FALLS & COMEBACKS (1994-2010)
ALAN LEEDS: Michael wanted to be dangerous but no one ever took that side of him seriously. But Prince was always dangerous because he wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. But then Prince tried to upstage hip-hop by singing in a microphone shaped like a gun. He was trying to relate to the rap audience by having those wack rappers in his band.
CYNTHIA HORNER: Both Michael and Prince had their problems later in the ‘90s. I used to see and talk to Michael a lot, but he started to change. I didn’t have very much contact with him; my contact was with all of his relatives. Michael had all these people that surrounded him that kind of prevented his old friends and business peers from having any contact with him because they wanted to control what was going on with him. His own family didn’t really have a lot of contact with him. And Prince was dealing with his own issues. He woke up one day and realized that some of his business decisions with Warner Bros. had not worked out in his favor. He began to protest the music industry. Everyone remembers when he wrote the word slave across his face. He didn’t feel like he got his just due financially and artistically. Both Prince and Michael became very inaccessible.
MICHAEL BEARDEN (Keyboardist for Jackson’s 2001 30th Anniversary Show and music director for This Is It): The idea was to do a 30th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Michael’s years in the business. But once people found out that it was going to be a big deal everybody wanted to be there! Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and tons of people were coming out. Michael didn’t want to do much on his own. He had just dropped his album Invincible. It wasn’t that people was upset with Michael. They were upset that other artists were onstage with him. They wanted to see more of Michael. People were not to cool with seeing all those other acts and Whitney [Houston] looking crazy [laughs].
DJ SPINNA (DJ, producer, musicologist and co-founder of Soul Slam’s MJ vs. Prince parties): We started the MJ vs. Prince parties in 2002. The whole idea came about after the success of doing Stevie Wonder tribute parties, which we started in 1999. And we thought who were the other two iconic music figures in the pop world but also made a major impact on black culture? And that was definitely Michael and Prince. I remember we did the first party at a venue in Lower Manhattan called Peppers and the crowd was overwhelming. During the parties, I play music from both camps—Michael and Prince catalogues—as well as artists that they have influenced and worked with. So you have the whole Minneapolis vibe going on with Prince, Sheila E, The Time, Vanity 6, Alexander O’Neal and you have Michael with Jermaine Jackson, Janet Jackson, and the Jackson 5. But at the end of the night, it’s really a party that reminds people of the best times of their lives.
WILL.I.AM (Leader of the Black Eye Peas; Has performed live with Prince and produced several tracks for Michael Jackson): I had a show with the Black Eyed Peas in 2008 and then late that night I performed with Prince at the Palms Hotel. I called Michael just before the show and I was like, “Hey Mike, I’m in Vegas.” I told him about the performance at the Palms with Prince and asked him if he wanted to come. He was a bit apprehensive at first, but I told him, “Let me call Prince to see if everything is OK.” I sat down with Mike after I finished a song with Prince and he comes down off the stage playing his bass and comes right to our table… ripping the bass in half! It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had. I was with both of my heroes. While we were working on new material for his album, MJ asked me why people didn’t think of him in the same way they thought of Prince as a serious songwriter. It was a shock to hear that coming from such an iconic artist.
KENNY ORTEGA (This Is It director): It was less about competing with Prince and more about respect. Michael felt God was going to give ideas to the next deserving artist who he felt was Prince. That’s a true respect, true admiration for Prince. He mentioned several times how he loved the song “Purple Rain.”