Michael Jackson would’ve turned 52 this Sunday. Undoubtedly many parties shall be thrown around the globe in his honor, but MJ’s spirit will most likely be floating over Prospect Park for Spike Lee’s second annual Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson Birthday Celebration. Or if it’s anything like last year’s event–a sprawling, joyous, dancing-en-masse-in-a-field type of occasion–at the very least the King of Pop will be represented (somewhat accurately) by hundreds of well-meaning impersonators.
The man Spike Lee has entrusted with the gargantuan task of steering Sunday’s playlist is Brooklyn’s DJ Spinna. No fear, Spinna is no post-death bandwagon jumper; he’s been throwing King of Pop tributes long before MJ’s passing. And this weekend, the Brooklyn producer will be doing everything short of wearing one white glove to channel one of the most universally loved musicians in modern history. “I honestly feel like while I’m playing, he’s living through me and talking to me,” Spinna said during our recent chat in the lead up to MJ’s birthday festivities. As well as speaking about being a tiny child with a big love for Michael and giving us a rundown of his favorite tunes, he also dropped some hints about what song may or may not be his closer. We’ll give you a hint–it probably won’t be “Man in the Mirror.” That was last year.
Where were you when you heard the news that Michael Jackson had died?
I had just landed in Las Vegas for a gig. And wow–it seemed so surreal, because I received a text from a friend of mine, ironically, that brings me to San Francisco to do the tribute parties that I’ve been doing for Michael, and he sent me a text asking if Michael Jackson died. And first of all I was stunned by the question [chuckles] I couldn’t believe something like this was coming through my phone, so ‘What are you talking about?’ was my initial response.
So I get to the hotel and I’m watching CNN on the TV screen but I couldn’t really see any specific information. I only saw words going across the screen saying ‘Michael hospitalized’ or something to that effect. So I was unclear and I was in disarray–I was in shock, I couldn’t get any information, and I was by myself. Then finally it was confirmed and I felt like my world came crashing down on me because–I mean it’s Michael Jackson. People like him are not supposed to die, at least not now.
How did you feel?
I was depressed. It was totally depressing. I was hurt for a long time, and it took a few tribute parties in New York–one in Brooklyn, the other maybe about a week after he passed away and then finally the Michael Jackson birthday tribute with Spike Lee in Prospect Park last year–for me to really come to terms with it. With the idea of him not being anymore.
Michael Jackson’s songs often mark certain memories and points in people’s lives. What stories do you have?
I won’t say there are stories in particular, but more of the fact that he’s just part of my upbringing. I have a picture of me holding a Jackson 5 album called Get it Together when I must have only been five years old. I have fond memories of watching Thriller for the first time and just being amazed by the video and how much work went into it as a full on production; it was groundbreaking and no one had ever seen anything like that before in entertainment.
For me, it’s been a long journey of being a fan. I’ve always looked up to him since I was little. As an icon, he was kind of like the artist that any black kid everywhere wanted to be, if you were following him since the Jackson 5. I mean there was no one else that young and that popular in R&B and soul music, and once he kind of crossed the board with pop status, it was just through the roof at that point. There was no one else like him.
As a DJ you can see the way his music affects people emotionally and brings them together. What is it about his music that you think people connect with almost universally?
I would say that it’s the message of love and unity and oneness for all. His music and his lyrics didn’t discriminate against anyone and he really was about change and bringing people together. I think that message is really reflected in his music and it translates really well to the dance floor.
It’s hard to choose, but do you have any favorites?
One of my favorites is definitely “I Can’t Help it” from the Off the Wall album. I say that because Stevie Wonder–who I’m also a huge fan of–he wrote and produced the song, and he plays on the song so I get the best of both worlds on that. I’m also a Quincy Jones fan. I’m a producer and I look up to Quincy; I have the utmost respect for his body of work. Anything that Quincy Jones has done with Michael has been absolutely stellar, so I get all three on one cut. But also there’s a track called “Hum Along and Dance” and it’s from the Get it Together album that I was holding as a little boy. That’s one of my favorite records of all time that he’s ever recorded.
So you’re going to save the really good ones for some killer moments at Prospect Park.
Absolutely. Like last year, at certain points of the day Spike was in my ear asking me if I’ll play certain records and I said, “Yes I did play that,” and he’d say, “Well play it again!” [laughs] and I think that will be happening again this year, because some of his songs impact so much harder than others.
Will you be taking requests?
Umm [pause] only from Spike!