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Michael Jackson Vs. Prince: An Oral History

What did these two titans really think of one another?

“I heard you were looking for me,” said a deep voice on the other end of the phone. It was the fall of 1996, and Michael Jackson was holding court in a posh suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. The King of Pop had instructed his handlers to contact his old peer and rival Prince for a planned collaboration. The prospect for such a headline-making union was indeed intriguing. For much of the ‘80s, Michael Joseph Jackson and Prince Rogers Nelson took turns ruling the musical landscape. MJ, the gifted Motown child prodigy who made good on his ambition to become the biggest pop star to ever walk the earth with the release of the record-breaking landmark Thriller. Prince, the at times outrageous, androgynous, one-man-band performer and producer who backed up his genius rep by pulling off one of the most unlikely coups in rock history after unleashing the multi-platinum 1984 Purple Rain soundtrack and Oscar-winning film. A rivalry was born.

But more than a decade later, both had found themselves in a battle to save their respective careers. MJ struggled mightily to fight unproven child molestation accusations as the tabloid brigade hounded him relentlessly. Prince declared war against his longtime label Warner Bros. and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol as he headed deeper into obscurity. Indeed, a team-up between the two icons would be perceived as a brilliant masterstroke. “I think it would be just great,” MJ told Prince. Yet, the collaboration to end all collaborations would never happen. Both aging legends would achieve comebacks on their own terms. With the untimely June 25, 2009 death of Jackson, their connection grows even more profound. The fact that the public is still enamored with MJ and Prince speaks volumes for their cultural impact and influential contributions to music. But what did these two titans really think of one another? Was there a true rivalry or deep respect? VIBE presents the Oral History of a King and a Prince.—Keith Murphy

 

A KING AND A PRINCE (1970-1982)

AHMIR “QUESTLOVE” THOMPSON (Leader, producer and drummer for the Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots): I have an actual theory on why we started connecting Michael and Prince together early on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both were born in the summer of 1958 in the Midwest and both basically represent different phases of the coming-of-age life of black youth. Michael captured the imagination of post-civil-rights America as a youth and he was their guiding light. And Prince captured the same post-civil rights America when they became teenagers and helped them mature into adulthood. 

ALAN LEEDS (Former tour manager for Prince and James Brown; Co-editor of the book The James Brown Reader): I remember seeing Michael’s first big tour with the Jackson 5 in 1970. When I was out with James Brown we crossed paths in Dayton, Ohio. They were playing the O’Hare Arena in Dayton the night before we were scheduled to perform. Onstage he had a charismatic presence that very few people had. I remember we were staying at the same hotel. And before the gig, I happened to be in the hotel lobby when the J5 left to go to sound check. I saw them come through with their security; screaming kids were outside the hotel and I recall seeing Michael and he looked like a little pimp [laughs]. He had that confident walk and he was only 10 years old! He totally understood, “Hey, I’m the star. I’m the reason these kids are out here.”

CYNTHIA HORNER (Former editor of Right On! Magazine from 1976-2005; Currently writes and edits for Hip-Hop Weekly): I met Michael back in 1976 and he was one of the shyest people that I’ve ever dealt with. It was a little difficult to interview him because even though as a professional entertainer he realized he needed the press, he wasn’t somebody that knew how to relate to the media in terms of being open with information. He was just super shy unless he was around his family. But he picked up the fact I was shy as well, so he kind of embraced me and we became friends. He and Prince were quite similar because Prince was shy as well. If you were a journalist he would give you the same monosyllabic answers that Michael did. But Prince would also speak in riddles a lot of the time; he was very evasive. He would never answer any of my questions [laughs]. He wanted to keep his privacy protected at all cost.

BRUCE SWEDIEN (Michael Jackson’s studio engineer for Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous): It was very obvious to both me and Quincy [Jones] how great Michael was. He was somebody really special… the ultimate talent. We did a bunch of demos after listening to Rod Temperton’s music for Off The Wall. And Michael, in his typical fashion, went home, stayed up all night, and memorized the lyrics and we recorded those demos without a piece of paper in front of him. You tell me one other singer that could do that.

