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Text and Meaning in Michael Jackson's Xscape (part 5 of 5)

"Xscape" [nid:71851976] by Michael Jackson

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If you would like to read this series from the beginning please check out the links at the end. Part 5 starts right now.

Fifth art graphic in articles series Text and Meaning in Michael Jackson's Xscape. Inspired by Mat Maitland's original album art.
Fifth art graphic in articles series Text and Meaning in Michael Jackson's Xscape. Inspired by Mat Maitland's original album art.
Postered Poetics for Aberjhani

“In more ways than one, his status as a ‘superstar’ served largely as a vehicle that allowed him to render as much service to humanity on as many levels as he could.”––Article Excerpt (Aberjhani)

The lucky number seventh track on Xscape, “Blue Gangsta,” is the perfect musical metaphor for the would-be thug of steel who discovers he is as vulnerable to the anguish of a broken heart as anyone else. The L-O-V-E giveth and the L-O-V-E taketh away.

The menacing progression of chords and scheming vocals that made “Smooth Criminal” so irresistibly sinister is brought to its knees in “Blue Gangsta.” With atmospheric rhythmic tension generated by snare percussions, violins, and anxious horns, Jackson’s voice with impeccable delivery creates a brooding drama of the heart:

“No where to run, no where to hide
All the things you said
And the things you’ve done to me
You can no longer make me cry…”

The song extends the album’s theme of love as a multifaceted adventure through great joy and sometimes equally great pain. In “Blue Gangsta” we view it from the painted perspective of a realist, as Jackson has done before in compositions that explore love’s less euphoric side. The title also gives a nod of respect to the musical genre most famous for lamenting shattered hearts: the classic Blues themselves.

Xscape and Guerrilla Decontextualization

Tempo-wise, the title track of Michael Jackson’s second posthumous release holds its own with such fever-driven classics as “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Tabloid Junkie.” That Rodney Jerkins worked extensively with Jackson on the original recording from 1999-2001 and was able to revisit it more than a decade later makes it easier to accept the contemporized version as something the megastar himself might have done.

Lyric-wise, the song “Xscape” documents the King of Pop’s nonstop battles with the forces of guerrilla decontextualization. As a black man who defined and redefined pop culture with virtually every album released during his solo career, Jackson was a prime target for those who used guerrilla decontextualization to portray him in the media as a “whacko” or “pervert” rather than as the brilliant creative artist and exemplary humanitarian that he was.

In more ways than one, his status as a “superstar” served largely as a vehicle that allowed him to render as much service to humanity on as many levels as he could. Unfortunately, controlling political organizations and dominant industry factions have throughout history interpreted the potential social or spiritual influence of popular free-thinking individuals as D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S. That meant such individuals had to be neutralized in some way.

Jackson successfully channeled the anxiety and debilitating despair over being targeted for such neutralization into songs like “D.S.” and “Xscape.” The feat was a Herculean one of both creative genius and incredible spiritual stamina:

“No matter where I go
I see my face around
They pin lies on my name
Then push them from town to town…

“…Xscape, the man with the pen
That writes the lies that has no end…”

What average person can even imagine living like that on a daily basis? The orchestrated efforts to diminish Jackson’s influence, which is a far greater offensive than to tarnish his character, represents one tragic form of guerrilla decontextualization. However, Michael Jackson’s music has always been his greatest defense, weapon, and evidence of authentic grace. Xscape, particularly the deluxe CD package with documentary DVD, provides a benevolent re-contextualization of his legacy that supports what millions accept as his true nature: an artist of incomparable gifts and a man of astonishing integrity.

From the general consensus of most critics and fans alike, it would have to be said that Xscape is a worthy addition to the body of Jackson’s musical oeuvre. It is also a worthy testimony to the value his contemporaries placed upon his singular creative genius and leadership within the music industry.

Posthumous Probabilities

The question now is how many more such posthumous Jackson are likely to hit the market over the coming years and will they match the standards reestablished by Xscape. The answer to that was actually announced in Rolling Stone Magazine on June 9, 2014, when Steve Knopper reported the late singer’s estate may release “as many as eight more albums culled from outtakes and repackaged material.”

Is the continued release of posthumous albums as good a thing as some might enthusiastically believe? Or is it simply further exploitation of Michael Jackson’s legacy and a refusal to allow the man to rest in peace? The performing artist labored to achieve “greatness” on a scale that few ever consciously attempt because they can barely conceive it. He knew the price for that achievement would include the glare of a posthumous spotlight that would never fade completely.

It is the same with many souls considered timeless because of their superlative craftsmanship: James Brown, whom he admired so much and never stopped “studying”; Leonardo da Vinci, whose works and theories continue to influence modern technology and popular culture; and Marilyn Monroe, whose life continues to inspire numerous imitators, literary works, and performance pieces. Just to name a few.

Each of these lives on in a collective public imagination that keeps them “alive.” When the attention focused upon them is done so to inspire others to strive to reach their own ultimate potential, or to champion the causes for which they stood while they lived, we can say the life and legacy are being honored. When such attention is mostly to add more coins to already overflowing bank accounts, what then should those inclined to speak say?

by Aberjhani
author of Journey through the Power of the Rainbow
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance

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