Prince vs. Michael Jackson
Prince emerged onto the music scene with For You in 1978, one year before Jackson came into his own as a solo artist with Off the Wall, and for the next decade their musical paths would run on parallel tracks – never to intersect. The battle began when MJ upstaged 1999, Prince's bestseller to date, with the industry-defining mega-smash Thriller in December 1982. Prince countered with Purple Rain, a triumph of sales and substance that caught even Jackson's attention. When the Purple One came through Los Angeles with his Purple Rain tour, Jackson reportedly attended multiple nights, studying his competition.
Even friendly games could turn heated. When both men shared a studio, the competition bubbled over onto the Ping-Pong table. Prince ultimately emerged victorious when Jackson fumbled his paddle trying to ward off a spiked ball. "Did you see that?" Prince supposedly crowed as Jackson slunk away. "He played like Helen Keller!" Longtime Revolution drummer Bobby Z maintained that the athletic challenges continued for quite some time. "They'd shoot hoops at Paisley Park," he recalled in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Prince had a deep-seated competitive nature, so it's easy to see where he would measure himself against Jackson's success."
Accustomed to his regal role in the pop pecking order, Jackson was reportedly miffed with Prince declined to participate in his all-star charity recording "We Are the World" in 1985. Prince also turned down the chance to duet with Jackson on the title track to 1987's Bad, the follow-up to Thriller, and even to appear alongside him in the song's video. "That Wesley Snipes character? That would have been me," Prince admitted in a 1997 interview with Chris Rock on MTV.
Mutual friend Will.i.am attempted to broker peace in 2006 when he invited Jackson to watch him perform with Prince in Las Vegas. Things were going great until Prince decided to venture into the audience and play an aggressive slap-bass solo right in Jackson's face. The hostile low end did not go over well, and Jackson made a point of mentioning it to Will.i.am the next morning. "I go to his house for breakfast, knock on the door, first words he says: 'Why was Prince playing the bass in my face? Prince, he's always been a meanie.'"