As you’re ascending to Rockefeller Center’s 65th penthouse floor, the elevator shaft illuminates with a red-and-blue mini light show, with Michael Jackson’s face looking down on you from the elevator’s transparent roof, as if inviting you upward to the musical heavens. Yes, Tuesday’s (April 8) listening event for Michael Jackson’s second posthumous album, Xscape, pulled out every stop, from the majestic view of Manhattan’s skyline to speeches by Epic Records President Sylvia Rhone, Chairman/CEO L.A. Reid and a representative from the Jackson estate. Tasty finger foods and open bar drinks were served, as producers Salaam Remi and Rodney Jerkins mingled in a room of no more than 125 people to hear Mike’s upcoming work.
As is the case with many posthumous projects, there’s been a cloud of cynicism hovering over Xscape (out May 13), which oddly shares its title with Kandi Burress’ ’90s R&B group. But this is no Biggie Duets affair—you won’t hear Future babbling nonsensical adlibs or Drake crooning choruses. The tunes sound organic—simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary, without annoying of-the-moment stars hitching a ride. Timbaland’s, Rodney Jerkins’ and Stargate’s instrumentals don’t overpower Michael’s unique vocals. And from the moment the first track plays, you remember how much you miss Michael.
Here are five takeaways after a first listen of Michael Jackson’s “contemporized” collection of outtakes from the Dangerous and Invincible sessions. —John Kennedy
Thriller Was Born Out Of Dissatisfaction
After being presented with the largest plaque I’ve ever seen (it required two men to lift it by it’s thick, black frame), celebrating Thriller’s 100 million album sales worldwide, a member of Jackson’s estate spoke about the drive behind the holy grail of pop music. He says Michael felt snubbed when his Off The Wall album won only one Grammy: Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” That disappointment was the thug motivation that fueled Thriller.
You Will Two-Step To “Love Never Felt So Good”
This opening track from the album has an old-school, ‘80s feel that’s simply irresistible. Don’t fight it. Move those feet.
Michael Sings About Being Boyfriend #2
On “Chicago (She Was Lovin’ Me),” MJ sings about being blindsided by a woman he’s dating. Turns out, o’girl has a husband and kids! Michael reportedly co-wrote pieces of the track. Go ahead and sip your tea.
MJ Found Inspiration In Televisions PSAs
Everyone remembers that old public service announcement that preceded the nighttime news: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” In a similar fashion, Michael tells the story of a runaway kid on “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” over a galactic synth loop that’s still stuck in my head, two days later.
2Pac And Michael Jackson Would’ve Made Great Music Together
On the second playback of Xscape, after many of the attendees were already retrieving phones and bags from coat check, L.A. Reid unearthed a version of the title track with vocals from Tupac Shakur’s “Changes.” And believe it or not, it was epic. You can only imagine Mike and Makaveli dapping each other upstairs in Thugz Mansion. Unfortunately, this version will not be included on the retail Xscape album.