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In the wake of the tragic loss of Michael Jackson, the playa has spoken with many industry professionals, insiders, artists and extended family members about the sometimes confusing circumstances surrounding his death. I have also done quite a bit of reading, and while sampling the views of many authors, I had the privilege of reading a compelling Facebook note written by music marketing vet David Belgrave. As a result,  I was forced to convince him to add his wisdom to the playa’s blog, and he graciously consented. David has quarterbacked campaigns for Nas, LL Cool J, Method Man and Maxwell, and he’s not pleased with the way the media has been remembering The King.

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It feels like things have calmed down a lot in the last several days.  Just a little over a week ago, so many of us were at the height of our grief as we watched the Michael Jackson Memorial.  In the days leading up to the service nobody knew what to expect. We each had our own idea of what the service should be, who should speak, what songs should be performed… but no one was certain and the constant media speculation just made it worse.

I’m happy to say that for my circle of friends the memorial service did what all memorials should do. It comforted us and provided an outlet for our grief. In the endless media cacophony of medical experts, legal experts and “breaking news” it was at last a place & time where we could come TOGETHER and express our loss and sorrow.

I watched it with a great many of my friends as we all plugged into the CNN feed on Facebook. I found much needed comfort and emotional satisfaction both, in the words of remembrance as well as each performance. This service managed to achieve what the hundreds of hours of news coverage prior or since had failed to… to make Michael human again.

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THE KING IN PEACE

What I found disturbing was the media’s commentary & coverage of… THE MEDIA’S COMMENTARY & COVERAGE… specifically criticism the volume of coverage. Really?? That’s like dogs complaining that dogs bark too much. This is who they are and this is what they do.

“When you see 100 satellite trucks parked around it’s hard to feel reverent.”
– Marc Istook of TV Guide

Really, Marc?? Did you feel that way about the coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral? Perhaps you felt this way during the funeral coverage for Pope John Paul II?

We have all watched many global broadcasts of world events. I don’t recall ever hearing anything sounding like Mr. Istook’s observation before. What I have heard are all the networks marveling at their power to bring minute-to-minute coverage from every angle into every television or computer around the world. Watch our live coverage! Click over to our cable partner for continuing coverage! Log onto our website! Follow us on Twitter! Sign-up for our email alerts! That’s traditional media hype for sure but they haven’t been on point with this story from the start. I subscribe to TMZ, and they HAVE been scooping the media giants from the start of this MJ story.

As I type this Matt Lauer just reported the MJ investigation is turning into a homicide investigation and cited TMZ as The Today Show’s sole source. Welcome to the new media reality of the information age where traditional news institutions are rendered impotent by the power of the Internet and the empowerment of the user! Maybe they’re trying to “over-compensate” with all those big satellite trucks. Hmmmmm…

“The problem with Tuesday’s Michael Jackson memorial service as a TV show is that too often it felt like a TV show.”
-David Hinckley of NY Daily News

The arrogance displayed by Hinckley’s statement infuriates me because everything the Jackson Family did INSIDE the Staples Center felt like a moving memorial (even if you feel Usher shouldn’t have touched the casket). Everything that the media set up OUTSIDE the Staples Center… THAT felt like a circus. It was a carnival of correspondents; a parade of panelists. They must have had lions, elephants, clowns and a big-top in those satellite trucks as well. In fact, one person I spoke to who attended the service described the exterior of the Staples Center as a “surreal carnival atmosphere.” In contrast he described the mood inside the venue as solemn and respectful. Four other people who attended all agreed about the tenor of the proceedings inside the venue.

Then there’s MSNBC’s Donny Douche… pardon me, Donnie Deutsch. He said “People who are crying in the streets that don’t know him [MJ], they need to maybe get a little bit of a life.” Seriously, Donny? When Elvis died I saw thousands of people gathered outside of Graceland and along the funeral route in Memphis. All of them upset, most of them crying and some of them even dressed like Elvis… Did THEY actually know Elvis? Maybe these were all the people that Elvis bought Cadillacs for during his life (you know how he liked to bless people with Cadillacs) No? I didn’t think so either.

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FOR DONNY, DAVID AND THE REST OF ‘EM

The night John Lennon was murdered I saw thousands of mourners gathered on Central Park West outside The Dakota. They were carrying signs and holding candles as they sang “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance” through a river of tears. Did THEY know John?? Maybe these were all people who attended John & Yoko’s 1969 “bed-in” where “Give Peace A Chance” was recorded and are on the actual record! No? I didn’t think so either.

