Digital Cover: The Making Of Michael Jackson's 'Xscape' Album

Michael Jackson's posthumous Xscape album is truly a treat.

Out tomorrow (May 13), the nostalgic-yet-modern LP unites the likes of Timbaland, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins and Justin Timberlake to update unreleased tracks from the MJ archives.

To celebrate the release, VIBE unearths an art piece commissioned to Mr. Brainwash for the album cover—one that was ultimately not chosen for the final project—and rounds up the album collaborators for an in-depth making-of piece.

Remember the times with us. And let the King of Pop rock your world once more. —John Kennedy

- The Making Of: An Oral History Of Michael Jackson's Xscape Album
- Exclusive: Mr. Brainwash Talks Creating Unreleased Xscape Artwork
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Slave To The Rhythm"
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Love Never Felt So Good"
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Xscape"

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L-R: La La Anthony, Lela Loren, and Naturi Naughton
Karl Ferguson Jr.

The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The 'Power'

Originally, Courtney A. Kemp wanted to call her Starz scripted drama The Price. She pulled the name from a teaching associated with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program that proclaims pain is the price of admission to a new life.

“We were going to show coke on a scale and then the dollar amount,” she said. “So, the price would’ve been the price of the drugs, but also the price you have to pay to get a new life.”

It was about a drug dealer in recovery who had a sponsor, but the execs instructed Kemp to take out the recovery aspect. After doing some thinking, she realized her project was less about how much one has to pay and more about how much control one doesn’t actually have.

“At its core, it’s about powerlessness,” she said. “So, I called the show Power.”

Sitting at a cherry wood table inside a plush private dining space at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, Kemp reveals her attraction to the pursuit of power stems from her childhood. Growing up in the affluent, white burg of Westport, Connecticut, her ultimate wish was to have complete, ever-elusive dominion.

“I grew up in an abusive household, and all I wanted was to be able to control my parents. All I wanted was to be able to control my [older] brother. I didn’t want him to leave and go to college. I was a black kid in a white town.”

Kemp lets the words “abusive household” roll off her tongue with a sense of normality that denotes she’s accepted the home she was raised in.

There were a few other kids of color in the area, but eventually, they moved, leaving little Courtney by her lonesome, prompting her to escape into a world where she would have the final say, seeking -- and finding -- her power peak in writing and storytelling.

“That’s always the writer’s question: What if? What if? But it also goes to a sense of powerlessness. I can’t make it like I want it to be, and one of my biggest character defects is that I like to control people,” Kemp said. “So, what does that turn into? That turns into writing people because I can actually make them go places. ‘Interior. Ghost’s apartment. Day. Tasha enters.’ I can make them say things. It’s control. Power comes to the essence of control. Controlling your universe, controlling your environment.”

Kemp may have realized early on she likes to control people, but it was before recovery in 2007, when a “shift,” as she calls it, occurred, and she learned she isn’t a puppet master.

“There have been times in my life, not now, when I was much more likely to use deception to get my way. After a certain point in my life, I accepted the fact that I cannot get my way. There’s really no way to control the universe. We’re powerless over what happens next. You can be sitting in your kitchen, and a stray bullet could whiz through the window, and you’re dead, and that’s nothing you did wrong.”

VIBE: What specifically happened in 2007 that made you realize you can’t control anything?

Courtney A. Kemp: I’m probably not going to answer that question.

I don’t push for an explanation or re-work the question in hopes to dupe her into answering. Her no was a full sentence, said with intention and boundary. All she reveals is things changed for her spiritually placing her on the path to where she is now.

And today, Courtney Kemp sits at the top of her Power empire. With the help of executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kemp birthed a crime drama about James St. Patrick, also known as Ghost, a man living a dual life as a drug dealer-turned-nightclub owner trying to leave the streets he’s littered with dope for the legitimate world of New York City nightlife. Kemp and the rest of the Power writers boldly explore the ramifications of manipulation, duplicity, and lies.

Kemp is deliberate with her words. She’s survived whatever recovery she’s hush about and, in turn, has become a forthright woman with steadfast conviction. She ferociously defends characters who’ve merited ire from fans, (“I will go toe-to-toe with you about Holly”) and doesn’t show a bit of remorse when discussing beloved characters killed off the show (“If you ask me if I regret killing Raina, no. Period.”)

So, it’s interesting that with all her truth, Kemp finds liars to be “fascinating.”

“They always get caught. No one ever doesn’t get caught,” she said. “It’s such a fool’s errand. It’s amazing to me. If you run a full game, a full deception, eventually, you’ll get caught. That always happens. It never doesn’t. I have to use a double negative. It never doesn’t happen. So, it’s fun for me.”

Premiering in June 2014, Power--which stars Omari Hardwick in the principal role, along with a diverse cast of characters exhibiting unscrupulous and deceitful behavior -- received noticeable fanfare on social media and earned solid ratings during Season One. After being greenlit for a sophomore season, the secret couldn’t be contained any longer, and new fans were curious to learn what the hubbub was about while old fans awaited lustily to see how things would play out. Now, five years later, Kemp is ready to bring this street tale to an end.

“I don’t want to be a show that drags on for nine or 10 seasons, and there’s no story to tell. This story is over. It begets the next story, but this story is over, and I wanted to pay it true homage and give it the respect it needed. When people say ‘Oh, I want more seasons,’ what they’re saying is they want more of the same, but you can’t do the same story over and over again. Some things have to end.”

Kemp is 42, with a round, warm face and shoulder-length black hair. She often tucks a few strands behind her ear when getting into the nitty-gritty of show talk. Her smile is wide, her skin clear. As a busy mother, creator and showrunner of a hit cable-network drama, the bags one would assume should be under her eyes are noticeably not there. She shies away from compliments about her skin, stating she’s wearing great makeup but admits she’s intense about skincare.

As she sits with her legs crossed, Kemp is relaxed yet alert. Donning a calf-length one-sleeved black dress, she’s removed her gold strappy high heels for nude ballet flats. She’s just finished her first VIBE photoshoot, and the excitement of it all begins to settle in.

