Revisiting MJ in 'The Wiz': Michael Jackson's Only Feature Film Role

In honor of what would have been his 52nd birthday on Sunday, August 29th, VIBE remembers Michael Jackson's unforgettable performance in The Wiz.

Michael Jackson’s only feature film role in Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978) is a rare, cinematic treat— it’s an intimate viewing experience that’s become an even more treasured moment to behold since Michael’s passing a year ago.

In The Wiz, you witness that brief young adult window in Michael’s life and career before he became the sexy R&B, suited up and bow-tied prince of 1979's Off The Wall or bore the weight of the music world on his crown as The King of Pop (1982-2009). Jackson the actor, then age 20, was a natural; his gentle, understated portrayal of 'The Scarecrow' is a quiet revelation. In every scene Michael exudes a child-like wonderment, innocence and infectious joy that is contagious. Of course, as the premier song and dance man he doesn’t disappoint either. Jackson’s bluesy expressive interpretation of “You Can’t Win” is a joy to listen to, because you can actually hear his voice playfully dancing throughout every syllable of the lyrics while his carefree tenor bobs and weaves in and out of the melody (this was also before MJ’s angry signature grunts and spitting adlibs).

Michael Jackson's performance in The Wiz also allows you to take a sneak peak at those classic signature MJ freestyle dance moves and bottle top spins before they became apart of a Moonwalk. You get to see mentee, lead the mentor, as Michael lovingly helped The Boss, Miss Diana Ross find her footing and get on the good foot the first time the pair “Ease On Down The Road" (the duo also share a warm, easy-going onscreen chemistry which is palpable.) And it’s really a special treat to watch Jackson inconspicuously outdance the Louis Johnson Dance Company during the all-cast musical finale of “A Brand New Day.” If you haven’t notice anything I’ve described, then you should definitely rewatch The Wiz again to bear witness to it. Michael's only starring film performance is a unique opportunity to experience our man-child genius in the rough and on the verge.

Perhaps the only ironic thing about Jackson in The Wiz is that even though it's probably his most honest and revealing moment captured on film, his then surgically unaltered face is hidden for the length of  movie’s entire 133-minute running time by Academy Award winning makeup artist Stan Winston’s handiwork.  So even though we feel like we’re really seeing Michael, we actually never do. And that he would spend the next 30 years after The Wiz, masking his face from a combination of involuntarily— vitilago, and voluntary sources— plastic surgery and skin bleaching creams is also another sad reality not lost on audiences who’ve followed him through the decades. But in the end it never really mattered. True Michael Jackson fans could always look past all the masks theatrical and surgical, real and imagined and see Michael, as he truly was—a consummate performer and groundbreaking spirit. His lifelong work on records, in countless concerts and TV appearances, in music videos and in his only feature film role, is undeniable proof of his timeless genius and artistry. Unlike a human’s life it will never die, but like a boundless force of creative energy it will continue to dazzle and yes, 'thrill' audiences for generations to come.—Ronke Idowu Reeves

 

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D'Angelo And Maxwell Were Originally Scheduled For A 'Verzuz' Battle

It's no secret. Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have been working hard to pair up some of hip-hop and R&B's biggest stars for their Verzuz celebratory battles. To date, the duo has successfully hosted 24 of these events on Instagram Live and their streaming partner, Apple Music. Now, what you rarely hear about are the matches that could have been. In a live conversation following D'Angelo's damn-near-solo set—that many R&B lovers didn't know they needed—Swizz Beatz and Timbaland revealed how the soulful crooner was originally scheduled to take part in Verzuz alongside fellow "neo-soul" singer Maxwell.

"I'm not gonna lie. That sh*t took very long. Let's give people the story," starts Swizz. "What was supposed to happen was D'Angelo versus Maxwell on Valentine's Day. That didn't work out, but the fact that D'Angelo was still ready to go and still motivated, we had to celebrate him— matter who was on stage with him. We had to celebrate that king because, as you can see, those songs that he played tonight, man, that's real music."

He continues: "This is a celebrational stage and we couldn't play around with him. We had to let him get his garden because he showed up and showed out. That man pulled up to Verzuz three hours early. D'Angelo was the earliest person in Verzuz history tonight so don't get him showing up [at] the time he did mixed up with the pre-show which was by DJ Scratch."

