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

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.

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A general view of the video screens before the 69th NBA All-Star Game at the United Center on February 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement
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Posterized Celebrates Chicago’s All-Time Starting Five For NBA All-Star Weekend

Chicago has not experienced the excitement of NBA All-Star weekend since Michael Jordan dominated the weekend in 1988 by winning the dunk contest and taking home the MVP trophy. The hardworking, blue-collar city has produced some of the greatest basketball players over the years. To celebrate those players, fans were invited to vote on their All-Time Starting Five through the Posterized Experience app leading up to All-Star weekend.

Verizon Wireless funded the mobile event app with content support from Project SYNCERE students, a Chicago-based non-profit that aids in preparing underrepresented and disadvantaged students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The pool of 55 nominees was stacked with amazing talent and included men and women who attended high school in the Chicagoland area for four years and dominated on the court, including the late Ben “Benji” Wilson, Isiah Thomas, Candace Parker, Tim Hardaway, Quentin Richardson, and many more.

On Friday (Feb. 14), the top 5 were revealed during "Posterized: The Chicago Experience" powered by Jim Beam. Derrick Rose, the NBA’s youngest MVP to date, racked up the most votes, and joining him on the list were Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, 3-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade, and Antoine Walker.

 

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SPECIAL GROUP ......

A post shared by Antoine Walker (@toinewalker8) on Jan 31, 2020 at 10:06am PST

Walker, an NBA champion and 3-time All-Star when he played for the Boston Celtics, joined NBC Sports Chicago analyst Jason Goff in announcing the most voted players during the invitation-only event overlooking the picturesque city at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant.

In addition to Walker being on hand, several other retired NBA players stopped by to enjoy the afternoon soiree, including Kenyon Martin and Chicagoland natives Tim Hardaway, Shawn Marion, and Mark Aguirre. Former NFL player and Illinois Senate representative Napoleon Harris, 1985 Chicago Bears champion Otis Wilson, rapper Jadakiss, iconic radio personality Ed Lover, God Shammgod and more joined in the festivities as well.

Throughout the afternoon, guests were treated to all things Chicago including fun stepping dance lessons, the famous Garrett’s Popcorn, and a special “312” screening lounge featuring movies and television shows set in the city. When asked what it meant to be voted a part of the All-Time Starting Five by fans via the Posterized Experience app, Walker answered, “It is an honor to represent my hometown…Chicago and be recognized as a Top 5 player by the fans. Chicago is a town built on hard work. Many basketball stars are born here, and legends are made. I’m glad that I am a product of this amazing city.”

 

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It’s a wrap folks! Thank you Chicagoland for selecting your #AllTimeStartingFive and major thanks to @recothegreat for capturing the perfect portrait of the #Top5! @antdavis23, @drose, @dwyanewade, @isiahthomas and @toinewalker8 is a tough 🏀 squad to beat! #Posterized #PosterizedExperience #AnthonyDavis #DerrickRose #DwyaneWade #IsiahThomas #AntoineWalker

A post shared by Posterized: Chicago Experience (@posterizedexperience) on Feb 15, 2020 at 7:13am PST

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Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant reacts during the Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts, June 17, 2008.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Kobe Bryant Went From Peerless To Peer, And That's Why It Hurts To Lose Him

If you were to list the major events of Kobe Bryant’s life, it would read like one of those cheesy, unbelievable movies on Netflix that you scroll right past every night. Born to an NBA player, grew up in Italy, made it to the NBA at 17 years old, won five championships, won an Oscar, won an Emmy, died in a helicopter crash.

The abruptness of the ending of the list is matched only by the totality of the list itself. As fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant put it, “You’ve seen Kobe in every situation… he lived life to the fullest.”

Ultimately it was that all-encompassing nature of Kobe Bryant’s life that made his death so tragic and so painful. Kobe was the rare entity that made the entire world feel something about him. Whether it was love, hate, admiration, fear, respect or whatever other emotion he could elicit out of you as a spectator, you felt it. As such, everybody felt something when the news broke that he’d perished in a helicopter crash, even his most feverish haters.

Perhaps you were attached to Kobe the basketball deity, with his insatiable competitiveness that became its own mantra for life: Mamba Mentality. Or maybe you loved Kobe the artist and storyteller, who found new ways to express himself and succeed after leaving the sport most thought he would be miserable without. But the most wide-ranging side of Kobe is surely the father and the family man. That was the most “normal” of his superpowers.

There was a side of Kobe for everybody, and as such he may have lived as the most revered and celebrated athlete in the world. There are others more popular by standard metrics, but the adulation Kobe received in every pocket of the world is the type of devotion that only existed in eras past, before the internet opened up niches for every single interest and gave platforms for every single counterargument.

In the sports world, Kobe may be Patient 0 for that sort of internet native life, as we’ve been privy to almost his entire life since the moment he arrived, arm and arm with Brandy at his high school prom. His entire career exists on camera somewhere, and most of his adult life is Google-able and available at the click of a button, in HD.

