The word from London over the weekend: Grammy-winner Kanye West, who knows more samples than anyone in the garment district, has been working with Michael Jackson in the recording studio.
I’m told that West, who played a gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon last night, was sent by Island/Def Jam’s L.A. Reid to help Jackson with his charity single “I Have This Dream,” which otherwise features a list of B-level pop stars as guests and was written for a contest (see Monday’s column).
West would be the right person to work with Jackson, whose music could use a little modernizing. At the same time, West’s collaboration with Jackson would cement the distribution deal that Jackson’s associates have been trying to make with Reid for a charity single and a record label featuring Jackson owned by the Prince of Bahrain.
But while this is going on, and Jackson and his entourage are lodged at London’s Dorchester Hotel, there’s a lot of other intrigue in the Jackson camp that now involves not one, but three different Arab entities.
As I reported last week, Jackson’s business with the Bahraini prince is tenuous to say the least. But I also told you that Sony Music was trying to finalize a deal with Citigroup to buy Jackson’s $270 million in loans from Fortress Investments.
Several financial insiders point out now how ironic that would be, since one of Citigroup’s largest investors is none other than Prince Walid bin Talal of Saudi Arabia.
In 2002, the prince bought $500 million of Citigroup stock. He may be Citigroup’s largest investor by now.
Walid and Jackson have history: in 1995, the Prince took over management of Jackson’s career, and invested a lot of money with him that he never saw again. Their association was a short one, and did not end pleasantly. It included forming a company that died on the vine.
Jermaine Jackson’s interest in Bahrain, and making friends with that Prince, stemmed largely from Michael’s having burned his bridges with Walid.
Perhaps fearing a new Citigroup attachment, I am told that Jackson may be trying to get friendly with yet another Arab potentate: the Sultan of Brunei.
Here in the U.S., it seems like all these countries must be neighbors and all friends with each other. But Brunei, in the South China Sea, is far from Bahrain and even farther from Saudi Arabia.
The Sultan, whose real name is Hassanal Bolkiah, has owned things like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the New York Palace Hotel, where Jackson has often been a guest.
In 1996, Jackson was flown in to entertain Bolkiah at his 50th birthday party. Now that he may be on the outs with the Bahrainis — and in fear of doing business again with the Saudis —Jackson, my sources say, is trying to get back in the good graces of the Sultan, perhaps hopeful of at last finding a savior.
But Bolkiah is in a huge family dispute internally with his brother, Prince Jefri, aka “the playboy prince,” which may keep him too busy to get involved in Jackson’s numerous difficulties.
And that brings us back to Kanye, who no doubt will be whipping up samples from obscure R&B songs for Jackson’s single, maybe even cannibalizing Jackson’s own previous records.
West is so good at unearthing nearly forgotten bits and pieces of old records that we can expect to hear Jackson’s “tweedly-deedly dee” from “Rockin’ Robin” or maybe elements of “Goin’ Back to Indiana” cut up and sprinkled like parmesan cheese throughout “Dream.”
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