CYNTHIA HORNER: The first time I encountered Prince was in 1978. He kept calling me over and over again and I really wasn’t returning his phone calls because I didn’t know who he was and I really didn’t care. But he called me so much that I just wanted to get rid of him, so I agreed to meet with him down the street from my office, which was in Hollywood near the recording studio he was at. He wanted me to go to the studio to see a jam session. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that the jam session consisted of just one person: Prince! He played all of these different instruments. Prince was trying to prove to me that he was worthy of coverage and that he was more talented than probably a majority of the people who was appearing in [Right On!]. At that moment, Prince let me know that he was a songwriter that could produce, sing, and play all these different instruments. This was an once-in-a-lifetime talent. Once I saw that, I agreed to interview him.

ALAN LEEDS: Michael wasn’t a musician in the classic sense. He approached his music differently from the way Prince did although Michael could write a great song as well. But Prince was arguably a musician first. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Prince saw Michael as a symbol of where he wanted to go in terms [of notoriety]. Michael was one of the few artists on the planet that Prince did respect in that sense. Once we realized that he was in the process of writing what was the original idea for the film Purple Rain as he was scribbling in notebooks during his 1982 tour for 1999, we knew he wanted more. The word was beginning to spread: “Hey, Prince really thinks he’s writing a movie.” I don’t think any of us took it that seriously because it didn’t make sense that somebody who at that point only had a few pop hits was going to be able to get the funding for a film. But it certainly revealed an ambition he had and to his credit Prince would go on to pull it off.

CYNTHIA HORNER: I would give Michael copies of the magazines and he would see certain people in the book and ask me lots of questions about the artists he was interested in. And that’s how he was introduced to Prince. After that, I started to let Michael listen to some of the Prince music I had and he was intrigued. At that point, I realized that there was somewhat of a rivalry developing. Michael had been in the business longer, so naturally he didn’t want to get replaced by the newcomer.

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Report: Streaming Services Account For 93 Percent Of Latin Music's Revenue

A new report by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) found that streaming is now making up 93 percent of Latin music’s total revenue in the U.S., Billboard reports. This amount is in comparison to the 75 percent made of all other genres in total in the U.S. by the various streaming platforms available. It’s estimated that now Latin music currently accounts for 4.2 percent of the total $9.8 billion dollars of the music business in the U.S. The figure has increased since last year, which stood at 4 percent.

"Latin music’s transformation from a physical-based business to a streaming driven one is even faster than the overall U.S. music market’s turnaround," reads the 2018 Latin music revenue report. Most of the revenue comes from paid subscriptions, which make up a total of 58 percent of the genre’s revenue.

These paid subscriptions all come from music/content streaming services like Amazon Unlimited, Spotify Premium, Apple Music, which all grew 48 percent year by year. Ultimately, the growth generated a cool $239 million. Revenue from other ad-driven platforms like YouTube and Vevo garnered a total of 34 percent, which made $93 million. The sub-category made Latin music 24 percent in revenue, which is three times larger than the average eight percent made off the U.S. general market.

The artists whom helped push forward the genre digitally within the last year have been: Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, J.Balvin and Karol G, among others. "Overall, the Latin music market is showing signs of strength again," the report stated. "We are excited for the next chapter of this comeback story."

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Songs Of Freedom: The Lasting Effects Of Buju Banton's "Long Walk" Concert

“My destination is homeward bound,” sang Buju Banton on stage at Jamaica’s National Stadium in the heart of Kingston. “Though forces try hold I down. Breaking chains has become the norm. I know I must get through no matter what a gwaan.” As the Grammy-winning reggae icon performed his song “Destiny,” a hit single from the 1997 album Inna Heights, the words took on added resonance due to the enormity of the occasion—a homecoming celebration for a living legend who’d been gone too long.