As such, we get the feeling we know Kobe, a sentiment that became amplified when he allowed us to get even closer to him with the intimacy of his social media profiles. His random thoughts were strewn across his Twitter account. His adorable family life is plastered on both his and his wife’s Instagram accounts. Plus, there were documentaries, stories, books, Oscar-winning shorts and every other sort of content for all the rest of his life and the arbitrary contemplations that exist between those two worlds.

Kobe was as transparent as any superstar on Earth, and that made him as endearing as any superhero can possibly be. We felt we came to know Kobe, a jarring turn of events after he existed for two decades as the most sinister, malicious and villainous athlete since Michael Jordan, a man so feverishly and obsessively devoted to winning it left him with strained relationships, but five championship rings to warm his bed at night.

 

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My Gigi

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:59pm PDT

Suddenly he was approachable, an aloof basketball dad, now fully devoted to family life in a way that somehow seemed even more dedicated than he ever was to his previous profession. It made for a few comical pictures and stories, but it resonated, and the supernatural had become normal. After two decades of Kobe doing things no other human could hope to do, he was doing the things every other human does on a daily basis and it made him even more lovable.

But that turn is what made his sudden death even that much more painful. Kobe was doing something every parent of an athlete has done hundreds of times, taking their child to a game and sharing that intimate ride and alone time that may not exist if the sport had not brought them together for that moment. That’s the innocuous moment that led to the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his own 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

For many, that made the tragedy hit unbearably close to home. Whether as a parent, a coach, someone who was once that kid riding to the game with their parents or any other cog in the village that raises a child. Everybody has been within that equation somewhere, and now the reality of how fleeting those moments can be is staring the entire world in the face, forcing them to come to grips with the fragility of life. Not only your own life, but those closest to you who could be doing something as ordinary as driving to a game on a Sunday morning.

 

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Had a great trip to @uconnwbb for senior night and the retirement of basketball legend @promise50 with my baby Gigi. Thank you Gampel, Thank you Coach Geno and Cd for the warm welcome. Good luck the rest of the way 💪🏾 #mambamentality #wizenard

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Mar 2, 2019 at 9:22pm PST

Once again, Kobe is making everybody feel something. Once again, he’s bringing people together, united by a common cause, and feeling ever so strongly about the topic at hand. Gone is the hate or even the fear for the man they call The Black Mamba. Now that’s been replaced by somber regret, sadness, reflection and perhaps most importantly, appreciation.

Rarely does the death of a complete stranger create ripples in someone’s life, but it seems Kobe’s has caused tidal waves for many. In stripping away the layers of mythology that once shrouded him from normalcy, Kobe was no longer a stranger. He’d become a big brother, an uncle, a friend to so many, even from afar. Kobe spent his entire basketball life as a peerless prodigy, a wonder of the world who was simply unmatched. From the moment he retired he became the exact opposite, he was a peer.

So, on January 26, the world didn’t lose a stranger who played basketball for a living, they lost a peer, a friend who they’d known for over 20 years. Even if you never met Kobe, you met him. You watched him grow, from an innocent, smiling child who dreamed of the impossible, to a hyper-focused brooding adult at work. And what did he become after achieving the impossible over and over? He went right back to smiling, as a gleeful father entering an entirely new and exciting stage of life.

There was a little bit of Kobe in all of us, and that’s why it hurts so bad to lose all of him.

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Michael Jordan Delivers Emotional Speech At Kobe & Gianna Bryant Memorial Service

After Alica Keys delivered a classical performance of "Moonlight Sonata," his basketball idol, Michael Jordan, stepped to the podium to deliver an emotional speech about the late, great Kobe Bryant. As tears fell from his eyes and down his face, Jordan shared his fondest memories of the legend, how close they were as friends, and talked about the late nights where Bryant would ask him questions about life while being that pestering "nuisance" of a little brother.

"At first, it was an aggravation, but then it turned into a passion," he admitted. "This kid had a passion like you would ever know. It's an amazing thing about passion. If you love something, if you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme to try to understand and to try and get it.

"As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be. To do that, you have to put up with the aggravation, the late-night calls or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant," he said tearfully. "That he was just trying to be a better person, a better basketball player. We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything. And he was just trying to be a better person."

"Now he's got me [crying]. I have to look at another crying meme for the next...I told my wife I wasn't going to do this, 'cause I didn't want to see this for the next 3 or 4 years," he said as the crowd broke out in laughter and applause. "That is what Kobe Bryant does to me."

Jordan went on to share another story about how Bryant sent him a late-night/early morning text sharing how he's trying to teach Gianna some moves and asked Jordan if he could remember what he was thinking about at Gianna's age as he was trying to work on his moves.

"I say, 'What age?' He says 12. I said, 'At 12, I was trying to play baseball," continued Jordan before a laughing audience."He sends me a text saying 'laughing-my-a**-off.' And this is at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Jordan went on to address Bryant's wife, Vaness, and their daughters, saying how he and his wife will be there for them, before sending condolences to the families of the other people who perished in the tragic accident. He went on to stress the importance of living in the moment when with "When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. And as I look in this arena, and across the globe, a piece of you died or else you wouldn't be here. Those are the memories that we have to live with and learn from.

"I promise you from this day forward, I will live with memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please, rest in peace, little brother."

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