I don’t recall anybody saying that these mourners in Memphis, NYC or all over the world should get a life. It’s not just that I disagree with Mr. Deutsch, it’s that what he said doesn’t even make sense. People react to things and then show emotions accordingly. That’s how we’re built. People cried when President Obama was elected, or when the Red Sox finally won the World Series again, or when somebody on Oprah is sharing a tragic story. We don’t personally know any of these people but still we are moved. Shit, we cry at movies and those people don’t even EXIST… forget whether we know them or not. I don’t know Tony, Maria, Bernardo or Riff and they do not exist in real life but I surely shed a tear at the end of West Side Story!

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GETS ME EVERY TIME

I’ve got THE BIG IDEA for you Donny Deutsch… shut the fuck up! Who ASKED you?? (I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put it but that felt right!).

Now I’m not comparing the value of one life to another but let’s consider Anna Nicole Smith. Her final chapter had many of the same plot points as Michael’s… drugs, 911 calls, enablers and child custody battles. Michael may have gone from showbiz to sideshow in later years but Anna Nicole was ALWAYS a sideshow.  I didn’t hear cries over her coverage.

This is the same media that covered David & Victoria Beckham’s coming to Los Angeles for two months like it was the Apollo moon landing… in a country that doesn’t give a shit about soccer OR the Spice Girls. The same media that for at least THREE news cycles covered Obama campaign comments of “lipstick on a pig” regarding the Republican’s Pailin strategy as if we all didn’t IMMEDIATELY recognize the phrase as a commonly used expression… like sure, this black man running for President is REALLY calling this white woman a pig in the national media while still trying to court salty Hillary Clinton supporters.

Other than a sitting U.S. President, Queen Elizabeth or Osama Bin Laden I can’t think of anybody on Earth that would get more interest and coverage from suddenly dropping dead of cardiac arrest than Michael Jackson.

The media is ridiculous and has been that way for a while now. We have 24 hour news cycles for which they pick 3 hours worth of news and beat it into pulp. Then they spread that pulp all over the various shows on their channel. Larry King and Anderson Cooper cover the SAME aspects of the MJ case and their shows are back to back repeating three times a day! Anderson Cooper really should change the name of his show from “AC 360” to “MJ 24/7.”

Whoopi Goldberg says, “Michael is the gift that keeps on giving.” That doesn’t just apply to the families, the lawyers, the doctors, Sony Music and hangers-on… IT ALSO APPLIES TO THE MEDIA. They’re pimping Michael just as hard as anybody else. Despite some of media’s comments to the contrary, they KNOW what a huge story MJ’s passing is and especially under these circumstances. They know it and they want to reap the benefits of this intense interest fueled by the grief of LIFELONG fans. Then when we do watch and give them the ratings they crave, they clown us for caring so much about Michael. WTF?!?!

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ALL MICHAEL ALL THE TIME

Whoopie Goldberg

A VOICE OF REASON

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THE AUTHOR

In all the coverage I have watched, the collective media seems to give Michael props for only four things… being a child prodigy, giving a historic performance at Motown 25, breaking the color line at MTV and selling record numbers of Thriller. Most of Michael’s other accolades seemed to be given by the GUESTS on all these shows or people on the street being interviewed.

Some media try to camouflage their swipes of the MJ coverage as concern for the general awareness of us citizens. When Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View put her 2 cents in about the volume of MJ coverage she cited “real” news stories we might have been missing. She spoke of the US military personnel that were killed in Afghanistan the same day Michael died and listed their names. I certainly have NO issue with honoring those who have fought and died for our freedom by saying their names. However, most times when US military personnel die we just get a number, no names. The only time we usually get names of soldiers killed in action is from the local news when the fallen soldier hails from our local area. I guess Elisabeth wanted to go the extra mile on that particular day.

The fact of the matter is that the MJ coverage did not stifle my receiving other news. I heard about the soldiers killed in Afghanistan. I was up to speed on how President Obama’s trip to Russia was going.  Thnx for the concern anyway Elisabeth but unlike the mass media I can focus on more than three news stories at a time. However media, if you really are concerned with our well being and awareness I leave you with this thought:

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at YOURSELVES and make a change. HOO!