A crowd of more than 30,000 turned out to watch Buju launch his Long Walk To Freedom tour, named after Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. After much anticipation and speculation, Buju’s first performance since being released from federal prison in the U.S. could not have been held in a more fitting location. Jamaica’s National Stadium was the same place where Mandela addressed the people of Jamaica during his first visit to the island in July of 1991. Prior to Buju Banton, no other Jamaican artist headlined this prestigious venue since Bob Marley performed here at the One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978—when the Tuff Gong brought rival political leaders together onstage, demonstrating the power of reggae music.

“It was epic to see the amount of people that came to the stadium,” said dancehall superstar Sean Paul after the Buju show. “With Usain Bolt or with our football team, when the stadium is full we don’t see the field full as well. So to see that for one person—that was really amazing.”

 

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This historic performance was not the first time Buju ever appeared at the National Stadium. In December 1991 the rising dancehall star Wayne Wonder called out the tall, skinny, short-haired 18-year-old as a surprise guest during his own set on Sting, the annual Boxing Day stage show. “Nobody knew Buju,” recalls Donovan Germaine of Penthouse Records, who produced Buju’s early hits “Love Me Browning” and “Love Black Woman,” both of which were featured on his classic 1992 album Mr. Mention. “They heard the song but they had never seen him, so Wayne Wonder brought him onstage at Sting and then the world saw Buju Banton.”

That quick set back in 1991 was a mere glimpse of the greatness to come, and nearly three decades later the artist had come full circle. Witnessing Buju run through highlights of his extensive catalog backed by the 10-piece Shiloh Band left no question that one of reggae’s greatest artists was back in top form. Dressed in full white, Buju commanded the audience’s attention like no other act before him. Having given no official public appearances, interviews, and only a handful of statements on social media since his return home last December, Buju had the audience hanging on his every word. For many Buju fans, missing this once-in-a-lifetime event would be inexcusable.

Celebrities and music lovers alike snapped up all available plane tickets and flew in from all corners of the globe, creating a “Buju Boost” to the local economy. Jamaica’s ministry of tourism reported a 143 percent increase in arrivals to Kingston compared with the same day last year. All those fortunate enough to make it to the big show did so with great expectations—and they were not disappointed.

The opening acts at the Long Walk to Freedom concert were a mixture of veteran artists from Buju’s era like Ghost, Delly Ranx, and Cocoa Tea, more recent reggae stars like Etana, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, and Agent Sasco, and promising new talents like Buju’s son Jahaziel Myrie making his first major live appearance, rising star Koffee, who joined Cocoa Tea as a surprise guest, and Chronixx, who turned in a rousing performance with his Zinc Fence Redemption band just before Buju took the stage. Every one of the supporting acts rose to the occasion, performing as if they knew the whole world was watching. Many other top artists, from Tarrus Riley and Tony Rebel to Konshens, Govana, and Aidonia chilled backstage, soaking up the vibes.

Around 11 p.m. it was time for the main event. Emerging from his backstage tent wearing dark shades, Buju was mobbed by crowds of people straining for a glimpse as he made his way to the elevated stage. Escorted by a human chain of bodyguards, Buju strode with ease followed by longtime friend DJ Khaled and his wife Nicole Tuck. Khaled was one of Buju’s first overseas visitors and the two spent time in the recording studio in December, fueling speculation that Buju’s first new release may be included on Khaled’s forthcoming Father of Asahd album. The 100-yard walk to the stage seemed to take forever. Soon after Buju climbed the staircase a scuffle broke out at the foot of the stage. Khaled and his wife did finally make it through after some persistent efforts.

After a dramatic intro adapted from “Hate Me Now” by Nas, Buju entered the stage with words of prayer, going down on bended knee. From that moment forward, he sprinkled his performance with candid remarks that revealed his thoughts about all that he has been through, his hopes and plans for the future. “Now where we?” he remarked before launching into the first verse of his opening song, “Not an Easy Road.” Running through track after track—from “Close One Yesterday” to “Give I Strength,” and “Over Hills And Valleys”—Buju’s music spoke to the artist’s triumph over trials and tribulations.