In 2016, VIBE spoke with Kemp inside her Brooklyn offices about the show’s success prior to its Season Three premiere, the conversation’s focus being its leading men, Ghost (Hardwick), Dre (Rotimi Akinosho), Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and Kanan (50 Cent). Three years later, it’s the women's turn and Kemp is just as eager to give the ladies their well-earned shine: Naturi Naughton, who plays Tasha; Alani “Lala” Anthony, who plays LaKeisha, and Lela Loren, who plays U.S. federal prosecutor Angela Valdes, have all contributed to the delicious mess that is Power.

In past interviews, Kemp has stated Tommy’s character was always supposed to be a white boy. (Interestingly, Andy Bean who played Agent Greg Knox originally tried out for the role. Kemp said “his audition was f**king bananas,” but Knox wasn’t physically on par with Hardwick’s muscular stature making him look more like a little brother than an equal.) I asked her if she, in turn, intentionally envisioned a white Latina to embody the role of Angela, a question that merited furrowed eyebrows and a bristled response.

“Okay, so, first of all, I push back on ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what that is. I don’t even know what that’s saying. What is a white Latino? There are people who consider themselves white Latinos; I guess that’s a thing I’ve never heard about before. Being from the East coast, so many people are Afro-Latino, so I don’t know what a white Latino would be.”

“However, [Angela] was always Puerto Rican.” Kemp continued. “One of the people I looked at ... I looked at Elizabeth Rodriguez. We looked at Monique Gabriela Curnen, who played other parts on the show, so we were going after Puerto Rican actresses. That’s what I wanted. Puerto Rican, no matter how they showed up. Again, I really don’t like that term ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even … how does that even work? I’m not going to even ask you those questions; I’m just confused. It was always to try and find someone who was Puerto Rican.”

She describes Angela as a woman with flint to move through the ranks of a masculine work environment, but also a woman who possesses a girly-tenderness. According to Kemp, Lela Loren has both.

“You have to have a certain amount of f**king flint to get through law school, and then you have to have a certain amount of flint to get through what are highly masculine, male-dominated environments when you talk about attorney’s offices and state attorneys and cops and law enforcement. These women are not shy, and I needed someone who could stand up to Omari,” Kemp said.

“When she fought with Omari, you felt her in the room, and we needed someone also with the softness to still have that little-girl sense of love. To still be in love with her first love. Lela had this very specific quality.”

Admittedly, Lela Loren isn’t good with names, but she makes up for her absentmindedness with hugs and cheek kisses. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” she asks while offering an embrace without leaving hints of red lipstick on the side of my face. The 39-year-old who grew up in northern California and Mexico is all smiles this Saturday afternoon. The Beverly Hills sun is kind, and a faint breeze blows through her newly cut shoulder-length bob. Loren runs her fingers through her mocha hair, confessing she wanted it shorter, but instead exercised restraint.

On Power, AUSA Angela Valdes knows nothing of holding back. Loren describes her character as a woman ultimately led by her heart, so much so, her tenacity and ability to color outside of the lines have caused many to question what ethics if any, she abides by. Loren said she understands the methodology behind Angela, but never personally subscribed to it.

“How you get something done is as important as getting it done. Ultimately, for me, it’s about the process. Keeping your integrity, who you are as an individual, how you achieve your goals, is as important as achieving your goals,” she said.

Loren is laid back and present. After posing with co-stars Naughton and Anthony, she kicks off her white Sergio Rossi pumps and wiggles her toes a bit before sitting pretzel-style on lawn furniture outside of the Four Seasons’ Il Posto Room.

Leaning forward with a glass of champagne in hand, ready for questions, Loren thinks before she speaks, often looking into the distance to draw on words to formulate her response, but after talking with her, it’s not hard to imagine her as a journalist, or an educator like her parents. She describes herself as a little nerdy and a voracious reader who’s found joy in Yuval Noah Harari’s 2015 novel Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

Valdes has a badge and a gun; Loren has a cat and a garden. Her real-life doesn’t mimic the one she plays on television, which has been delicious -- and also a bit daunting.

“The best part about playing Angela has been all of her wonderful contradictions. It’s so fun to try to find the through-line of someone that has such extremes. She can be so defensive and so manipulative. Then, at the same time, she can be so soft and fragile and almost pathetic,” she said earnestly. “But the hardest part about playing Angela has been realizing that in the outer world, there’s still a very narrow lane for women. As soon as a woman steps outside of that lane, fictional or otherwise, a lot comes at you.”

For five seasons, Angela was the woman partly responsible for breaking up the St. Patrick household, and for some viewers, that’s all they can see. They don’t see Angela’s ambition or persistence or that while leading a drug task force, she’s also caring for her sick father. If Angela’s reputation plucks at Loren’s nerve, she doesn’t show it.

“I think what playing Angela or being on Power really helps me understand is how you can only tell half the story because the audience inevitably brings the other half. No matter how clear you try to make that story, how it resonates with them or how they interpret it, they’re really feeling the narrative. Even times when people would take a scene and how I believe Courtney intended it, how I intended to play it and how it landed on them are so different. In some ways, you have to surrender to this lack of control because we’re only telling half the narrative. The other half is from the viewer.“

Kemp knows things may be changing, but when casting the show, she intentionally wanted a woman to play opposite Hardwick who wouldn’t traditionally be thought of for the role.

“I did look for a brown-skinned woman to play Tasha because at that time -- this is not relevant as much -- but at that time, there were no brown-skinned women on TV playing the beautiful, sexy part. Now, if you remember from the beginning, Tasha was always smart, but Tasha was the gorgeous one,” Kemp said. “I wanted that beauty, sensuality, responsibility and that partnership. Ghost and Tasha were partners, and I wanted all of that from a brown-chocolatey person.”

Naturi Naughton is an even five-feet high, but she has a six-foot-tall personality. On set, the 35-year-old doesn’t wait for direction from photographer Karl Ferguson Jr.; instead, she narrows her eyes during one frame, purses her lips in the next or crosses her ankles, leans forward and with her body says: “I’m here.” Beyonce’s “Formation” plays in the dimly lit 1,000-square-foot room, and Naughton -- in her figure-hugging, red velvet Galvan London dress -- pops against the slate-grey seamless backdrop. The singer-actress oozes confidence with every flash from Ferguson’s camera.

