09 Aug Remember the Time: MJ, Egypt and Black Power
Featured on his 1991 album Dangerous, “Remember the Time” ushered in a sonic shift by MJ into the New-Jack Swing sound made famous by super producer Teddy Riley. It was a hit out the gate and played at just about every party I went to after its release. It cranked everywhere and we all waited with baited breath for the video. If wall slides had been in back then, you would have found me in a corner passed out after watching the video for the first time.
In addition to the star-studded line up, the video was set in Ancient Egypt, an era that to this day, is often pulled out of the continent of Africa, in order to lighten the population to a more “acceptable” hue. For years Hollywood has tried this repeatedly with its insistence of epic films that feature kohl-faced white actors as notable Egyptian rulers and gods.
With supermodel Iman wearing the hell out of the Nerferti-style crown, Eddie Murphy as a commanding and fit Pharaoh Ramses, and Magic Johnson as the court herald, I remember thinking, “Yeah, that looks about right.” It was not unbelieveable, or unfathomable, but more likely and closer to reality. At the time, I wasn’t as hip to the history, as I am now, but the look of the video and the fact of the Blackness throughout was not lost on me or my roommates as we scoured MTV and BET to catch the video as it played numerous times a day.
I suppose if you buy into the notion of white Egyptians, it was easy given the habit of privilege, to see this video as nothing more than MJ hanging with famous friends. But, for the rest of us, those of us who have been code reading and code switching over centuries, we knew exactly what MJ was up to and we LOVED every minute of it. Royal people that were matter-of -factly Black was a reflection of MJ’s understanding of how deep Black rivers run. Tying such imagery to a hit song that also featured the grand master himself, all but guaranteed that millions would see his version of the truth. MJ knew his power. Seriously, who wasn’t going to air this video? Even now, when I look at the video, I am just as excited as I was then. A sign, no doubt, of the soul space that MJ continues to occupy even five years after his death.