice was in perfect pitch and was just pure and magical. I didn’t have to do any punches on his vocal – he sang it perfect all the way down.”

“His tone is insane,” adds deVillar.

“Insane! It would be impossible to not be able to mix his vocal correctly. And Michael was even good with his plosives; when you breathe and blow air on the microphone. Those sizzles, you know, they f*ck up a microphone. But Michael was in complete control of those things. Most singers are nowhere near his vicinity. Michael understood the process so well that when he would hear himself in playback in the studio over the years, he found a way to get rid of those problems. Because when you go from the vocal booth back to the control room and listen, it’s a different dynamic. The microphone sensitivity is different depending on how you hit it, and of course Michael knew that. So I never heard a plosive or sizzles that were over the top.”

DeVillar continues:

“By the time he recorded ‘Blue Gangsta’ you’re seeing thirty years of a genius molding his vocal sound to fit the records. There’s the youth and power in the voice, but then there’s the smarts. Michael had them both going on and I think they really peaked at that point when we were recording him. The smarts, the experience, and the power just married and it was incredible. I was just beside myself.”

While Jackson recorded his leads, Freeze completed his own vocals for the choruses and background harmonies. 

Singing background vocals on the songs he writes and produces is Freeze’s signature, and he did it on all of the songs he recorded with Jackson, including “Break of Dawn” and “A Place With No Name.”

“Freeze would stack all his own backgrounds first,” explains engineer Michael Prince.

“And then Michael would come in and go: ‘That sounds perfect.’ Then he would sing one note of each of the harmonies so that there was a little bit of him on there too.”

From there, Jackson took a copy of “Blue Gangsta” home to study – to find areas that, in his artistic opinion, required improvement.

“It was incremental work,” recalls Freeze.

“He listened to the different mixes and changed some details around here or there. He was in full creative control.”

Jackson explains that when he listens to a work-in-progress copy of a song, his ears instantly identify everything that is missing.

“When you hear the playback, you think of everything that should be there that’s not there,” explains Jackson. “You’re hearing everything [in your head]. You wanna scream because you’re not hearing it [on the playback].”

Freeze recalls that when Jackson identified the missing pieces, they were added:

“When he returned [to the studio], changes were made and ideas were proposed. He listened attentively… Ultimately, all decisions were his. He was the boss. He was open to any criticism or suggestions beneficial to the song.”

Over time, several embellishments were made to the original recording.

For example, on March 6, 1999, Jackson wanted some very specific percussion sounds added to the track.

His instructions were so specific that Jackson had to phone Brad Buxer and Michael Prince at the Record One recording studio and have the call patched into Pro Tools in order to get down exactly what he was hearing in his head. 

“We set it up so that Michael could just call and record straight into Pro Tools,” explains Prince, “so he wouldn’t have to carry a tape recorder around with him all the time to capture his ideas.”

With Jackson on the line, Buxer and Prince opened up the “Blue Gangsta” Pro Tools session and played the track.

Then Jackson, over the phone, proceeded to orally dictate the precise percussion sounds he was hearing in his head by beatboxing them over the track.

“That’s how we would get it in the actual session, in the exact spot MJ wanted it, with the exact timing he wanted,” explains Prince, who recorded the call while Buxer communicated back and forth with Jackson amidst his private beatbox master class.

Buxer: “Killer! Killer!” (to Jackson as he orally dictates the percussion)

Jackson: “You know what I mean, Brad?” 

Buxer: “Yes, Michael.”

Jackson: “Are you hearing how I’m doing it?” 

Buxer: “Yeah. It’s killer! Killer. We got it!”

The very next day, Jackson had a fleeting Spanish guitar sound in “Blue Gangsta” replaced with the country-and-western whistle sound made famous in the theme from the 1966 Sergio Leone film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which was composed by Ennio Morricone.

Above: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme song.

Jackson had previously used the sample in live renditions of “Dangerous” – a performance which also includes gunshot sounds as well as the “You’ve been hit by, you’ve be struck by” line from 1987’s  studio version of “Smooth Criminal.”

“As I said, I wanted to make a new Smooth Criminal,” reiterates Freeze of “Blue Gangsta.”

“It was our objective – the new Smooth Criminal.”

Gunshots, whistles and beatbox percussion weren’t the most obscure sounds that Jackson experimented with in his music.

“Michael used to create sounds and put it in a record,” remembers Freeze.

