Epic to ‘contemporize’ unreleased Michael Jackson songs in new album


Epic records is releasing a new Michael Jackson album next month called “Xscape,” executive produced by Epic CEO L.A. Reid.

It will be produced by Timbaland and feature work from Rodney Jerkins, Stargate, Jerome Harmon, and John McClain. It’s expected to give a modern twist on Jackson’s songs, which Reid culled from the singer’s archives with permission from his estate.

This isn’t the first album released since Jackson’s death. “Michael,” a compilation album of previously unreleased songs, was released in December 2010, following his death at age 50 in June 2009.

Posthumous albums are tricky. There’s an undeniable squick factor, and they prompt loads of questions: Who is this going to benefit? Who sees the profits, especially in the cases of artists who met untimely deaths, or who struggled publicly with substance abuse? Is it just an opportunistic cash grab? And in 2Pac’s case especially, why in the world did he have a seemingly endless catalog of unreleased music? It’s like digging around in a writer’s desk, reading unedited notes that they never expected anyone to see. Were we even supposed to hear this stuff?

“Xscape” seems particularly ripe for a backlash if it doesn’t stay true to Jackson’s ethos, as it’s been described as a “contemporization” of music from his archives. This isn’t just anybody’s music; it’s the artist who made “Thriller.” He doesn’t need Auto-Tune. There’s an incredible desire to protect and remain true to Jackson’s towering musical legacy because so many people have deeply personal ties to his music. Screw it up, and instead of a touching tribute, you’ve got the aural equivalent of the Spanish woman who turned a fresco of Jesus into a preschool art project with her “restoration:”


The 20th century Ecce Homo-style fresco of Christ before (left) and after (right) an elderly amateur artist Celia Gimenez, 80, took it upon herself to restore it in the church of the northern Spanish agricultural town of Borja. The incident made international news and was an Internet trending topic. Some Twitter users dubbed it ‘Ecce Mono’, meaning ‘Behold the Monkey’ instead of ‘Behold Man.’ (AP Photo/Centro de estudios Borjanos)

Jillian Mapes expressed her skepticism at “Flavorwire:”

There’s very little Epic can do to diminish Jackson’s spot in the musical canon, which has remained cemented despite MJ’s personal dismantling. From Off the Wall to Thriller to Bad, much of his work is rightly regarded worldwide as among the best pop music of the 20th century. But to be as selective as Jackson was about his release schedule and yet so obsessive about his work, he clearly spent some amount of time experimenting in the studio, writing songs that he figured would never see the light of day in order to get the gems. It was Jackson’s personal process — and it’s a shame Epic can’t respect that.

Most recently, rapper Drake endured a barrage of criticism after he announced plans for an entire album of songs with Aaliyah, who died in a 2001 plane crash at age 22. It was scrapped.

Below, notable posthumous albums from other artists:

H/t Pitchfork

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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