-david belgrave

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The BET Awards played Sunday night. They didn’t play so much as they occurred. It was a mixture of bad taste, poor production and confused purposes. What was initially intended to be their annual slickly produced presentation of the current state of affairs in the Urban Music community was disrupted by the sudden and tragic death of The King of Pop. In a fit of cultural responsibility, BET was forced to do the thing that it does least well: honor the rich, historic legacy of the Black Music experience.

To be totally fair, the timing of Michael Jackson’s demise on Thursday, not only caught the channel ill-prepared to celebrate the life of the most successful artist to ever receive exposure through its feed, but it made the larger point that the Urban Music community didn’t quite know what to make of the passing of the legend. He hadn’t exactly been revered in the later stages of his life, and it was apparent that not many of those in attendance had given much thought to his circumstances recently, and they were not quite certain why their moment to shine had to be used to honor a guy who hadn’t been hot in years. But who can blame them? The fallen superstar’s own father took advantage of a red carpet opportunity to promote the launch of a new label to be helmed by him.

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JAMIE FOXX THE HOST OF THE BET OCCURRENCE

As the host of the evening’s proceedings, Jamie Foxx was doing too much. He was there to promote his latest J Records release, provide witty master of ceremonies banter coming out of the commercials, and pay tribute to the music and persona of Michael Jackson. The poor casting choice of Foxx, and Ne-Yo singing the J5 classic “I’ll Be There” was a colossal mistake. Ne-Yo performing, “The Lady In My Life” was more than the young LA Reed protégé should have been entrusted with, and The Cash Money clique performance with Drake, its hot property of the moment, dramatically illustrated how strong production does not necessarily produce artists with the ability to deliver on stage. Perhaps it could all have been blamed on the alcohol. BTW- the performance of Hova’s new joint that proclaims the “Death Of Auto-Tune” prompted Foxx (in a post-game interview) to defend his smash “Blame It On The Alcohol” for its liberal use of the studio device made hot by the ubiquitous production style of T-Pain. T-Pain can only hope that Jay-Z’’s pronouncement falls on the apparently deaf ears of the current Urban A & R community.

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OVERDONE? FRIEND TO THE DEAF?

There were some highlights; the O’Jays, members of the 2005 class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were given a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Tevin Campbell was in fine form and looks like he may be on the comeback trail. Action adventure star, Tyrese shone brightly as a member of an O’Jays tribute group that included, Johnny Gill and Trey Songs. I wondered if Mr. Songs had ever owned or heard the group’s classic Gamble & Huff produced “Family Reunion” or the Afro-centric “Ship Ahoy”. If so, his performance didn’t suggest a familiarity with the material. I’m a little partial to the O’Jays as I’d been assigned to work with them during my days as an EMI A & R executive. My input consisted of agreeing with pretty much everything they wanted to do, and our collaboration resulted in the mid tempo, “Somebody Else Will” turning into a highly charting radio hit. It’s worth noting that lead singer Eddie Levert also lost two performing sons to untimely death, Shawn and the legendary, Gerald, two members of the excellent trio, Levert.

Overall, it appears that Black Music is, at best, in a transitional period. The sales of the Michael Jackson catalogue are reasserting the strength of the currently underserved Black Pop market; their hunger is not quite being satiated by Chris Brown and Ne-Yo. Soul-based music fans have been driven underground and are making the music of Eric Roberson, Ledisi, N’Dambi, Conya Doss, Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott and other so called, Neo Soul artists a viable alternative to “mainstream” industry market dominance. I didn’t see any of the previously mentioned artists on the BET Awards.

The King is pulling the industry out of its doldrums in the same way he did when “Thriller” was originally released in ’82. Back then he had a little help from the late great, Luther Vandross when the same label released Luther’s second album, “Forever, For Always, For Love.” Those 8 songs really began to pave the way (economically speaking) for the strongest live attraction in the history of Black Music. Luther was a ladies’ favorite, and could pack almost any sized venue with his tributes to romance. This time, another ladies’ choice may provide some needed lift: Maxwell.