The assurance booming from Naughton is a far cry from when fans are introduced to Tasha during the Season One opener. As Mrs. St. Patrick walks into Club Truth with Ghost on her arm, the first time Tasha opens her mouth, she needs to be affirmed by her husband.

“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she says as she leans her head onto Ghost’s shoulder. He replies: “You already know you are.” But in later seasons, viewers realize Tasha actually didn’t know.

“Tasha was looking for Ghost to validate her, which is why she says, ‘Tell me I’m beautiful.’ The truth is she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. She doesn’t know who she is without him,” Naughton said. “In Season One, she was lacking a bit of self-confidence. She was lacking maturity. I feel like over the seasons, to now, she grew up. Six seasons later, she’s now like: ‘Okay, who am I without you?’ I think she’s gained self-confidence, and she’s unapologetic about the kind of woman she is. As opposed to looking for him to tell her she’s enough, Tasha now knows she’s enough.”

Her character’s new confidence runs parallel with where Naughton is in her own life. As a single mom to her two-year-old daughter, Zuri, Naughton has weathered her own storms, however, the new layer of thick skin didn’t come easy.

“I’m a woman now,” Naughton reflects. “A lot of it had to do with motherhood and relationships that I’ve been in, break-ups and heartbreak. I feel I learned a lot through some of those hardships and about what it’s like to love and not love, to be in love, to fall out of love, to have a child, to be raising a two-year-old. It’s a lot of work. You’ve got to be a strong woman to do that.”

“I’ve grown up because the show gave me an opportunity to grow. This character is so complex, and she has so many different dimensions. I’m a big girl now,” Naughton says with a smile. “I’m really proud of myself. I used to be hard on myself. I still am, but I’m proud of myself because I worked hard, and I’ve done it for six seasons. I was breastfeeding while shooting Season Five, and that’s hard work. I think I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of myself. And as a woman, we should do that.”

Tasha’s character received praise for being Ghost’s “ride-or-die” wife, which hasn’t always been easy for the character. Yet after five years of being loyalty-ish -- Tasha was married when she had her affairs with Shawn and Terry Silver -- Naughton says her definition of loyalty has expanded since walking in Tasha’s stilettos.

“There are a lot of different ways to stay loyal or be loyal, but to also see when loyalty is betrayed, how do you come back from that? [In] Season One, Ghost starts cheating on Tasha with Angela, and then lies to her in Season Two and says he’s going to end it, but he continues to lie to her and Tariq and with Kanan,” Naughton said.

“It’s so many different areas where she feels like the loyalty has been lost, but she continues to ride for him. That’s a deep wife-level loyalty that I have yet to experience because Tasha has been riding for Ghost, even when he was in jail, but I admire that in a way. She never jumps ship. She didn’t bail on him when things got tough.”

As Tasha stood by Ghost’s side throughout his philandering, the sole person loyal to Mrs. St. Patrick was LaKeisha. Played by Alani “La La” Anthony, Kemp made it obvious only one woman was truly benefiting from the friendship, while the other may have received a hand-me-down Yves Saint Laurent purse here or there. If loyalty is considered a weakness in the world of Power, Keisha’s back may sport the biggest target.

“I think it’s a very complicated friendship. I think it’s hard to be friends with somebody when you’re jealous or you want their life. That’s why things between the two of them get so tricky as the seasons go on, and especially in this last season because there is a real friendship there, but there is an underbelly of jealousy,” Anthony explains. “I feel like [Tasha has] never been a real friend to Keisha the way Keisha’s been to her.”

Anthony dissects the push-and-pull of LaKeisha and Tasha’s relationship donning an Area gunmetal cocktail dress and strappy Gusseppie Zanotti open-toe heels. While walking to a quiet location away from the chatter of the photoshoot, the sun hits her dress, and she sparkles. Her hazel-green eyes shimmer and her hair is the perfect amalgamation of blonde, honey and brown streaks. Before the interview begins, she requests an iced tea. La La, as she’s professionally known, or La, as she’s called by close friends, can best be described as the homie -- the very gorgeous, humble homie -- who’s just as comfortable in full glam as she is in a pair of Air Force Ones.

Kemp maintains every character on Power has agency and always has a chance to leave the situation. She especially underscores this when speaking about LaKeisha.

“We’ve given LaKeisha a lot of opportunities not to double down with Tommy. She can peel off at any moment, and she doesn’t. In [Episode] 409, he comes, and he begs her: ‘Can I run my money through your shop again?’ She mushes him and says ‘Tommy, get out of my face!’ And then she goes back to him.”

For Anthony, the most challenging part about bringing Keisha to life wasn’t her unwavering allegiance: It was her ignorance’s marriage to it. How could she not see or feel she was receiving the short end of the stick while offering friends and lovers the rod?

“I think Keisha can be naive at times. You just want to slap her,” Anthony said smacking the air. “Even that scene when she told Tommy: ‘You’ve never killed anyone, right?’ It’s those moments. It doesn’t make it difficult; it’s just understanding her perspective and why she thinks like that. I think we all know a LaKeisha. We’ve had a LaKeisha as a friend or we know somebody [like her].”

Anthony sips her tea and ponders some more about LaKeisha’s obedience to the game and to Tasha. She knows that’s where she and her character differ.

“[LaKeisha] is a loyal friend, and I consider myself a loyal friend. I think a lot of times, her kindness gets taken for granted because she is willing to do anything to help friends and to help Tommy. I don’t want to take that in my life. I don’t like for kindness to be taken for weakness, but I definitely want to be a loyal friend. I am the type of person to be that for the people I love.”

Anthony’s voice is raspy but welcoming. She’s professional and personal. Her legs are crossed and her back is straight. She offers nothing about her personal life. I also don’t ask. The only tea she spilled is that she doesn’t allow her 12-year-old son, Kiyan, to watch Power.

