In death as in life, Michael Jackson is once again embroiled in controversy — with friends and family pitted against record labels and his estate executors.
The latest scandal surrounding the self-proclaimed King of Pop blew up out over whether that’s actually Jackson’s vocals carrying “Breaking News” — the first song off the upcoming posthumous “Michael” album.
The new song, which began steaming online for a week on Monday, and the bulk of the unreleased tracks that make up “Michael,” were supposedly recorded in 2007 in the New Jersey studio of co-writer and producer Eddie Cascio, where Jackson lived for several weeks.
But family members, including the singer’s mother Katherine and his children (according to TMZ), have doubts that Michael’s voice is on “Breaking News” and other tracks on the album, which comes out on Dec. 14.
“They should only release songs that everyone KNOWS are my Uncle,” tweeted Michael’s nephew T.J., son of Jackson 5 guitarist Tito, on Wednesday.
His brother went even further. “I will not support ‘Breaking News’ and a few others because it simply is not him,” said Taryll Jackson, another son of Tito’s, on his Twitter account. “Sampled breaths after sampled breaths,” tweeted T.J. “mixed in with fake vocals to try to fool u.”
For his part, producer Teddy Riley asserted unequivocally on Wednesday that he had “no doubt these are Michael’s vocals.”
Riley, who worked on the new album as well as Jackson’s “Dangerous’ album and records by Bobby Brown, Snoop Dogg and Lady GaGa, also said that one reason the vocals might sound a bit odd to some is because “they were all done by Michael in different places and in different climates.”
Riley’s comments seemed a lot less inflammatory than those he made two days earlier, calling into Atlanta’s BeeHive FM.
Warning the hosts and listeners to “read between the lines,” Riley said, “It’s all money.” Asserting that “the vocals are Michael Jackson,” he went on to say that the controversy is being “stirred up” by Jackson estate co-executor John McClain because “his songs didn’t make it” onto the album.
“There’s been a conspiracy from A to Z,” Riley said cryptically.
Attempts by TheWrap to contact McClain and John Branca, the Jackson estate’s other co-executor and Michael’s long-time attorney, were not immediately returned.
However the gist of Riley’s remarks do seem confirmed by a tweet from Jackie Jackson, Michael’s brother. “My friend John McClain (co-executor) and I have insisted for many weeks to have certain tracks removed from Michael’s new album,” wrote Jackson on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, our concerns were not taken seriously.”
The call-in comments by Riley — who also claimed a duet album of unreleased raw Jackson recordings with artists like Drake is scheduled to come out — also don’t actually contradict remarks made on Twitter by Jackson nephew Taryll.
“How they constructed these songs is very sneaky and sly,” tweeted Taryll. The younger Jackson, who called out Teddy Riley directly for the “distraction of the well produced music” on what were “questionable files” of “so-called Michael Jackson songs,” added that “many people who have worked on this project either have strong doubts and questions while others KNOW the truth yet decided to turn and look the other way with their hands out for $$$.”
Money has become synonymous with Jackson in the year and a half since the then financially strapped singer passed away. Since mid-2009, Jackson’s estate has resurrected and bundled itself into a multi-billion dollar enterprise of music, movies and other media platforms.
Which is why with a lot riding on the new album, especially during the lucrative holiday season, Jackson’s label has sought to quell the controversy. “We have complete confidence in the results of our extensive research,” said a spokesperson for Epic Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music, “as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own.”
They better hope so, says an industry insider.
“Today every track by almost every artist has a multitude of players and people on it, but if that’s really not MJ’s voice, it could fatally derail what’s been a very successful posthumous comeback,” a former label executive told TheWrap.
Oddly enough, the steadiest voice of sanity in the matter seems to be coming from the superstar’s estranged father Joe Jackson.
“The songs which are being released on the new Michael Jackson album were unfinished and incomplete tracks that Michael said over and over many times he never wanted released,” said the patriarch’s lawyer Brian Oxman, who has been pursuing the elder Jackson’s claims against the estate and the will he was left out of by his son, last week.
The track listing for the new “Michael” album, as well as what the first official single will be, is expected later this week — as undoubtly is more debate about who is actually on it.