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THE LADIES CHOICES

Next tuesday, Maxwell will release his fourth full length studio recording since his 1996 debut “Urban Hang Suite” his homage to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” “Blacksummer’snight” is the first installment of a trilogy to be released over the next two years, and is a follow up to “Now” the smash collection that provided a needed soothing source of reassurance in the wake of the September 11 disaster. Nearly eight years later, and amidst great anticipation the soul man has dropped “Pretty Wings” which to these ears sounds like the record of the year thus far. It’s the first track from the project, and it’s a gently apologetic mid-tempo tale of remorse that has become the fastest mover in the history of the Urban AC chart. The Prince influenced vocal starts with the sound of a glockenspiel/chimes in it’s intro that recalls Michael Jackson’s cover of the Stevie Wonder lullaby “With A Child’s Heart” and closes with a vamp that features a horn chart that references the Rascals’ “It’s A Beautiful Morning.” The video clip of the cut is a gorgeous slice of fantasy that intercuts a more simply styled Maxwell performing the song without the afro or braids, and singing on a simple set while three different paramours are set free through their dreams of Maxwell and begin to float upwards. Beautiful imagery.

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AFTER EIGHT YEARS…THE SILENCE ENDS ON TUESDAY

The new single “Bad Habits” is a pleasing bit of reggae funk about addictive love. But the show stopper is “Stop The World” a joyous celebration of conquest that features some prominent organ playing, crisp drumming and begging that ends all too soon.

In 2006 I spearheaded a return to the music business for the too long absent D’Angelo. In August of that year I participated in a meeting in New York with the Neo bad boy, his then label Virgin and their former Black Music chief, Jermaine Dupri. While in New York, I was staying at Eric Goode’s Maritime Hotel, and on the morning of the meeting I awoke in a hotel with no running water. August in New York is particularly unforgiving, and the prospect of a label meeting without a shower was out of the question. The hotel manager on duty was kind enough to pay for cab fare and an admission to the 10th Street Baths the legendary Turkish sweat lodge, and spa to the hip hop elite. After a steam, sauna and massage I was resting in one of the common areas in the facility and I ran into Maxwell. We’d seen each other around campus since the beginning of his career. Since I knew that he’d been recording for sometime, I asked, “How was the new record coming?”

He said, “Fine.” He was underselling.

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1 love to Manjit, The Ep, Stuart Mattheman, Toure, David Belgrave, The Ab, Bonnie Thornton, Melissa King, Wah Wah Watson, Spy Bar, Ken Wilson RIP Frankie Crocker

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I haven’t written in weeks. My plan was to return with a blog that celebrated Black Music Month, and shared my impressions of the latest Maxwell CD, but as in most cases over the last 30 years, Michael Jackson will receive the higher billing. Maxwell can wait; his new project is butter; it will get its just due soon. Stay up.

As I’m writing this, it’s been a little more than 36 hours since TMZ broke the devastating news of Michael Jackson’s death. Tears have been shed, e-mails, IM chats and phone calls sharing mutual condolences with close friends and fam have provided the needed outlet to both reminisce and mourn. Amongst my friends and extended family, the reaction has ranged from nostalgia, to hurt and shock. How could such a voice be silenced at such a young age?

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A FAMILY AT WORK

Ironically, The King leaves us in a year that coincides with the observance of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Motown, the dream factory where he was groomed to be the most important recording artist that America has ever produced. I’ve sampled some writing on his life of great accomplishments and squandered opportunities. I’ve watched as much cable coverage as I can stand. Earlier in the week, MSNBC was playing in the background; they’d gone wall-to-wall King Of Pop since Thursday night’s dinner hour. An MSNBC correspondent was periodically filing reports from in-front of the LA County coroner’s office. She interrupted a roundtable discussion on MJ with the breaking news that there wasn’t a final autopsy report yet. For the purpose of this segment, the concept of “news” was being liberally interpreted.

Alleged advisors, confidants, friends, and former business associates were wallowing in the lurid muck of prescription drugs, self-mutilation, child abuse, court cases, media manipulation, surrogate parenting, alleged child molestation, and financial ruin. Some had that glazed-over expression that seems to be a requirement of ill-prepared guests taking part in a tabloid-driven celebrity wake. In order to adequately fill the news-cycle, producers have scrambled for “gets” that have dragged the discourse down to its lowest-common denominator. They’re all offering recollections about their association with a “legend”. In life, as well as death, stories concerning any aspect of the Michael-Jackson-phenomena all but guarantee ratings, serving to remind us that, despite his eccentricities, Jackson was a beloved, cross-generational figure in the Black community. We take a dim view of exploitative media coverage of his tragic, and untimely, death.

