DAR Legends: Michael Jackson

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Before I write an article, I usually go out of my way to do more research just to double check my knowledge on the topic. Today, there's no need to do anything of that sort. The topic of discussion, Michael Jackson, is the greatest artist I've ever had the pleasure of listening to and he remains my all time favorite. Now, sure, most people know him for Thriller and Bad, but Michael has so much more in his catalog and career than just that and today, that's what we are here to discuss. Everything. From the days in Gary, Indiana to his final planned tour, we are here to look back at Michael Jackson, his career, his impact, his influence, and everything in between. First, before we get into everyone else's memories of the King of Pop, I wanted to start us off with a look back at my first time discovering his music.
For me, as a young kid growing up in Baltimore, you see a lot of ugliness regularly. Even as a child, you might see someone shot or drug addicts preparing for their final fix as you play outside with the other kids. As harsh as that reality is, it's what we live. For a lot of us who live this, we turn to something as an escape. It could be sports, games, movies, music, anything that allows you to escape whatever it is you need to. Personally, music was and has always been my form of personal escape. I had vaguely heard music from legends like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and more in the house, but it would be the day that I was watching TV with my grandma that changed everything. There was a music video on the TV, and the song was new to me. It had a stuttering drum pattern and a melody that for some reason I couldn't deny. There were background vocals kicking off the song behind the drums, and instantly I became engaged to the screen. I saw a man standing on a square and the square would light up when he walked on it. As I watched this video amazed, I was hit quickly by the sound of the chorus, as it resonated for some reason. The sounds of "Billie Jean... is not my lover... she's just a girl.. who claims that I am the one" hit my eardrums and from that moment, I became the biggest Michael Jackson fan ever.

It's interesting honestly. As a kid, I didn't know about melody, harmony, or anything technical about music that I know now as an artist. All I knew at that time was that this artist had a song that I took a liking to. I couldn't explain it. I couldn't understand the words. I just knew they sounded great to me along with everything else about the song. My grandmother looked at me and laughed once she saw how into it I was and she yelled out "that's Michael Jackson, he's the man", and I looked back and replied "yeah, he is", and kept watching the video, even emulating some of the moves I saw. I mean, I was a kid. The moment I saw a dance move, I wanted to do it. I remember the song being stuck in my head for days after and I asked my mother about Michael Jackson and her eyes lit up. She had worked to keep me away from too much popular music, but when she saw I had found out about it (my grandmother had already told her I liked the song, but they both figured it would pass since I was a really young kid at the time), she started to tell me more. She went and found her old record player and pulled out the Thriller and Bad albums for me, and she cut them on while she cooked.
The sounds of Thriller captivated me and I began to love every song I heard on the album (except the title track.... I don't know why, but my mother remembers this for some reason), and when "Billie Jean" came on, I lost it. I attempted to dance exactly like every 3 year old did at the time, and while I wasn't the best, I felt like I was Michael Jackson in the flesh. I learned the words of the hook to every song on Thriller and then when my mother played Bad, I knew I was hooked forever. As a kid, I didn't have the appreciation of Thriller the same way that my mother's generation might, but I still loved it anyways. However, Bad was the album for me. I heard every song and I just sat there amazed at how great every sound was. As the months went on, all I listened to was Michael Jackson (and from time to time, my uncle would play Eric B. and Rakim, Kool G Rap, or MC Hammer when I was around) and Marvin Gaye. My grandmother would show me more videos of MJ, and eventually she showed me the Motown 25 performance and that was it. I wanted a hat. I wanted the glove. I was 3 damn years old.

Out of love, my grandmother made me a cheap sequined glove and gave me an old hat similar to the one MJ wore in his "Smooth Criminal" video. I wish I knew what I did with it way back when, but I loved it when I had it. The hat got worn out, the gloves lost every sequin, but my support for MJ never changed. I remained a fan through and through, as he was my first favorite artists and the first artist I took to as a fan. His music and his videos instantly made me gravitate to what he did, and there was nobody better at music than MJ to me, then and now. However, there's so much more to his career than just my personal opinion on his music.
Now that I've indulged you in my first personal experience as a fan of MJ, I think it's time we let the rest of the team discuss their appreciation for the King of Pop. Let's take a look at the legend that is Michael Jackson. 

