V EXCLUSIVE: Rodney Jerkins Talks MJ’s Last Studio Album, Invincible

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By: Jermaine Hall / September 5, 2009

Linda Hobbs talks to producer Rodney Jerkins about playing pilot on MJ’s final studio album.

About twenty-five years ago, Rodney Jerkins had his mind set on one goal: to work with the King of Pop.

The super-producer, who has worked with Whitney Houston and Beyonce among others, wish came true around 1993 when Teddy Riley linked Jerkins with his shy hero. Jerkins convincingly campaigned to produce new millennium Michael. The two soon began work on what became Michael’s earnest attempt at recapturing praise for his music. At 19-years-old, Jerkins was given the task of producing the bulk of Michael’s last full studio album, Invincible, amongst a teeny-bop generation who were embracing his copycats.

Even though it sold 13 million copies worldwide, the album was picked apart by critics. A day after Jackson’s funeral, Jerkins calls VIBE from California to reminisce on the album that got away.

VIBE: You were around 19 when you started working on Invincible. You guys became friends in the process. What was the friendship like?
RODNEY JERKINS: Sometimes he would come to my house for dinner, or I’d go out with him and his kids. It’s really trust. You build trust around each other. He use to tell me all the time, “You’re a true loyal friend.” And he knew that when certain situations arose, I had his back.

I’ll never forget, Michael just let me take all my friends and literally gave me Neverland Ranch. He’d be like, “I have to go to Germany for a month,” and just leave. I’d call everybody I knew, like, “Yo, party at Neverland!”

Plus we would have bets, like whoever wins gets like a 100 DVDs. He beat me the first time and I took him to Virgin Mega Store in Times Square and got him like a 100 DVDs. We went late at night. The first time he went to the store, he was in disguise. But a fan noticed him and blew the whole cover.

Why did the album take so long to finish? You guys were going at it for three years.
It was a lot of starting and stopping. Like, we would stop for three months and then Michael would be like, “I got to go to Germany for a couple months,” then he’d go to LA, it was that kind of situation. And I remember one time, he was like, “Let’s start from scratch…I think we can beat everything we did.” That was his perfectionist side. I was like “Man, we been working for a year, we gone scrap everything?!” But it showed how hard he goes.

You were cool with that?
Yeah, I was. You got to understand, when I worked with Michael I had already worked with everybody. I was making a lot of money to be able to work on just one thing. And there was a time where he took a break, and Brandy’s Full Moon project came up, and I told Michael, “I got to do this album.” I was working on both at exactly the same time, at the Hit Factory in Miami. And I was literally running back and forth.

I heard you videotaped the Invincible studio sessions. Have you released that yet?
Shh![laughs]. I’ll just say Michael asked me to document everything. And I did. And I’m sure one day it’ll see the light of day. I got to make sure it’s made in the way Michael would want to see it.

Do you ever go back and watch the footage?
All the time.

What was Jackson like in the studio? Timid?
No! He was super vocal. He was so hands on. I’m talking about from the high hat to everything. The sound quality was so important to him. He looked at everything under a microscope, like, “The middle frequency is too much”–he was very technical. He use to always say, “Melody is king” so he really focused in on melody.

Let’s be honest: are you proud of the outcome of Invincible
There’s stuff we didn’t put on the album that I wish was on the album. My first batch [of beats] is what I really wanted him to do. I was trying to really go vintage, old school Mike. And that’s what a lot of my first stuff was, that I was presenting to him. He kept “Rock My World.” But he wanted to go more futuristic. So I would find myself at like junkyards, and we’d be out hitting stuff, to create our sound.

I think Invincible needs to be re-released. Because something happened at the record company [Sony] that caused them not to promote it no more after we done put our heart and soul in it. He had about five singles on the album. But it came down to who can stop who. And he was caught up in that mess.

A lot of critics criticized the album for being so long. Was it Jackson’s idea to make the album really long?
[Laughs] It was Michael’s idea. It was long. He didn’t make that transition of doing shorter albums, and this is the guy…it was literally nine songs on Thriller. We actually had that conversation where I was like, “You should make it 10 songs and that’s it.” You never know… maybe he felt like that would be his last album.

Do you still listen to it?
Sometimes. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to it.

Does it make you sad?
Not at all. I’m sad inside that I lost a friend. He always wanted his music to touch the masses. And that’s exactly what it’s doing right now. But it was an amazing period of time in my life to be able to work with him. It feels incredible to know… I handled his last number one record.