Rodney Jerkins Talks MJ’s Last Studio Album, Invincible
Linda Hobbs talks to producer Rodney Jerkins about playing pilot on MJ‘s final studio album.
About twenty-five years ago, Rodney Jerkins had his mind set on one goal: to work with the King of Pop.
The super-producer, who has worked with Whitney Houston and
Beyonce among others, wish came true around 1993 when Teddy Riley
linked Jerkins with his shy hero. Jerkins convincingly campaigned to
produce new millennium Michael. The two soon began work on what became
Michael’s earnest attempt at recapturing praise for his music. At
19-years-old, Jerkins was given the task of producing the bulk of
Michael’s last full studio album, Invincible, amongst a teeny-bop generation who were embracing his copycats.
Even though it sold 13 million copies worldwide, the album was
picked apart by critics. A day after Jackson’s funeral, Jerkins calls
VIBE from California to reminisce on the album that got away.
VIBE: You were around 19 when you started working on Invincible. You guys became friends in the process. What was the friendship like?
RODNEY JERKINS: Sometimes he would come to my house for dinner,
or I’d go out with him and his kids. It’s really trust. You build trust
around each other. He use to tell me all the time, "You’re a true loyal
friend." And he knew that when certain situations arose, I had his back.
I’ll never forget, Michael just let me take all my friends and
literally gave me Neverland Ranch. He’d be like, "I have to go to
Germany for a month," and just leave. I’d call everybody I knew, like,
"Yo, party at Neverland!"
Plus we would have bets, like whoever wins gets like a 100 DVDs.
He beat me the first time and I took him to Virgin Mega Store in Times
Square and got him like a 100 DVDs. We went late at night. The first
time he went to the store, he was in disguise. But a fan noticed him
and blew the whole cover.
Why did the album take so long to finish? You guys were going at it for three years.
It was a lot of starting and stopping. Like, we would stop for three
months and then Michael would be like, "I got to go to Germany for a
couple months," then he’d go to LA, it was that kind of situation. And
I remember one time, he was like, "Let’s start from scratch…I think
we can beat everything we did." That was his perfectionist side. I was
like "Man, we been working for a year, we gone scrap everything?!" But
it showed how hard he goes.
You were cool with that?
Yeah, I was. You got to understand, when I worked with Michael I had
already worked with everybody. I was making a lot of money to be able
to work on just one thing. And there was a time where he took a break,
and Brandy’s Full Moon
project came up, and I told Michael, "I got to do this album." I was
working on both at exactly the same time, at the Hit Factory in Miami.
And I was literally running back and forth.
I heard you videotaped the Invincible studio sessions. Have you released that yet?
I’ll just say Michael asked me to document everything. And I did. And
I’m sure one day it’ll see the light of day. I got to make sure it’s
made in the way Michael would want to see it.
Do you ever go back and watch the footage?
All the time.
What was Jackson like in the studio? Timid?
No! He was super vocal. He was so hands on. I’m talking about from the
high hat to everything. The sound quality was so important to him. He
looked at everything under a microscope, like, "The middle frequency is
too much"–he was very technical. He use to always say, "Melody is
king" so he really focused in on melody.
Let’s be honest: are you proud of the outcome of Invincible
There’s stuff we didn’t put on the album that I wish was on the album.
My first batch [of beats] is what I really wanted him to do. I was
trying to really go vintage, old school Mike. And that’s what a lot of
my first stuff was, that I was presenting to him. He kept "Rock My
World." But he wanted to go more futuristic. So I would find myself at
like junkyards, and we’d be out hitting stuff, to create our sound.
I think Invincible needs to be re-released. Because
something happened at the record company [Sony] that caused them not to
promote it no more after we done put our heart and soul in it. He had
about five singles on the album. But it came down to who can stop who.
And he was caught up in that mess.
A lot of critics criticized the album for being so long. Was it Jackson’s idea to make the album really long?
It was Michael’s idea. It was long. He didn’t make that transition of
doing shorter albums, and this is the guy…it was literally nine songs
on Thriller. We actually had that conversation where I was like, "You
should make it 10 songs and that’s it." You never know… maybe he felt
like that would be his last album.
Do you still listen to it?
Sometimes. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to it.
Does it make you sad?
Not at all. I’m sad inside that I lost a friend. He always wanted his
music to touch the masses. And that’s exactly what it’s doing right
now. But it was an amazing period of time in my life to be able to work
with him. It feels incredible to know… I handled his last