“He’s tried a million times but he’s not allowed to watch. He’s 12. I don’t think a 12-year old should be watching Power. People can disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.”

Portraying LaKeisha has given Anthony a perspective she didn’t have prior to landing the role. Now she has a clearer understanding of relationships and why people do what they do.

“Playing Keisha has given me more of an understanding of women, relationships and friendships. Not that I was ever judgemental, but we’re always so quick to say, ‘Well, that will never be me,’ and the next thing you know it is you.” she said flatly. “I always say everyone doesn’t know what they’ll do until they’re in that situation. Keisha is giving me more of an understanding. You have to look at someone’s background, why they think the way they do, why they function the way they do. This is all from childhood or how we were raised. It gives me more understanding when I’m talking to other women.”

***

Thirty-five minutes have passed since the start of the interview with Kemp. I push for two more questions and her publicist pushes back with two more minutes. When we began, Kemp hesitantly accepted compliments on the show’s run, noting that despite the hard work, long hours on set and the writing, she credits its success to something bigger.

“It’s hard because people keep saying that to me, and I don’t know what they’re congratulating me for, in a way, because it’s God’s will how many people watch the show,” she said. “I cannot compel that.”

Viewers have been tuning in -- on Sundays in the summer, no less -- because they’re that invested in the lives of the characters Kemp created. As a byproduct of that, life is no longer the same.

“Everything’s different,” she said somberly. “Everything is different. I think maturity and experience put lines on your face and grays in your hair for a reason, and I’ll leave it like that.”

As the woman penning the scenes portrayed onscreen, Kemp’s work is more recognizable than she is. When out and about in New York with series regular and boyfriend Michael J. Ferguson, she jokes she’s often asked by fans to take pictures of him with them. In California, they’re even more aloof.

“In L.A, nobody knows. In fact, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, Courtney, have you been working?' ”

After five seasons, Power’s mountain of manipulations and powdered substance will collapse and crash in the series’ final run, normally a 10-show stretch that Kemp and Co. are splitting into two: Part One whets appetites with 10 hour-long episodes that premiere Sunday, Aug. 25, and the remaining five arrive in January 2020. Anyone left standing at the onset of this new season may be in a body bag by the end of it all. Kemp has proven in the past that her loyalty is to the story, not to any singular character. So, all bets -- if they were ever on -- are truly off.

Eager fans will see how it all plays out when we tune into Starz to hear those three scrumptious words we’ve been waiting for all year:

“Previously on Power…”

***

Photographer: Karl Ferguson Jr.

Art Designer: Nicole Tereza

Videographers: Vince Patrick and Jason Chandler

Makeup Artists: Vanessa Scali (Lela Loren), AJ Crimson (Naturi Naughton), and Sheika Daley (La La Anthony)

Hair Stylists: Aviva Perea (Lela Loren), Alexander Armand (Naturi Naughton), and Ray Dodson (La La Anthony)

Wardrobe Stylists: Alyssa Sutter Studios (Lela Loren), Brian Mcphatter (Naturi Naughton), and Maeve Reilly (La La Anthony)

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Ice Cube's March 1994 Cover Story: 'The Devil Made Me Do It'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 1994 issue of VIBE Magazine.

“Four years ago, he was “the nigga ya love to hate.” Now Ice Cube has a wife and family and has embraced the Nation of Islam. The original Boy N the Hood has finally moved out of South Central. He says he’s older, wiser, and still true to the game. But, asks Joan Morgan, has hip hop’s leading prophet of rage lost his edge.

Written By: Joan Morgan

It’s a beautiful day in Encino, California. A good day, if you will, in the spanking new offices of Ice Cube’s fledgling company, Lench Mob Records. Cube’s wife, Kim—a very pretty, very pregnant woman—drifts by every once in a while to tell him about an important call he needs to take or affectionately chide him about the growing piles of clutter on his new desk. He says it isn’t messy; she says it is. Their wedding picture occupies the one spot on the desk that is relatively clear, a constant in a pile that seems to be ever-shifting, ever-shuffling.

It’s been almost four years since Cube’s debut solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, marked his graduation from a mere nigga wit attitude to the nigga America loved to hate. Lookin’ back, we were ripe for it. Cube broke out at a time when hip hop was definitely on some ol’ “I feel pretty” shit. Nubians had discovered the elixir of self-love; Afrocentria abounded—sometimes ad nauseum. But as Langston Hughes once wrote, “We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs….”

Cube came ready to serve heaping mounds of ugly. On AmeriKKKa, Cube emerged as the sonic personification of unmitigated black rage. It was violent, sexist, powerful, relentless, funny, and painful. It was also seductive as all hell. For white America, it was a voyeuristic look into the world where racism causes its equality-starved victims to feed upon themselves. For black folks, it was a long, cold, hard look in the mirror. There we were, ass-out for the world to see, and all the Brooks Brothers/kente cloths, relaxers/dreadlocks, embarrassment/denial in the world were not going to change the fact that these “negative” characters were very real fixtures in the black community. In the pain and insane.

On his second full-length album, 1991’s Death Certificate, Cube stripped away the comforts of voyeurism and showed white America what real unmitigated black rage would look like if it ever made its way out of the ghetto. The picture was not pretty. Jews, gays, and Asians were the newest victims to get caught in the cross fire. And many of the oh-so-liberal observers who sang Cube’s praises when he was rhyming about niggas killing niggas and smackin’ up bitches (read: black) were now demanding he be silenced by any means necessary. In 1992, Cube gave his critics the definitive “fuck you” when The Predator premiered at number one on the charts.

A lot has happened in Cube’s life in the last two years. He’s happily married, a follower of the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and the father of a little namesake (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), with a baby girl on the way. Fans and detractors alike will tell you that Cube seems a lot less angry these days. His new album, Lethal Injection—funky, melodic, and relatively laid-back—has left some listeners grumbling, “the Nation and married life done got to Cube,” and others wondering if the absence of ire means that they need to find a new vehicle for catharsis.

Over the course of several hours in his office, Cube spoke—full of riveting insights and maddening contractions—about work, life, family, relationships, and how he intends to survive the pressures of being the world’s most celebrated angry black man.