I always found the phrase “a star was born” to be heavily overused. It seems we say that about any celebrity when they reach a certain level but IMO it applies perfectly to our topic of discussion. There are many we consider legends, masters of their craft and phenomenal performers but none were quite like Michael Jackson. It’s difficult to write about an individual who has been influencing people since he was 11 years old as the star of The Jackson 5, but that's why we are here. To discuss his legendary life and career.

With Michael, it was like everything he did musically was an instant success, a chart topper and a classic. He continued to push his own abilities over the years. He created dance techniques, mastered music videos, and had the innovation to keep himself ahead of the times, all this while dealing with mass media coverage, paparazzi and of course the strict regiment and rehearsal schedule he was on throughout his formative years. As much as I wish I could adequately write about Michael Jackson and all his accomplishments, I can’t. I’d rather talk just about MJ the singer and songwriter, my favorite songs, and his impact on the entire world across generations as well as his memorable moments while on tour which earned and solidified his title as the “King of Pop”. 
It’s undeniable that MJ almost shaped music from the beginning. With The Jackson 5, they had four number 1 singles, which carried over for the next few years. He would drop his solo debut in 1972 and that would be the start of many albums in one of the most acclaimed music catalogs in history. For some, the first few solo albums would only lay the foundation for his breakthrough solo album, “Off The Wall”. This was the album that set MJ on the path to be a mega star. Not only did "Off The Wall" have a short tracklist, but more than half the songs were instant classics IMO. Of course, that was expected and almost normal for someone of this caliber. This project was deemed an incredible R&B/soul album, but Michael wasn't fully pleased with that because it boxed him in. Three years later, something unprecedented would happen when he released his next album "Thriller”. The album that is untouchable in every way. The diversity, the appeal to every age group and the most influential album of all time. Period. 

Nothing could ever compare, not even from MJ himself. The impact was and is still unfathomable with such a variety of beats, tempo, features and of course the most innovative music video of all time. If that wasn’t enough, while performing “Billie Jean”, the moonwalk was born and changed the entirety of concerts, performances, and dancing. Forever. That moment was not only memorable but referred to and referenced at every opportunity. There is never enough explanation to do the impact it had justice but we know that since it was released 35 years ago, it is still the highest grossing and selling album of all time AND the moonwalk is still mimicked and incorporated in many dance numbers, even now. The shattering of records didn’t stop there, as album after album was certified multi-platinum and that run was almost unstoppable. It’s impossible to go through every one but each release seemed to push the envelope a little further, the collaborations became more exciting and each song resonated for decades. It’s hard to rank but my personal favorite songs are “Man In The Mirror”, “Earth Song”, “Smooth Criminal”, “Blame It On The Boogie” and “Stranger In Moscow” amongst so many others. Every song was told as a story and brought to life with incredible vocal talent and perfectly placed imagery, which is something we don’t really see anymore.

The discipline and perseverance Michael Jackson had since he was a child and throughout his life is what earned him the very fitting title “King Of Pop”. He knew what the music industry needed and what people liked to hear and experience. His albums were filled with emotion and worked to humanize an icon. His concerts were instantly sold out and it seemed that no venue was big enough for the fans that would come out by the millions. His performances were sure to leave an unmatched experience for everyone. Michael Jackson created Pop and brought it to life. He truly was (and still is) the ONLY King Of Pop. 

June 25, 2009. The world mourned the life of an icon. Someone who overcame every obstacle, who was resilient in the face of every personal test and one who recognized his passion and made it his life’s work. Michael Jackson’s songs and life were that of hope, of positivity and love in its purest form and while his legacy and influence will continue to live for centuries to come, it was a crippling loss for the entire world. For those of us who were able to witness album releases, attend concerts or watch them on TV and wait for his videos to drop on MTV, we understand that no one will EVER compare and while we hear him in our speakers, a piece of music (in general) died the day he did. RIP Michael Jackson… the greatest always!! 