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The coverage lacks a certain something. Unbelievably, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who has related a story about what it was actually like seeing a picture of the J5 cut out from “Right On” magazine, and taped to the bedroom wall of seemingly every young girl you knew or were related to. No one appeared to have had the experience of witnessing a seamless, killer performance of a J5 hit on “Soul Train” or Ed Sullivan’s must-see Sunday night showcase. Apparently no one had ever heard “Rockin’ Robin” blaring from every possible radio station encountered during the summer of 1972. There didn’t seem to be any testimony of a family outing to see the young King concertize and dedicate his performance of “With A Child’s Heart” to his fellow icon and label mate, Stevie Wonder, as the blind genius lay at death’s doorstep in a Durham hospital.

Not one “connection” interviewed could attest to the ultimate power of the Swahili-sung break in “Wanna Be Starting Something” or that track’s ability to work a packed dance floor in to a frenzy. Not one could relate a tale of the feel of new love experienced as “The Lady In My Life” quietly played on a home stereo. No one spoke about the goosebumps felt the first time the pattern of the kick, snare, high hat, bass and synth locked in underneath the strings of “Billie Jean” and then the awe of seeing the footsteps of The King light up those sidewalk sections in that first breakout video. No one spoke of the pride felt when The King broke the color-line at MTV with that same clip.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. led the US Congress in a moment of silence, I guess he remembered the Operation PUSH benefits at which the band of brothers could be counted on to appear. Or maybe he was remembering the mysterious Atlanta child-murders from the early ’80’s that prompted a benefit by the Jacksons to raise money and point the spotlight on the F.B.I.’s inability to find a killer following twenty young black men who were reported murdered.

The only people I’m certain had knowledge of these experiences, and other variations, were the ones whom I saw gathered at the UCLA Medical Center for the spontaneous vigil; the Times Square pedestrians who had fond, rich memories of hearing “P.Y.T.” when it was newly released, the crowd who gathered beneath the marquee at the world-famous Apollo Theater, singing “Rock With You”, in unison… I’m certain they knew; I saw it in their eyes and heard in their voices. They knew how much joy The King had given them, and they were grateful.

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A YOUNG HARLEM RESIDENT AT THURSDAY NIGHTS CELEBRATION
PERHAPS WORKING TOWARD THE DAY WHEN HE CAN LIGHT THE
SIDEWALK BENEATH HIS FEET (photo courtesy of Sareenah Davis)

As a guest, I wouldn’t be of much use to the type of coverag I’ve watched. I never had a meal with Michael Jackson, never worked with him, never had a phone conversation with him. But I feel as though I may have known him better than many of the so-called experts I’ve been watching. You see, I knew him in the way that was most important: his music. Oddly, none of the other angles, stories, or guests would be of importance at all, if not for all that music that was so ubiquitous.

Thanks to the seemingly endless choices I’ve found on YouTube (where the past does live forever), the Black Magic that marked most of Michael’s 40-year career as an entertainer has been posted on my two Facebook accounts. With each clip seen, or song heard – vivid, sharp, and bittersweet memories flood my consciousness. The Jackson 5 performing a medley of their hits with Cher, who quickly caught the feeling, sharing lead vocals with The King. Without anything to blame but the boogie, she soon started rocking a little J5-style choreography, as well. In the clip, she is adapting like a fish to water. I’m reminded that she hit it big with the soulful working-girl anthem, “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves.”

In another clip, the young brothers are making an appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show” and The King steps into an uncertain and mostly-white audience to gain votes for his campaign to be elected King Of Pop. In an excerpt from “The Carol Burnette Show,” her second banana, Vicki Lawrence, was schooled on how to “express yourself” to the strains of “Body Language” the under-appreciated, lame-duck first single from their last Motown release “Moving Violation.” By the time this last record dropped, it was clear that the bulk of the family would be moving on to CBS Records and Motown chieftain, Berry Gordy, didn’t put his best, good-faith effort forward in support of the single. But still, it was dope!

Also found was the historic rendition of “Billie Jean” from the Motown 25th Anniversary Special, “Today Tomorrow and Forever”. In the heat of the moment, The King accents his track date performance of the classic cautionary tale of a paternity suit with the simple, yet revolutionary, idea of walking backwards to the beat. With that stride of genius, he propelled the Black Music game forward and took all of us with him. Once again, the reliable healing power of soul is doing its thing. Again, I am beginning to feel inspired.