How conscious were you of your audience when you were making this record? On Death Certificate, for example, the concept was that side A would say one thing to your audience, and side B would say another thing.

Well, from Death Certificate to now, my audience is totally different. From the little white kid that’s nine years old to the old grandmother who likes “It Was a Good Day.” That’s my whole audience. So I really don’t have a pinpoint idea, even though I still do my records directly for black teenagers and young adults.

But I was getting feedback, some people saying, “well, Ice Cube lost his edge.” So I have to do records that you expect and records that you don’t expect. With The Predator, I really wanted to show that Ice Cube has skills—do “Now I Gotta Wet’cha” or “Wicked,” and show that I can do just a rap record with no social message. That was the main focus on The Predator. And one thing that’s never been consistent on any of my records is the music. There’s never been a certain musical feel to the whole record. So on Lethal Injection, I tried to keep the music consistent, and then throw the raps in for messages. My next record will be real put together, more like Death Certificate.

There was a time when you had to go to the ‘hood to hear rap, plain and simple. There are pros and cons to its commercial success, but do you think that the expanding audience affects its ability to really be a voice of young black people?

No, because the good thing is that the hardcore records are still respected more than the pop records. Once the pop records get more respect than a hardcore street group, that’s when the music will hurt. But any kind of pop, bubblegum, sugar-toast group out there, the hardcore still gets more respect, and that’s where it started from. So as long as we keep that base, I don’t think the music is hurting at all.

What about the people who front being hardcore, but really aren’t—who don’t come from where they say they come from. Those records aren’t pop, but they have a pop thing about them in the sense that people don’t know, so they buy it and eat it up. Do you think that waters it down at all?

If you’re black and live in this country, it’s an experience. You got a story to tell, and you’re legit in telling it. Because no matter how rich you are, how poor you are, this country sees black and white. You’re going to get treated pretty much the same way. I think what matters is what a group is saying: Nobody is harder than a bullet. I don’t consider myself a hard individual; I can’t step through the earth, I can’t stop a bullet with my bare flesh. I consider myself real, and that’s a difference.

We have generals out there that have never shot a gun in a war, but they could tell you about war because they know how to look at it. I know a lot of killers, but they’re in the pen now, so they can’t rap. And I know people who have witnessed things and can explain it. I don’t think that makes them less legit than a person who has—quote, unquote—been through it, because we all have been through it. Unless you’re black, you don’t know. Period. So no matter who you are, I don’t think it waters it down.

Some people are comic books, and some people are newspapers. Comic books have a whole lot of shooting and killing, but you ain’t getting nothing out of it. The newspaper maybe has less of that, but it’s true, or somewhat true. I think the audience can pick out who is the comic books and who’s the newspaper.

How do you think the mainstream media is handling rap right now?

Well, rap is the only thing where information is distributed that don’t go through these channels that information usually has to go through. Without a newspaper, Ice Cube could still sell records. Without a magazine, without a video, without the radio, Ice Cube could sell records. So there’s no way to control that. That’s scary to the ones who control this all. Because if you distribute information, you can teach the people.

Everybody else—movies, TV shows—has to go through certain channels, and music used to be the same way. If you didn’t get played on the radio, you didn’t sell. Nowadays, that’s not even an issue. Radio play can damn near hurt you. That scares the media, so they have to attack the media, so they have to attack rap and make it not so powerful. Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Ice-T, whoever is saying something, that’s the main threat, and their main focus is to try to bring us down. And they use different ways, they see exactly what tempts you. Some groups they watch and try to bury from the start—let you blow up fast, then get you buried.

Is Arrested Development an example of that? They got written up in places like The Wall Street Journal.

They saw that the group had some conscience. Let’s see what happens with their next record. It’s going to be like, damn, they was all over MTV last year. I didn’t hear nothing about them this year. It looks like you failed, because most of the people that’s watching don’t know the game. You look like you’re on top of the world, and next year, you ain’t nothing. So it looked like you just took a nose dive. And that can kill a group, if you play into that game.

People try to play that game with me. See, I know that game; I’ll take the long route. Don’t give me the short route. I don’t want to do that. They played “Good Day” all over the place, then they want me to play on the Rock and Jock basketball games. But, I’ll play with my homeboys, you know, because those people don’t love me. They don’t love what I’m saying, and I know it. So before you take the gift of the devil, you’ve gotta see exactly what’s in it for him.

Would you say that from the mid-’80s to now is the first time that young black men have had control over their public image?

No. Until we can control networks, movie studios, theaters, the only image that we really control is our image through rap. We are open people so the hell that we’re going through is all in the streets. The suburbs are going through hell, too, but you don’t see it in the streets. But you go in the household, and it’s all hell inside the household. The streets look quiet, because white people are really not open, emotional people. Their neighborhoods reflect that. But if you go inside each door, each household is going through a crisis. The tripped thing about it is, they’re going through a crisis, and they got all the damn money.

READ MORE: Interview: The 'Straight Outta Compton' Cast Shares What Made The Movie's Success Possible

What do you think of that crisis—the dissatisfaction that’s affecting not just black families but white families in particular?

In America, for any people to be powerful, they have to ride on the backs of the poor. How do you keep people poor? You keep them ignorant. So if you want people to be slaves, or have a slave mentality, you keep them from knowing those things that will set them free. That’s the aim of the government, to keep people ignorant, and I think what you have is people fighting to gain some kind of knowledge of who they are and where they’re going. It’s like they’re pushing down and we’re pushing up. And we’re going to meet somewhere in the middle, and I think that’s what tearing America up right now.

So pretty soon, it’s got to change, because I can’t see myself sitting on the back of nobody’s bus. And my sons probably can’t see themselves putting their hands up in the air when the police pull them over. If the government thinks they’ve got to worry about Ice Cube… it’s that 14-, 15-year-old, who’s buck wild and feels invincible—that’s the one you’ve got to worry about. And the ones coming after him are going to be worse, until we have freedom, justice, and equality.