“He’d thrown an egg on the floor and we’d record that… He would let me hear music from Africa, Japan, and Korea, and he would study this kind of stuff. He would really school me with that.”

Jackson explains that he’s inspired by music from every corner of the globe.

“I’ve been influenced by cultural music from all over the world. I’ve studied all types of music, from Africa to India to China to Japan. Music is music and it’s all beautiful. I’ve been influenced by all of those different cultures.”

After adding the whistle, Jackson also had the second half of the bridge extended so that it crescendoed with greater effect, allowing Freeze’s chorus vocals to slowly creep back in from underneath Jackson’s post-bridge vocal arrangement.

And after that, the song was shelved, remaining unreleased in Jackson’s vault for many years.

Then, in December 2006, two songs produced by American rap artist Tempamental emerged online – one called “Gangsta” and another called “No Friend Of Mine” – both of which were built around Jackson’s then-unreleased track “Blue Gangsta”.

The songs included rap verses from Tempamental, with “No Friend Of Mine” also featuring a verse by Pras of The Fugees.

This was the public’s first time hearing “Blue Gangsta,” albeit in a slightly abstract, reimagined way.

Tempamental’s “Gangsta” remix stays relatively true to Jackson’s arrangement, while “No Friend Of Mine” – the more popular of the two thanks to the highly publicised Pras feature and the song’s high-quality release via Myspace – rearranges the original track, repurposing Jackson’s first verse as the bridge.

Above: Tempamental’s “No Friend Of Mine” remake of “Blue Gangsta” featuring Pras

Shortly after they appeared online, Jackson’s then manager, Raymone Bain, commented that Jackson had not released any new music, indicating that the pop star was not directly involved with either of the Tempamental tracks.

“When I heard this remix, I could not believe it,” Dr. Freeze recalls.

“Many people called me because of it. I don’t understand what happened. The concerning thing is that I don’t even know who released the song… Why did they do that? Where did this rap originate? In fact, we knew nothing about it – neither me nor Michael. We really don’t understand where this leak came from.”

“‘No Friend Of Mine’ is not the name of the song,” adds Freeze. “It’s just the chorus that contains these few words. ‘What you gonna do? You ain’t no friend of mine,’ was just the chorus. The real title is ‘Blue Gangsta.’ This highlights the ignorance of people who are causing the leaks on the Internet. They take the song and put it online without knowing its origin. The song was not presented to the public [the way it should have been]. A guy has just stolen the song, added a rap, and swung it on the internet. I was not even credited. It just landed here without any logical explanation.”

Four years later, in late 2010 – 18 months after Jackson’s death – the latest version of “Blue Gangsta” leaked online.

Four years later, on May 9, 2014, an earlier version of the original track was posthumously released by Epic Records as part of the Xscape album, along with a remix produced by Timbaland.

Above: Timbaland’s remix of “Blue Gangsta”

Engineer Michael Prince insists that the record label’s decision to release the more primitive ‘original’ version – lacking all the changes Jackson went on to make – doesn’t align with the pop star’s artistic vision for the song.

“Michael was involved in every nuance of every sound on the record,” explains Michael Prince, “from the hi-hat to the snare to the sticks. If those sounds are removed from the track, it immediately takes a step away from his vision.”

“He’s totally consistent,” adds arranger Brad Buxer.

“He’ll never say one day, ‘Take this part out,’ and then the next day [ask], ‘Where is that part?’ He’ll never do that. He’s totally consistent. So all you’ve got to do is be on your toes and you’ll have a blast working with him. I’ve worked with him for a long time and it’s been the most wonderful experience.”

Producer Dr. Freeze reflects on working with Jackson:

“He was simply the most wonderful person with whom you could ever dream of working… From dusk till dawn, he created sounds, melodies, and harmonies… He could do everything himself. Michael was truly a living instrument.”

“His artistry and inspiration was something you could feel in the air when he walked in the room,” recalls engineer Jeff Burns. “He really demanded the best work out of everyone around him, and that has impacted me to this day.”

“He not only taught me how to create songs correctly, but also gave me advice on the music industry as a whole,” adds Freeze.

“He was an absolute genius. I was fortunate to have learned from one of the greatest entertainers of all time. I try to apply his advice to the projects I undertake today. I try to keep the artistic spirit of Michael Jackson alive. It’s like I graduated from the university of Michael Jackson. There are not enough words to describe what I learned from the King of Pop.”

Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.

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