A Final Tally on the King of Pop’s Global Reach

Hit maker, accused abuser, confused star—and the most sampled artist in the world.

Michael Jackson is bigger in death than he was in life...

Michael Jackson is bigger in death than he was in life...

Michael Jackson is one of the most sampled artists in the world.

From reggae, soul, pop to rock his music has been sampled in numerous songs. Whether it’s Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” which sampled “Wanna Be Startin’ Something or SWV’s “Right There,” a reworking of “Human Nature,” or even Wayne Wonder’s reggae rendition of “The Girl is Mine,” there’s no dispute that his influence in music is simply staggering.

Born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana at the height of the first full decade of post segregation, Michael was the seventh of nine siblings (Marlon’s twin Brandon died at birth). His father Joseph Walter worked as a crane operator at U.S. Steel and played guitar in a band called the Falcons whilst his mother Katherine worked part time at a retail store. As early as five years old, family members recall hearing Michael’s amazing display of vocal abilities and by 1965, a family act featuring Michael and his brothers Jermaine (on bass and vocals), Tito (on guitar), Jackie and Marlon were performing at local talent shows. Throughout the late 60s, the Jackson clan would spend weekends piled into their father’s station wagon (Joseph was highly influential in their musical development) to perform in various cities from Indiana to Chicago and as far east as Harlem’s Apollo club where they won over the legendary tough crowds. The sight of a pint sized Michael belting out the hits of James Brown and other R&B stars of that era electrified audiences and drew public attention. It wasn’t long before Motown founder Berry Gordy signed the group to his Detroit label releasing their first album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, through Motown Records in December, 1969.

Dubbed The First Family of Soul, The Jackson Five became the undisputed Kings of Motown and were the first black teen idols of that era with their skilful steps, trendy afros and sequin-studded gloves. Their first four singles rocketed to the top of the charts, four albums went platinum, and the band of brothers sold over 50 million records while pioneering a multimedia empire that spanned magazines, cartoons and television. Michael, however, with his high voice and infectious energy always stood out in the group and in the late 70s he finally parted ways with his brothers to pursue a solo career.

His first classic solo effort “Off The Wall” was a commercial success. Then there was the movie musical “The Wiz” with Diane Ross and album “Thriller” which became an undisputed, groundbreaking musical volcano and a pop culture phenomenon. During his extraordinary career, Michael sold an estimated 750 million records worldwide, released 13 No.1 singles and became one of a handful of artists to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Michael as the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time and album “Thriller” as the Biggest Selling Album. Michael won 13 Grammy Awards and received the American Music Award’s Artist of the Century Award. Five of his solo albums — “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” “Dangerous” and “HIStory,” all with Epic Records, a Sony Music label — are among the top-sellers of all time. The dancing, the silver glove and the scope of his cinematic music videos paved the way for artists from Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo to Chris Brown and his videos were among the first by a black artist to be played on MTV.

Since his premature death, Michael Jackson has become the center of a million obsessions with speculations running rampant about his life and cause of death, but there’s certainly no disagreement on the impact he had in all genres of the music industry. Jackson, who once shared a stage with reggae great Lucky Dube released memorable jams and songs that have been played tirelessly in the last month. Hip-hop acts sampled him, electronica artists remixed him whilst reggae artists interpreted his songs with eclectic twist. Whether it’s the reggae rendition of “The Girl Is Mine” by Yellowman & Peter Metro, Shinehead’s “Billie Jean” or Sanchez’s “Ben,” threads of his influence can be heard in many genres even if some references haven’t always been flattering. At a recent award ceremony shortly after his death, numerous artists spoke of his influence. Artists from Melody Thornton, Alicia Keys, Bounty Killer to Jeremy Priven all remembered the trend setting musical icon. “Without the gloved one,” actor Jeremy Piven joked, “Justin Timberlake would probably be selling curly fries.” “The way his life ended was tragic, but his music is definitely magic!” Bounty Killer told Fuse Magazine.

Embracing funk, disco, pop, soul, soft rock and jazz, Michael Jackson made music and plenty of it, but despite his musical success, his legacy will always remain marred by his eccentricities; allegations of child molestation, a prescription drug problem, his numerous plastic surgeries, his financial woes, and childlike idiosyncrasies such as his comparisons to Peter Pan and a refusal to mature to an age where he would have to confront the pain of his past, including an allegedly abusive childhood documented in a book by older sister Latoya Jackson and also discussed in his autobiography “Moon Walk.”

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, Jackson was almost $500-million at the time of his death — the result of bad business decisions, associated lawsuits, and a desire to keep living the lavish, often whimsical lifestyle he enjoyed in the mid-1980s, but without the vibrant musical career that had sustained it. At the time of his death, he was on the verge of trying to revive his musical career, via a series of performances at London’s O2 arena with dates running until early March 2010.

Michael Jackson is bigger in death than he was in life. He went from being a fresh-faced kid who made his stage debut at the age of six years old to the dizzying heights of becoming one of the word’s most iconic pop super-stars with a recording legacy that will live forever through all genres.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a contributer to Carib Press

Photo from Wikipedia

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