Given the realities of poverty in this country, that there are poor people who are white, who are Asian, who are Latino, do you think economic conditions could ever unify people? Do you think that there could ever be a unified movement of blacks and other oppressed people?

It could be, and it should be. But when it comes to oppressed people, the black man is always at the bottom of the totem pole. The closer you are to white, the more arrogant you are. A certain kind of arrogance is breeded into people. White folks are snotty towards black people. Orientals are snobby, all the way down the line, ‘till you have lighter black folks more snobby than darker black folks. It comes all the way down the line to the blackest, blackest, blackest man, who’s everybody’s an enemy of.

Once we learn how to love each other, then we can reach out for other people. But how am I going to help you build your house when mine’s not finished? It don’t make no sense. I think we have to stop looking for so much outside help, and start to help ourselves.

I really wish we would build a wall {laughs}— not a physical wall, but a wall around our community—till we get our thing together. It’s like a football team just going straight up to the line of scrimmage—no play, no huddle-up, no nothing. Just out there doing plays, running into each other. You have to huddle up, get your shit together, and then you can go and attack the other team with a play. We refuse to do that. We refuse to huddle up and get our shit together. Then we can challenge the world.

There was an article that we did in the magazine about Japan. Right now, Koreans in Japan are really treated badly. They have something that’s almost the equivalent of a pass system. They make you take a Japanese name, and if you’re Korean, there are certain jobs you’re not eligible for. Just a lot of discrimination. And a lot of the kids are really big rap fans, because they say that they really identify with the oppression in the music. One kid said, even when you don’t understand the words, you understand the feeling and the anger behind it.

Do you know what I think about that? If Japan is for the Japanese, I ain’t got no problem with that. At all. Japan is for Japanese. Korea is Koreans. Now, the problem I have is, America is for Americans. But they tell you that America is for everybody. See, to me, that’s worse. Because you’re looking for something that you ain’t never, ever going to get. If they said, “Look {snaps his fingers}, America is for white folks. Black folks, here’s yours.” I ain’t got no problem with that. The problem is America saying, “oh, this is love, the melting pot.” But America is for fucking white Americans. Straight up—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I went to Japan. And in some places, it was like, ah, you can’t come in here. I had no problem with that. Because I knew that, up front. They didn’t disrespect me. Japan is for Japanese. You ain’t going to come over here, you ain’t going to get no Japanese job. But that’s honest; what you see is what you get. What I hate is the motherfuckers sitting behind a desk at the record company, with a tie on. Bigger crooks than my homeboys. To me, that’s worse. Deception is worse than the truth.

So if America is for white Americans, cool. But America owes us a spot, a piece of this country that should be just for black folks. And they ain’t got to worry about me ever going into that part of the airport, to where they are. I’m content.

Let’s change the subject a little bit. I want to talk about you as a family man. You got married. You had a son. You have another kid—a daughter, this time—on the way. You moved out of South Central. How do you think being a family man has changed your life?

It’s made me more of a man. Not as reckless as I used to be. I thought I’d never move. Never, man— this is me, right here. But when you’ve got a family, and you’ve got motherfuckers going, “We’re going to kidnap your wife,” and you’re in Baltimore...damn, how do I protect my family? When you’ve got niggas driving by your house that you don’t know: “Yo, Cube, man come outside.” So I said, let’s get to a place where I’m not as popular. Or a place where nobody knows where I live.

I used to think, how could you make money and then move out? But it’s like having a piece of meat in the jungle. All the lions and tigers want that piece of meat, too, ‘cause they don’t have none. So, what you’ve got to do is take your meat in your den, or your tree, or wherever you are and eat it. And then show everybody else how to get some meat, too. So you won’t become prey, sitting in a land of predators. I used to be a predator, and I never want to be the prey, but that’s how it is. You can’t fight off everything.

My family made me more cautious. I’m old and I lock my doors and all that stupid stuff that I never used to do. But, you know, you got somebody that’s your blood, that’s your purpose on earth, so you want to make sure your offspring survives. Some people say, “I’m never having kids”—well, fool, your history stops right there. I want to be able to sit grandkids on my lap, and tell them stories about how it was: “They burnt the city down in 1992, or was it ‘93?” That type of thing. I want to be able to play with my kids. You know, if my kids start running with the gangs, I’m able to relate to the things that they’re going to have to go through, so I’m cool with it. I think that’s my purpose, to instruct the youth—not only my own, but other youth— on how to keep out of this self-destructive cycle.

I think that people who just know your media image would be surprised that you’re married. You have this image of being a raving misogynist. So I want to know what was it that you were looking for in a wife?

Somebody that was strong. Just like I hate yes-men, I hate yes-women. I hate that. Because I don’t know everything, so I need somebody to tell me, “Yo, you’re fucking up over here.”

You always knew she’d be a sister?

A black woman?

Uh-huh.

Oh please. Please. Man. Nothing but. White woman took me to the store one day during a video shoot…. I felt so uncomfortable, just riding in the car. Just terrible. It’s true: the truth is true.

You mentioned yes-women. Do you think black women, in particular, have problems with self-esteem?

I think black men have problems with self-esteem. I think black women know what they want. And they make no bones about it, and they hold you up to that. But for black men, there’s extra, added pressure. That’s why black men are more likely to die of high blood pressure and all these types of things, because of all the pressure that comes from not being the man of your house—being a man physically, but not mentally. I think that’s why a lot of men beat their women, feeling like, “I’m not living up to what I am, and I can’t take it out on the one that’s oppressing me, so I’m going to take it out on a woman.”

I think you’re right—I think it is about lack of power. So what do you do? I know a lot of black women who are intelligent, and beautiful, and strong. And lonely as hell. Don’t really want to date white men, you know, not trying to do that. I guess I’m asking how can we heal as a community if we can’t come together and have positive relationships?

Well, I can’t answer that. Um...damn. That’s a heavy one {laughs}. The black man is going through a plight, and we are—oh, here we go: we are like children, the whole black community. Whatever the white man does, we want to do. Just like the child wants to do what the adult wants to do. And the white man disrespects his women on all levels.