Coming from a talented family, Michael's older brothers were already performing. At the young age of 5, he would join his older brothers as the lead vocalist to create the Jackson 5. After years of success with the group, Michael started releasing solo albums. The first would be Got to Be There (1972), but he would follow those up with Ben (1972),  Music & Me (1973), and Forever Michael (1975), all of which were good albums where you can gradually hear his high pitched voice mature while never losing any vocal range. 

Over his next few albums, his voice would become more distinct and unique, which set him apart from his peers. By the time he turned 21, he released the classic Off the Wall in 1979.  Relying on a disco and funk sound, MJ gave us classics like "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" and "Rock With You".
In 1982, his next album Thriller had a slightly similar feel to his previous album, but besides the amazing and majestic "Human Nature", Quincy Jones employed more edgier production on tracks like "Beat It" (my favorite), which had a good video dealing with gangs, "Billie Jean", which was the first video by a black artist to be played heavily on MTV and he used that song to debut his version of the moonwalk to the world during his Motown Anniversary performance. Of course, you can't talk this album without mentioning the title track, which spawned probably the most iconic video of all time. The next album Bad kept that same tone, but added a more pop and dance rock sound. I love the title track, "Man in the Mirror", "Dirty Diana", "Smooth Criminal", and "Leave Me Alone". Around this time I was just a kid and MJ was like a superhero to me. I knew the Smooth Criminal choreography and you couldn't tell me shit. I'd put on my MJ outfit, grab the mic, and I would be in the zone.

Dangerous was the album where for some reason it seemed like MJ was having the most fun. He was seemed to be beyond his aggressive tone and bold in your face stage from Bad. He was now with Teddy Riley and he utilized the New Jack Swing sound. I loved Remember The Time and the video is another iconic one in his career. My other favorites were "Heal the World", "Will You Be There", "Give In to Me" and "Gone Too Soon". The next album, the double album HiStory had three of my favorite tracks from MJ. "Earth Song", "They Don't Really Care About Us" (which everything he talked about is still applicable today), and "You Are Not Alone", which was one of the best R&B ballads of the 90s. Nearly 30 years after the release of his first solo album, MJ returned with the 2001 release Invincible. He kept the sound relevant to the vibe of R&B at that time. I know we weren't supposed to get Xscape, but those featured some nice songs also. If I had to choose my favorite album, I'd have to go with Bad. Although it doesn't have my all of my favorite songs, it just really flowed well as an album.

I have so much respect for MJ just for trying to bring positivity to the world through his music and actions. He stood up for artists, especially black ones who were ran over by the industry like Little Richard who expressed his concerns to MJ after his songs were given to Elvis and others without fair compensation, which would have been millions. Michael felt it wasn't right so he went to Sony in Japan over Tommy Mottola's head to his bosses and made his deal. He acquired The Beatles publishing, who owned other people's publishing, so now MJ could control and distribute the money fairly. That shows the type of man he was. He was not only the King Of Pop, but the king of music in general, the best live performer and showman, as well as a humanitarian and so much more. MJ will always be a legend.

There is no artist that has personally impacted me on the level that Michael Jackson has. It was with him that I discovered my love for music and my unusual talent for memorization. Seriously, you could drop me randomly into any point in a MJ song and I could tell you exactly where you started the song (As Mike himself said, "Study the greats and become greater"). But more than that, for a kid who grew up painfully shy and a bit more than emotionally detached, his music spoke for me. His music had become such a part of my life that it was widely recognized among my friends that if I wasn't listening to Mike, the apocalypse could very well be imminent. 

When I was around 5 or 6, my mom gave me her CD player and two CDs. One of these CDs was the first disc of the HIStory album and it was here that I was hooked. My first musical memory period is Billie Jean and from there my love for that music just grew. I remember watching the taped version of the Bucharest concert my dad had sitting in the house and with him being a huge MJ fan as well, I had someone constantly feeding me his music. I remember being in 6th grade when Invincible came out and nothing made my day more than my dad picking me up from school and tossing me the CD from the front seat. I played that shit until my CD player broke. It was shortly after this time that MJ found himself in another trial for child molestation charges and man I caught hell for riding for him in school. Music still blasting, just knowing that shit wasn't true. The next few years was spent pretty much just waiting for new MJ music while listening to the old. It was around this time I began to do some searching for unreleased tracks and man I found some HEAT (What most people know as the Xscape album, I knew as "Tracks I had for years"). But still I wanted newer music. 