I only met Michael Jackson once. We were both invited guests at a party that Diddy threw at the home of West Coast billionaire Ron Burkle. The MTV Movie Awards had been taped earlier in the evening, and Diddy did what Diddy does: he took advantage of a networking opportunity and threw a Diddy-fest. The evening was A-list all the way, and there were more than a few headliners in attendance. A film producing acquaintance, Mark Burg, was in the place to be. He was accompanied by his date, the late Farrah Fawcett, and he introduced us. While the two of us spoke, my old friend Brett Ratner motioned me over to his table to be introduced to The King. Mark and Farrah saw the signal and followed me suit. I thought it was odd that “Angel” and The King hadn’t met before, but I was pleased to have been a part of these two icons meeting.

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THE ANGEL

When I shook his hand, The King felt frail and appeared to be medicated. We didn’t chat for long because I didn’t want to impose. He was polite, but not quite present. I excused myself and began to circulate through the rest of the party. At the time, I was surprised by The King’s lack of vitality.

Later that same summer, I was extended an invitation to Neverland, the 33-acre estate of the King, just north of Santa Barbara; the long-time aid to The King, and his family, Steve Manning, invited me. I took a date and her girlfriend; Joe Jackson’s 70th birthday was the occasion.

I’d always felt connected to Michael through his music. Soul City residents Freddie Perren, and Larry and Fonce Mizelle had been members of the crack Motown songwriting and production team that had given the J5 many of their first hits. Larry and Fonce’s youngest brother Rodney and I were schoolmates and he’d invited me to their family home on a summer’s day long ago. A wall in their living room was covered with platinum and gold RIAA album certifications. Many had been awarded for participation in the success of J5 projects. Even then, The King was lighting a path to creative success with that uniquely bright light that was produced from the biggest recording star that the world had ever known. It’s still shining. Thriller is the number one selling i-Tunes download today, 27 years after its initial release. I love the music of Michael Jackson. I just wish I had told him when I had the chance.

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Mad love to Cynthia Horner, Flo Anthony, Karen Tinsley-Farrakhan, Sandra Edwards, Valerie, Rhonda, Barry James, Tammy Lucas, Bernard Belle, The Ab, D’Angelo, Pam Hall, Suzanne DePasse, Skip Miller, Pam Lewis, Rush, T.C. Thompkins, Larkin Arnold and the Jackson family

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I first saw Janet Jackson as a cute 9 yr old on her older brothers’ summer replacement show in ’75. The following fall, touring off the essential party jam, Dancing Machine the entire family came to the NY area and played in the round.

Along with the hits, Janet did an impersonation of Mae West opposite her brother Michael’s take on Sinatra. Cute kids, family stuff.

My mother organized a bus ride that was sponsored by our church. We were years away from Velvet Ropes, nose jobs, wardrobe malfunctions, pedophile charges and rumors of secret children.

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POWER SIBLINGS

We were also years away from the mega touring success and massive record, tape and cd sales that would collectively make Michael and Janet the most successful brother and sister to ever record.

Janet was the baby so she got to watch. She watched Michael and the others blow up first as The Jackson 5. Then after an acrimonious split with Motown that resulted; in their brother Jermaine staying behind; starting a solo career, marrying Motown founder, Berry Gordy’s daughter, and the rest of the family regrouping as, The Jacksons, at Epic Records, she found out a truth about the record business: it could split families apart.

She apprenticed in TV. She was a memorable addition to the ensemble cast of Good Times as, Penny. Then a less memorable period on the the forgettable tv version of Fame. She wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

She signed a deal with the independent west coast, powerhouse pop label, A & M Records. Home to Sting, Bryan Adams and Quiny Jones’ Quincy Jones Productions. She put out two stiff projects. She didn’t seem to have the stuff that the rest of the family had.

In an attempt to compete in the exploding black pop market that her brother Michael and Prince were dominating at the time, A & M hired a new A & R man to put them in the game. Former Jackcson 5 music director and long time family friend, John McClain

McClain was the scion of a hooked up African-American LA based entertainment family. His father, Big John owned an, LA soul music station and he was a guy you needed to see if you were in the black music business in the day. McClain in later years would be the man to sign Death Row Records to Interscope.

The first order of business at A & M was to fix Janet. At this time in the music business, you might get 3 albums to break in a particular market. Now, a second single is not guaranteed.