Having had a long time to plan this concert, Buju’s care and preparation shone through in every detail. As he delved into harder-edged dancehall cuts like “Big It Up,” “Champion” and “Batty Rider,” he made a point of reaching out to a new generation of listeners. “Some of you might be pretty young—much too young to have been introduced to Buju Banton,” he said with a smile. “Hi, this is Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton. I’m sorry I didn’t met you earlier, due to unforeseen circumstances. However I’m here now. And I’m gonna take you back a little, to just educate you about the early ’90s, and how we dedicated ourselves to change the culture of our music, the direction of our music, and the quality of our music.”

After touching a few more dancehall classics, and giving props to some of those who helped him along the way, Buju applied a little pressure to Jamaica’s current wave of artists. “You guys are playing around today,” said the veteran hitmaker, sounding intent on restoring some order to the music. “We old folks ain’t gonna stand for it.”

One vintage cut that he did not perform was the infamous “Boom Bye Bye,” which Buju cut from his setlist well over a decade ago. Soon after his return from prison Buju voluntarily removed the song from all streaming platforms as well, a decisive move to make a fresh start and leave behind years of protests over the song. “After all the adversity we’ve been through,” Buju declared in a statement, “I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man.”

As the evening built to a crescendo, Buju invited out a few special guests, the first of whom used to sing with Bob Marley as he performed his songs of freedom all over the world. “This is mother apart from my mother,” Buju said as he welcomed Marcia Griffiths, noting that she had been sending him words of encouragement since he was 17 years old. They shared a warm embrace and two powerful duets, “Closer To You” and “Stepping Out of Babylon.” Then Marcia made way for another icon of Jamaican music, the beloved soul man Beres Hammond.

Beres had been looking forward to this moment for years. Having recorded many great collaborations at Penthouse, the smooth singer and the rough-and-rugged DJ have a tradition of trading parts when they perform together live. Even during the years when Buju wasn’t able to join him in person, Beres would do his best to recreate his young friend’s gravelly roar.

“It’s been too long,” Beres said as he greeted Buju with a joyful hug. Buju replied that he had tried to visit, driving himself to the singer’s home, but got turned away. “I was asleep,” Beres replied with a smile, and soon they got down to business, trading parts on “Who Say” just like they used to do, and making the crowd fall in love all over again. As Beres declared, “This is a welcome party!”

The next guest artist on stage was Wayne Wonder, the very same singer who helped launch Buju’s career here in the National Stadium almost three decades earlier. “Dancehall massive we don't forget you,” Buju roared as the band launched into the “Real Rock” riddim and Wayne began singing “Forever Young,” a collaboration made famous on a dubplate for the Stone Love sound system. When Buju started his verse, “Tell them fi test wi now, if them feel them bad like we,” he drove his hardcore fans into a frenzy.

Wayne’s presence seemed to take Buju back to the essence, tapping into the magic that made the early ’90s such a special era in Jamaican music. Standing next to his old friend, Buju shared one of his most candid remarks of the night. “Even though Buju Banton lock up mi still rough,” he stated with a serious expression. “Eight years, six months, 27 days, 13 hours, five minutes, and 26 seconds.” Buju then proceeded to address rumors that he’d been sexually abused during his incarceration—refuting the notion with a fiery freestyle.

The “Long Walk to Freedom” concert will go down as a milestone for a mighty musical genre that was recently honored by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, highlighting its "contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity.” While Buju’s place in history is assured, many are hopeful that his triumphant homecoming may signal a new way forward for the future of the music. He returns to a reggae scene that’s experienced profound changes during his absence. Although the dancehall sound is obviously a powerful influence on international artists like Drake, Major Lazer, and Rihanna, the rise of “tropical house,” “island pop,” and Afrobeats has left reggae music’s mission at a crossroads.

