The impact of Michael Jackson's music on DJ culture

As we’re all now aware of, the music legend, recording artist Michael Jackson, passed away at the age of 50 from a heart attack in his rented LA home on June 25, 2009. Michael’s impact as a pop-superstar who affected millions, if not billions of music fans worldwide with his music will be felt for generations. Like the Beatles, Elvis Presely and Frank Sinatra, Jackson is an American icon who transcended race to make music for the masses that carved out a musical niche very few ever realize. In today’s music industry, a transformational entertainment icon is hard to come by. Because music has become disposable, artists like Michael Jackson are few and far between. It is now a question as to whether anyone can ever attain the stature Michael Jackson enjoyed throughout his 40-year musical career.

This post is not meant to be a retrospective on MJJ’s life. My intent is to simply convey the important Michale Jackson had on DJ culture in America and around the world. As a DJ since 1979, MJJ’s music played an integral role in my career development. Any DJ worth his salt understood that dropping an MJJ record, whether as part of the Jackson 5 or as a solo artist, would bring a lulled crowd to a dancing frenzy. In the midst of of a set, when you were looking for that perfect record that would help you build a rapport with your crowd, pulling out an MJJ record at the exact, right moment transformed you from just another DJ to everyone’s favorite DJ. Knowing when, where, why and how to play an MJJ record is an art within the art or music. It’s nothing you can teach, just something you understand as you watch other DJs ply their trade.

I could go through the list of MJJ records that were the primary drivers on and off the dance floor, but I won’t do that in this post, because everyone and their brother are running tribute shows on the radio, over the web and on television that testify to his musical legacy. What I will say is that through MJJ’s musical genius and the talent of the producers he worked with, DJs were handed instant hit records that built their careers. For that, all DJs should be grateful to Michael Jackson’s legacy, which gave us so much to use to fuel our careers, generate revenues and build on.

My favorite Michael Jackson record of all time: “Get On The Floor.” Why? It’s casual, laid back and smooth, simple cool gave you that simple enticement to move your body. The words themselves we’ve all heard in one way or another, but the way Jackson delivered them in such an innocent, boyish way made it possible for so many to say to themselves, “sure…how hard can dancing be?” As a young DJ at Spin-Off roller skating Disco in Boston, MA, “Get On The Floor” was my anthem. Every skate session I worked, that was the record I’d launch my set with. It was a call to humanity to just let yourself go and feel the rhythm. That’s what Michael Jackson represents to me. Just feeling the rhythm and going with it.

Later on, while working at an 80’s club, Culture Club in New York City, I’d pull out the 12″ version of “Smooth Criminal.” This record was the definition of cool. Who doesn’t want to be a “Smooth Criminal?” It told us, hey, you can be cool and get away with things, if you just do it in such a way that you don’t get caught. You just slide through it all.

I am forever grateful to MJJ for giving me the music ammunition on which to build my career. Despite his controversies, his hard work and dedication to the music and his understanding of how to create transformational experiences, whether live or recorded, can never be replicated or duplicated.

He will be missed.

— by Tony Z.

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