By hiring ex Prince sidemen and emerging pop funk producers, Jam and Lewis to oversee her third project. McClain insured that they would all make history.

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GROOVE MERCHANTS JAM & LEWIS

In early ’86, the release of, What Have You Done For Me Lately, the first single and video from the album, Control sent shock waves throughout the music industry. A cute and pudgy Janet jumped out of tv screens dressed in all black and doing the hot dance of the moment, “the snake” in a malt shop. On the song itself, she was beefing about an unimaginative lover with lazy dating habits. She struck a chord in disgruntled listeners and smashed.

The albums Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet each sold six million units domestically. The tours that supported, Rhythm Nation and Janet sold out buildings that hosted NBA basketball games. She was not a star she was a consistent corporate profit center.

She got out of her deal at A & M and signed with Virgin in ’97 for $50 million dollars. Always an astute observer of the market place, she released the most interesting single of her career. The hip hop, neo influenced, Got ’til It’s Gone. The down tempo lounge joint that featured a sample from Joni Mitchell and a cool kid verse from then paramour, Q-Tip.

The Virgin realationship was off to a good start. Until you got the cd home. It was not reflective of the direction of the single and it showed a move away from her pop funk roots toward up tempo dance music. It also revealed a tendency that wasn’t clear before. Janet was musically concerned about sex. More specifically, Janet loved to sing about her pussy. Subsequently, it would be the rare church that would sponsor bus rides to see her performances.

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THE BEGINNING OF THE END

The S & M feeling of, The Velvet Rope was not a bad one, it just wasn’t done creatively. Record sales began to dwindle.

Subsequent Virgin releases sold less. Some of this could be attributed to a revolving door of executives at the label and mismanagement. Some to musical miscalculations.

While Janet was signed there, the day to day US head of the company had an affair with alternative bad boy, Custom. He apparently decided that it was over before he let her know. She called him over 80 times and left increasingly more and more threatening messages on his home phone.

Custom recorded a few of them and mixed them over a music bed. He then sent it to the head of business affairs for Virgin US, plunging the label chief into a scandal the led to her firing. In the aftermath Custom was signed by ARTISTdirect.

Mariah Carey had a disasterous one cd career there and was given a $50 million dollar check on her way out the door. She resurfaced at Def Jam.

While signed to Virgin, D’Angelo spent parts of 4 years and $3 million dollars on a record that he never released. He left the company and signed with J Records in early ’07. Virgin didn’t exactly have a grip on the black music game.

Despite the chaos around her, Janet soldiered on. Like all of the products of the great Motown music assembly line, she was a pro. Though she was never signed to Motown herself, five of her older siblings were and she was schooled by them and their father Joe.

One thing became certain. The hits were coming less often for Miss Jackson. Jam & Lewis were still down but it wasn’t clicking. They laced her with ’01’s, All For You, a snappy dance track that featured a loop from Change’s Glow Of Love. Sales continued to lag.

The tour was hot though! Seeing Janet meant seeing close to three hours of hits performed. But the records were not moving. Kanye West was brought in to give her a hit. It too was marginal.

Virgin then tried to get their game on track and hired super producer, Jermaine Dupri. His first order of business was to fix Janet. This was presumably not going to be difficult. They were already hooked up backstage.

Jermaine had released a video from a compilation project of his that cast Janet as a sex worker bursting out of a nurses uniform. He clearly had influence over her.

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JANET UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF JD

I met with him in his capacity as Virgin Black Music Chief in the late summer of ’06. The day we met, Janet had been quoted on the world wide web giving Jermaine credit for being the best lover that she’d ever had.

Virgin politics reared their head again and Jermaine was forced out of the company. He too bounced to the newly hot Def Jam and took his girl wit him.

The result of their Def Jam collabo was another vaginal tribute, Feedback. I’m partial to the subject matter, I liked it but I didn’t have much company. Again the product wasn’t moving.

Today Def Jam and Janet Jackson announced that they are parting ways. One of the most iconic talents of the MTV era is without a recording home.

The new reality of the recording biz will give her many options to reach the consumer. Downloads, cell phone platforms, social networking and the rest, can give her control again.

Her current tour sold three west coast basketball arenas out last week. She’s crushing ’em with my old friend LL Cool J opening.

In the parlance of the music game we are all one hit away from major success and once a hit always a threat. Janet ain’t through. The pro will resurface and then watch out. It’s gonna be on.

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