While Buju did not hesitate to offer a critique of modern dancehall music, he did extend an invitation to UK dancehall artist Stefflon Don, hailing her as “very instrumental in taking our culture international.” Later in his set, he offered words of encouragement to the new generation. “I wanna say nuff respect to all the younger generation of youths who kept the music,” Buju stated. “We don’t kill champions, we raise them. We want you to know that Buju Banton love what you’re doing. We just want you to find your way, and change it up a bit, and make it… wholesome.”

Returning home to the biggest stage on the island, Buju not only silenced his critics and reasserted his place as one of Jamaica’s foremost artists, he also underscored what UNESCO described as “the basic social functions of the music — as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God." As he closed his set with a medley that included anthems like “Murderer,” “Driver A,” and “Psalms 23” with Gramps Morgan, Buju demonstrated the full potential of reggae music, leading by example.

Staring out at a stadium filled with bright lights, his shirt dripping with sweat, Buju used his platform to issue a powerful warning. “We are a nation that’s built on some spiritual foundation,” Buju told the massive audience. “The day we lose that is the day we are over, and we are edging closer and closer to the edge.” As he continues his Long Walk to Freedom tour—with stops planned in the Bahamas, Trinidad, Barbados, Tortola, and St. Kitts—Buju seems perfectly positioned to lead the music forward to higher heights.

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Buju Banton performs at the Benefit Party after the NY Benefit Premiere of 'The Agronomist' on April 13, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Eells/Getty Images)

Buju Banton Explains Why He Removed Controversial Song "Boom Bye Bye" From Catalog

Reggae icon Buju Banton is urging fans to lead with love by permanently banning the breakout hit "Boom Bye Bye" from his catalog.

News of the move recirculated after his Long Walk To Freedom comeback concert earlier this month when fans noticed the artist didn't perform his 1992 classic. Banton was released from prison earlier this year after serving a seven-year sentence related to drug charges.

The song, which includes a sample of Cobra's "Flex," includes anti-gay lyrics like "Boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head/Rude bwoy nah promote no nasty man, dem haffi dead," which in patios means shooting a gay man in the head. In the past, Banton has pointed out that he was 15-years-old when he wrote the song, which was originally about a pedophile who was caught molesting young boys in Banton's neighborhood in Jamaica.

“In recent days there has been a great deal of press coverage about the song "Boom Bye Bye" from my past which I long ago stopped performing and removed from any platform that I control or have influence over,” Banton told Urban Islandz. Banton hasn't performed the song since 2007 but decided to speak out once again about the track.

“I recognize that the song has caused much pain to listeners, as well as to my fans, my family and myself. After all the adversity we’ve been through I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man. I affirm once and for all that everyone has the right to live as they so choose. In the words of the great Dennis Brown, ‘Love and hate can never be friends.’ I welcome everyone to my shows in a spirit of peace and love. Please come join me in that same spirit.”

In the past week, the song has been removed from streaming services like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music. The video, which reached nearly 30 million views on YouTube, was also removed from his account.

Banton's move to mute the song in 2007 was in solidarity with the Reggae Compassionate Act under the Stop Murder Music Campaign. The legislation introduced by the Black Gay Men's Advisory Group was also supported by other reggae icons like Beanie Man, Bounty Killer and Capleton in an effort to bring an end to homophobic lyrics and attacks against the LGBTQ community in Carribean islands. At the time, artists faced backlash for not performing the songs since other tracks like "Boom Bye Bye" became crossover hits.

Jamrock Sound principal Hugh ‘Redman’ James also defended Banton's decision to axe the song from his catalog. "I go to all the rehearsals and he don’t do that song, he don’t rehearse that song,” James said. “That is the song that kinda shoot him a bit, so him bury up that.”

The track may have brought Banton public fanfare in the 90s, but other tracks like "Action," "Wanna Be Loved" and "Untold Stories" have solidified his legacy and growth.

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