So I think everything that he does, we do on a smaller level. Even killing each other. Yeah, we do Crips and Bloods, but then you look at Bosnia and Herzegovina. You take car-jacking, and then you take Panama—you know, country-jacking. He hates his woman, and he’s been our only teacher for 437 years, so we hate our women. He erased all of our knowledge and replaced it with his own. And his own evidently, is not good for us. We will continue to do what we’ve been taught, until we decide not to follow that way. Children follow their mother or father to a certain extent, and then they have too break off and do their own thing. That’s what our community has to do.

So ultimately, what you’re talking about is the need for us to develop a value system that’s not based on the materialistic, or sexist, or patriarchal, or racist ideas…

We need not just a value system, but a whole national system. We need to become a nation within a nation. We need to have our own everything inside this culture. That’s how we survive. Because this world is the devil’s world. You have to break from that, make a new reality, in your own way. And become something other than what this world is producing, which is shit, hell, destruction. And I trip off the preachers, because if this world is of the devil, you should be trying your damnedest to get away from this world. But you’re trying to fit in, you want to be there with Clinton, shaking hands. What the hell is that?

A friend of mine was in this position recently, and I want to know what you think of it. She was in the car with her baby’s father, and he was listening to The Chronic, and she was like, “I don’t really care when you play it in the house; I don’t like it, but you have every right to play it. But around our daughter, I don’t really think she should have to hear that.” And he was like, “This is my experience, my reality, this is a part of where I come from, she should hear it.” So I want to know, what are you going to do when your little girl comes, and she wants to know whether it’s okay to play the year 2000’s version of The Chronic or AeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, for that matter.

Now, why would I shield my daughter from anything that I can explain to her, inside the house? Why would I say, “No, don’t listen to that,” so she can go outside and hear it with no explanation, nothing behind it but what people her age know about it? I’d rather pick my child’s brain, to give her the right medicine, because I can shield her from it while she’s in here, until she steps out that door. And nobody’s shielded from nothing when they walk out the door. I don’t shut the kids out from nothing they want to look at—nothing. Def Comedy Jam, nothing. They don’t laugh at what we laugh about, because they don’t understand. But just break it down to them.

When parents are in the position to teach their kids, they don’t; and then they get mad when they got rappers teaching their kids, because the rappers don’t shield the kids from nothing. The rappers tell them straight up. And that’s really all the kids want to know. The kids don’t need to know lies, they want to know the truth. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny...how are kids going to grow up with that bullshit?

There’s been a movement, internally, to address a lot of these things in black music, like sex and guns in lyrics. What do you think about that?

I’ve been saying this for years: You can’t change the problem if you don’t got a problem. If rappers didn’t come out with “bitch” and “ho,” we would still not be addressing that issue at all. Now, in 1994, we’re starting to address that. If everybody comes to the conclusion that “bitch” and “ho” aren’t appropriate for the community, they won’t be used. Just like “Negro” is not used no more. It’s not appropriate, it doesn’t fit, it has no meaning. But until somebody brings that to the table—here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s happening—you’re never going to address it. It’s like, if your hair is messed up and I hold a mirror in front of you long enough, you’re going to use a comb. That’s our whole purpose.

You said earlier that there were people who say you got married and got soft. What do you say those detractors when they that your music isn’t as hard as it used to be, that you lost your edge, that you’re not as angry as you used to be?

I ain’t as stupid, that’s basically what it is. We hate ourselves so much that you ain’t hard unless you’re talking about, “I shot this nigga, I got 1,000 AKS, I killed 1,000 niggas.” Motherfuckers would rather hear you say you killed 1,000 niggas than hear you say you smoked one devil. They love that more than they love themselves. So that’s the only thing that’s changed in my music: it’s more focused. I know that killing a nigga down the street ain’t going to solve none of my problems at all. And I don’t put that into my records, unless I’m explaining a situation. I ain’t stupid no more. And some people can’t deal with that. Niggas are scared of evolution, niggas don’t want to be free.

They’re scared because with freedom, you have to make your own decisions. Freedom is responsibility. Shit, I live in my mama’s house, cookies are there every day. Bam—you move out, ain’t no more cookies in there, unless you put them in there. You’re like, “Damn, I got to buy dishwater liquid?” That’s the responsibility you want to take to be free. These are scared Negroes, just like when slavery was over; yeah, you’re free to go. Now what am I going to do? We sharecropped. Still a slave.

What would you say to someone who says, okay, you’re married, you have two, five, maybe eight kids. You got a house, you got a car, you got a business...Cube is really living the American Dream.

It ain’t no dream for me. You can’t compare one man’s wealth to a whole nation of poverty. If they foreclose on my house, I can’t go to my bank and say, “White man, let me get a loan until next month. Give me $20,000.” Until I can go to my people and get help out of any financial situation I’m in, there ain’t nobody rich. I’m as poor as anybody else. I know how to get some money, and my duty is to show people around me how to get it, and how we all can get it.

So might that mean taking a step like directing feature films after all these videos you’ve worked on?

Yeah. Directing is cool, but I need to grow. I’ve been offered films to direct, but I’m not ready. I need to learn this game more. I’m going to be in this movie with John Singleton, Higher Learning. So I’l be looking over his shoulder the whole time. I never went to school, so I really want to sit and learn the game, and not just jump out there and be weak {laughs}. I don’t want to do nothing weak. I want to make sure I win.

READ MORE: Library Of Congress Adds N.W.A's 'Straight Outta Compton' Album To Its Registry

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Jonathan Exley

Michael Jackson's June/July 1995 Cover Story: 'ACTION JACKSON'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June/July 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Michael & Me

Reporting By: Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

JIMMY JAM, producer/songwriter (worked on HIStory album) Michael's the most intense person I've worked with. For him, everything is about the music and how to make it better. He also makes work a lot of fun. He's a kid at heart—his office is not like a normal office. He has all the kids' toys. A lot of times we'd be in session, in the middle of playing a video game, and he'd be, like, "Well, we got to do this. But go ahead and finish your game, though—I don't want to mess your game up."