Then came 2009, MJ announces a new tour and I just KNEW I was in there. I didn't care how much it was gonna cost, if he was going to perform in the U.S., I was going be there. 

And then, June 25th, 2009 happened.
It's one of those days where you absolutely knew where you were or what you were doing when you found out. To this day, I can perfectly recall every step that led to me finding out: from walking to my uncle's house because my internet was out, to the phone call from my dad on the way to his house telling me that MJ was in the hospital and may have died. I get to my uncle's house and try to get on the internet...nothing. Can't even load the home page. I knew that wasn't good. About an hour later, here comes Jermaine to confirm and everything stopped for me. There is only one other celebrity that has impacted me on a personal level and that's The Rock (I covered that a while back), but Mike was different. His music was everything to me and everyone around me knew it. It was to such a point that when my mom walked in to pick me up, the first thing she asked was "you good?" and I didn't know how to answer. On one hand, I felt stupid for feeling so shitty about someone I had never met, someone that had no clue I existed. On the other hand, I connected with his music so much that it truly felt like everything was shit. The wildest thing about that year? I lost my Grandma six months later. My best friend was gone and the only thing I could do then? Bury myself in MJ's music. I can't say it eased the pain but damn it if "Gone Too Soon" wasn't getting regular play then. So it definitely got me through.

Even today, I'll blast his music regularly and faithfully. It's well known and understood among friends and family that Mike ain't going nowhere around here. 

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-I shared my first experience with Michael Jackson's music at the beginning and I wanted to share a few more of my experiences with his legendary music. As a kid, after discovering his music, I went back to watch old performances and after seeing The Jacksons biopic film, I sought out classic Jackson 5 music. For me, as young child, after discovering Michael in his prime musically, I was taken aback by the youthful sounds of my favorites like "The Love You Save" and "Never Can Say Goodbye". I remember riding in the car with my mother and "I Wanna Be Where You Are" came on and I was blown away. The vocals, the soulful production, the resounding vibe of the overall song. It was at this moment that I realized that Michael Jackson was the greatest. Ever. That very moment. There isn't an artist that was that great in their younger years and just as great, well actually even better, in his adult years. There was never a period of his life where his music wasn't top notch and when I discovered the Jackson 5 catalog, life changed for me. It was as if 20 years after they debuted, their music still resonated personally. Whether it was tracks that came later on in the Jackson 5 catalog like "I Am Love", "Dreamer", and my favorite "Find Me A Girl", or the classics like "I'll Be There" and "Maybe Tomorrow", The Jackson 5 became one of my all time favorite groups ever and Michael is the biggest reason for that (though Jermaine was actually solid too).

I can remember the time that I first heard "Remember The Time". I saw the video actually, and I remember laughing because one of my favorite basketball players Magic Johnson was in it and my favorite actor at the time, Eddie Murphy was it. Of course, Michael was my favorite artist at the time, so this was the greatest music video of all time to me then.... and now. Still. To this day. From the amazing choreography and dancers (hi, Lisa Raye) to the overall sound and the Egyptian vibe (with all black people and people of color in Egypt, which is the right imagery), this was everything you would want in a music video and then some. I always felt like Michael had carved his own lane with his three breakthrough albums Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad, but the Dangerous album saw him conquer a lane that had been perfected already by Bobby Brown, Guy, New Edition, and others. It was the first time I saw Michael go into a lane that wasn't just his, and that's why Dangerous is his most daring album. If I'm ranking the albums that used the New Jack Swing sound (and I have done that on this site FYI), Dangerous is in the top 2. It's honestly amazing that Michael could breathe life into the dying Disco genre with Off The Wall, perfect an edgy yet soulful commercial sound on Thriller, walk the line with a blend of all sounds to perfection on Bad, and then own New Jack Swing on Dangerous. There hasn't been a four album run in music history better than that, and there will likely never be one to match it. That alone says more than enough about Michael and what he has accomplished as an artist.

