Michael Jackson and Prince had one of the most epic rivalries in pop music history. When MJ moonwalked his way to instant legend status with the mega-sellingThriller, Prince answered back with 1984's multi-platinum Purple Rain soundtrack and the Oscar-winning movie. And that was just the beginning.
Beyond just who was the more historically important hitmaker, we've also reckoned with such enduring questions as, "zipper-accented red leather jacket or ruffled purple blouse?" Do we prefer our chosen musical icon skewered via Eddie Murphy stand-up set, or Charlie Murphy Chappelle Show skit? It all depended on whether you backed Team Michael or Team Prince.
But despite rich documentation of their beef, including this detailed Vibeoral history, there are still some delightful surprises to be found. The new book, MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson , includes one particularly amazing example of the rivalry coming to a head in 2006, when Prince menaced the King of Pop by playing "aggressive slap bass" in his face at a Las Vegas concert.
This winning anecdote is brought to us courtesy of an Esquire interview with the author, Rolling Stone contributing editor Steve Knopper, who recalls how Black Eyed Peas ringleader and Jackson collaborator will.i.am got caught in the middle of a bizarre showdown between the two arch-rivals.
"Nobody really quite knows the full extent of their rivalry, and I think both of those guys had an interest in keeping it somewhat mysterious because they are both mysterious dudes," Knopper tells writer Dan Hyman.
"But when Prince was doing his Vegas residency around late 2006, Michael was living in Vegas. Will was a guest artist at the Prince residency, but he was also friends with Michael. So Will arranged it for Michael to be a guest in the audience at Prince's show. No one knew it really, but Prince knew it.
"There was a point during the show where Prince was playing bass and he came out into the audience with this giant bass—he knew where Michael was sitting—and he walked right up to Michael and started playing bass in Michael's face. Like aggressive slap bass."
"The next morning, Will went over to Michael's house for breakfast, and they're talking about Prince and the show. And then Michael goes, 'Will, why do you think Prince was playing bass in my face?'
"Michael was outraged. And then started going on. 'Prince has always been a meanie. He's just a big meanie. He's always been not nice to me. Everybody says Prince is this great legendary Renaissance man and I'm just a song-and-dance man, but I wrote "Billie Jean" and I wrote "We Are the World" and I'm a songwriter too.'"
"All this disrespect for Prince came out from Michael that morning. One day, I hope Prince sits down and tells the truth about everything between him and Michael. Before I die, I want to know what the full deal was between the two of them."