The thing about Michael is his talent. If you put Michael onstage without the explosions and the other dancers, he'll still command the stage.

There's a song called "Childhood" on the new album, and I think for the first time, Michael has put a lot of his feelings on record. That song, for right now, defines where's he's at—the way he feels about himself and the way people feel about him.

HEAVY D, MC/label executive (rapped on "Jam," 1991) I was in California the first time I heard Michael Jackson wanted to record with me. I was, like, Nah, no way, he's too big, it can't be true. Then I got a call from Michael's people at my hotel telling me he was interested. But I still wasn't believing it—I thought they were setting me up for a TV practical jokes show.

So me and my partner go to the place, and while we were waiting we were talking and cursing up a storm—I was thinking that if it was a blooper show, they wouldn't be able to use it. Then Michael called and said he was on his way. When he got there he was just, like, 'Hey, how ya doin?'"

Michael's just as regular as everyone else. We talked about all the normal stuff guys talk about. He's real smart. People forget that he's the most incredible entertainer we've seen in our lifetime. His name is Michael Jackson, not Super Michael Jackson. He makes mistakes just like all of us.

My favorite Michael Jackson song is "Music and Me." It's an old one, about him and his music, his love for music, and the time they've had together. It's like a song that would be sung to a girl, but it's all about music.

R. KELLY, singer/songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) I thought it was funny when I told Michael Jackson I didn't want to fly, and he was giving me reasons why I should. I kept looking him in the eye, and I kept saying "uh-huh, uh-huh" and "oh, I see," knowing all the time that I would not be getting on a plane.

Working with Michael was definitely not just another day at the office.

KENNY GAMBLE AND LEON HUFF, producers (the Jacksons' Destiny album, 1978) Gamble: When we took Michael in the studio to overdub his voice, he had so many different ideas about songs, writing, and producing, I told him he could really record himself. He was very curious about a lot of things. He's a creative, spiritual, caring person.

Nineteen eighty-one's "Rock With You" is the most what Michael's about. I really believe he and Quincy have a magic together. Michael is a miracle.

Huff: When Michael and his brothers first came to Philadelphia, Gamble decided to walk them from the hotel to the studio. As they were walking, they were rushed by a group of girls. The brothers escaped by going into a movie theater. Once they made it to the studio, these girls camped outside the studio—and this was for a six-month period. To see 100 girls laying outside a studio at 3 and 4 in the morning for Michael and his brothers was something else.

My favorite Michael song? Nineteen eighty-seven's "Show You the Way to Go."

NAOMI CAMPBELL, supermodel/actress/singer (appeared in "In the Closet" video, 1992) Michael is very involved and on top of everything he puts his name on. He's shy and sweet, considering all he's accomplished, but he's a prankster. When I was doing the video, we had water pistol fights. He's a perfectionist.

TEDDY RILEY, producer (worked on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's the greatest. Innovative. Black.

SLASH, Guns N' Roses guitarist (played on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's a fucking brilliant entertainer, a complete natural. He's the only guy I've ever met that's real—for that kind of music. I grew up listening to the Jackson 5. I used to love "Dancing Machine."

We've been friends for a while, so he just lets me do what I want to do. I get a basic framework, and I just make up my part and they edit it. I wonder sometimes what it's gonna sound like, [Laughs] but every time, they do a great job. He's very shrewd. He's got a great, sarcastic sense of humor. People always ask me, "Is he weird?" Well, he's different. But I know what it's like to be weird, growing up in the music business.

I have to admit working with Michael Jackson is different than working with your basic, gritty rock 'n' roll band. One time when I went to play for Michael, he walked in with Brooke Shields, and there I am with a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of Jack Daniel's in the other, and my guitar hanging low around my neck. And he doesn't care. That's not the way he is, but I don't have to change for him. He accepts me for what I am.

TATUM O'NEAL, actress/friend I never worked with Michael, but he and I had a really wonderful friendship when I was 12 and he was 17. He used to dance with me, we'd talk on the phone all the time, and he'd say how funny it was that I was 12 and I could drive and he was older and couldn't. Michael used to come to my house when I was living with my dad, and I remember him being so shy. Once he came into my bedroom, and he wouldn't even sit on my bed. But another time when he was over, he played the drums, my brother played guitar, and someone else played another instrument, and we had a jam session. I had the tape of it, but I lost it somewhere.

When I was 12, he asked me to go to the premiere of The Wiz with him, and my agent at the time said it wasn't a good idea, maybe because they felt he wasn't a big enough star yet. He never talked to me after that. I think he thought I just canceled, but it wasn't me at all. I was a child doing what I was told. I want you to print that, because I don't think he ever knew that. I lost touch with him because of it, so I don't really know him anymore. But I love him; he's one of the nicest, most innocent people I've ever met. I love "She's out of My Life" because I think it describes our friendship at that time.

DALLAS AUSTIN, songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) Working with Michael is a different type of work. You're pressured timewise, but not by creativity or money. So you're left with mad freedom. You'd think he'd be very controlling, but if he likes you enough to work with you, he wants your expertise, not just another Michael Jackson record.

"Heal the World" and "Stranger in Moscow" from the HIStory record are, like, the makeup of Michael. I think he's taken on the responsibility to make changes in the world. He's the only real superhero. Think about it.

LISA MARIE PRESLEY-JACKSON, former wife Michael is a true artist in every facet of its nature—extremely aesthetic and very, very romantic. This is who he truly is despite degrading comments made in the past by certain larva.

Michael, as well as myself, have been severely underestimated and misunderstood as human beings. I can't wait for the day when all the snakes who have tried to take him out get to eat their own lunch and crawl back in the holes from which they came.

We know who they are and their bluff is about to be called.

QUINCY JONES, longtime collaborator/legendary producer Michael can go out and perform before 90,000 people, but if I ask him to sing a song for me, I have to sit on the couch with my hands over my eyes and he goes behind the couch. He is amazingly shy.

What people forget about him is that for the first time, probably in the history of music, a black artist is embraced on a global level by everyone from eight to 80 years old. People all over the world, especially young people, have a black man as an idol.

Reporting by Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

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