My final thought I want to share about Michael comes from the months following his untimely death. I was either not born yet or still very young through his heyday so I had never personally went into a store and bought his album, minus when Invincible came out and I rushed to Sam Goody after school to purchase. I don't speak much on that album, but I did enjoy it and I laughed for minutes at the opening between Michael and Chris Tucker on "You Rock My World", which is probably my favorite opening on any song. However, outside of that album, I just listened to the albums that were passed down to me from family and older CDs. When he passed away, I remember my first thought was to play Bad, as it is my favorite album from him. I tried to play "Man In The Mirror" and the CD skipped. I tried to play "Dirty Diana" and it wouldn't work. I hadn't touched that CD in probably two years, as life took me further away from listening to music regularly than I anticipated. I went to look for my Thriller CD, and I couldn't find it. I was a bit lost at the time. I couldn't find Thriller and Off The Wall had all these horrible scratches on it from years of wear and tear. The only remnant I had that worked some was an old cassette of Dangerous. I didn't have any cassette players (it was 2009, I mean what do you expect), so I was faced with the task of going out and buying all the albums again myself. At the time, all I did listen to then was hip hop. I had strayed far away from the music that shaped me and was stuck on just hip hop. I still loved those older albums and different genres, but I was so attached to hip hop that I would only listen to Pac, Nas, Blu, Outkast, and Little Brother during this time. Nothing else entered my headphones, CD player, or computer personally. There was the time I went to hang out with my mother and she played the Thriller 25 album, but other than that, nothing else really hit my radar too much, except one or two albums that weren't hip hop.

All of that changed when Michael passed. It was almost a strange rebirth for me musically after his passing. It's crazy to think about it now, but about a week after his death, I went out and bought every album that had his name attached to it again to remind me of what made me become so enamored with music in the first place. In addition to buying all of Michael's albums, I went and bought some Marvin, Stevie, Prince, and other classic albums as well. It was as if seeing the first artist I admired pass away awoke me, and as strange as that may sound, it was after his passing that music became a driving force of my process again. Sometimes in life, you get so far away from what you loved that it takes a moment to bring you back. I remember seeing the This Is It talks and hearing that Michael would be heading on what was likely to be his last tour and my first thought was "oh yeah, I'll definitely have to check that out". It was intriguing considering one of my musical wishes was to have seen Michael Jackson perform live and I never had the chance. When he passed, I saw that musical wish and dream go with him, and for an artist like myself, that was saddening. I've seen Jay-Z live, I've seen Nas live, I've even seen Stevie Wonder live, but the greatest performer and my biggest influence since a kid musically was always Michael Jackson. And now, I'd never get the opportunity to see him live.

Fast forward a few months after his passing. I was playing mostly Michael and Marvin albums, but MJ's music still usually took up most of my listening time. It had been almost 2 years since I regularly listened to Michael's music at that time, and the moment I entered the whole catalog back into my listening world, everything shifted for me as an artist. I began to take music much more seriously for myself and created more art. It's crazy that it took that to wake me up, but the truth is, when you see the very reason you love music is gone, it can alter things for you. That's what makes Michael Jackson such a legend. His impact. His influence. His power. There were people all over the world who would faint in his presence, climb fences just to see him, and cry at the sight of him. That's powerful. For an artist who is just another human like us to have that type of power, it shows that they possess something beyond the average. Michael Jackson had the "it" factor, he had the intangible, the showmanship, the star quality, the talent, the ability, he was one of the very artists who had it ALL. It's been a little over 8 years since his passing, and it's still tough for many to process that he's gone. However, despite his physical form no longer being with us, he left a lasting legacy behind with his music, his videos, his performances, and his humanitarian efforts through the years. Michael Jackson is without a doubt a legend, and he might be the greatest legend music has ever seen. Long live the King Of Pop.



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