Message received, but could you imagine how many more ladies would've gotten their lives on that night of love? Can you imagine the attempted falsetto singing done by viewers on that special and rare night? It would've been nice to see D'Angelo and Maxwell on the same bill, that's for sure.

Watch Swizz and Timbo talk about the match that could have been while clearing the air about D'Angelo's start-time at around the 4-minute and 20-second mark of the video below.

 

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Rapper Bobby Shmurda poses backstage at Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2014 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on October 30, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Power 105.1

Bobby Shmurda Returns Home After Serving 6 Years In Prison

After serving 6 years, Bobby Shmurda is finally out. The rapper, born Ackquille Pollard, was granted a conditional release from the New York state prison, Clinton Correctional Facility, on Tuesday morning (Feb. 23) and will serve the remainder of his 7-year sentence on parole. According to reports, Shmurda “will be under community supervision in Kings County until he completes his sentence on February 23, 2026.”

In true celebrity fashion, Shmurda was brought home in a private jet this morning. Earlier this week, Migos' Quavo told Billboard that he would do the honor of picking him up upon Bobby's release. "I'm going to get my guy. I'm personally gonna go pick up Bobby Shmurda. I'm bout to go get him. I'm gonna let him show you how I'm gonna pick him up, yessir. It's gonna be big."

And that he did.

 

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In December 2014, Shmurda was arrested at New York City's Quad Studios and was charged with conspiracy to murder, criminal possession of a weapon, criminally using drug paraphernalia, and reckless endangerment follow a two-year probe by the New York Police Department. In 2016, the former Epic Records signee and his childhood friend Rowdy Rebel accepted a plea deal and were sentenced to 7 years in prison.

“They kind of did it dirty at the end of the day,” Bobby explained in a phone interview with VIBE back in 2016. “They had offered me five (years) but then they said if I take the seven, then I’ll be taking it so that they could give Rowdy seven because they were going to offer him 12. I didn’t want my bro to do 12 years because at the end of the day, we didn’t really do nothing, but they playing dirty. So I’m going to take one for the bro.”

Now that Bobby is out, he'll be spending time with family and friends and getting his head back into creating new music. Watch his FaceTime call with his mother, Leslie, down below.

Welcome back, Bobby.

Bobby Shmurda on facetime with his mom after being released from prison pic.twitter.com/YvdaBzo1Y4

— Bobby Shmurda Updates (@bodboybobby) February 23, 2021

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Fred The Godson attends the Rhymes Over Beats Hip Hop Launch at The Griffin on March 31, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Fat Joe, Jim Jones and Bronx Community Celebrate Fred The Godson's Street Naming On His Birthday

Today (Feb. 22), the great MC, Fred The Godson, was honored posthumously with a street naming by his Bronx community and hip-hop industry comrades. Among the dozens of those that showed love to the rapper that passed away in April 2020 due to COVID-19 were BX native Fat Joe and Harlem repper Jim Jones. The street's South Bronx location of Leggett avenue and Kelly street will now also be called Fredrick "Fred The Godson" Thomas Way.

While snow fell heavily, the crowd of supporters and the organizers stood strong and watched as the sign was unveiled to cheers of joy. The Fred The Godson Foundation worked hard to make this day happen on what would have been Fred's 36th birthday. "Shortly after Fred’s passing, the Fred The Godson Foundation was created to carry on his legacy for his children and family, and the commitment to his dreams for the Bronx," says the foundation's mission statement. "The mission is to inspire, empower and nourish individuals, children and families in underserved communities, starting with Fred’s birthplace. The foundation will foster community unity through the common pursuit of wellness, prosperity, and opportunity."

 

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Known for having one of the most celebrated flows that included a barrage of double entendres and metaphors that were rarely matched, Fred was a respected MC with enormous skills that were able to get him featured on the famed 2011 XXL 'Freshman' class magazine cover along with Meek Mill, Mac Miller (RIP) and Kendrick Lamar. Jim Jones had some heartfelt words for the one named 'Gordo' at the ceremony, "Fred inspired me to do this music, a lot all over again. There was a time I really didn't want to do no music...and Fred would say, 'Nah, you gotta get in that booth Capo.'"

 

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The Thomas family announced thank you's and love to Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr. of District 17 in the South Bronx, Bronx Borough President Ruban Diaz, NYPD's 41st Precinct, and the Bronx community for helping make the Frederick “Fred the Godson” Thomas Way street co-naming possible.

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Much respect to the legacy of the husband and father, Fred The Godson.

 

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