In 1987, Terrence Trent D’Arby burst onto the music scene armed with an androgynous style and romantic songs forged in Pop/Rock flames.
In 2017, years after his time atop Pop came to an end, he has given an interview which he hopes will offer insight into the jealousy, plotting and politics he believes cut his reign short.
Now known as Samada Maitreya, the performer spoke to ‘The Guardian’ about his new project and the journey that inspired it. At the heart said journey? The possibility that he was sabotaged by Michael Jackson.
He imagines his rapid rise, and vertiginous descent, as a matrix of conspiracy theory and quasi-mythology (his latest album – a triple – is titled Prometheus & Pandora). After the relative failure of his second album, 1989’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh, D’Arby was effectively and unceremoniously “tossed off the mountain”. More expansive (and less tuneful) than his debut, critics viewed it as simple artistic overreach, while the public largely concurred: it shifted a fraction of the sales of its predecessor.
As Maitreya understands it, there just wasn’t enough room for another black superstar operating in the realm of poppy, soulful R&B, especially one as resistant to racial narrowcasting as he was and is (the vest he is wearing today pointedly bears the legend “Rock Star”). It was, he says, a “limited plinth”, and either he, Prince or Michael Jackson had to vacate.
“Me and Master Michael [Jackson] had to play out the Apollo/Mercury scenario: him being the entrenched god, me being the upstart who basically got sacked as a service to Apollo,” he says. Part of “a continuum of artists who carried the baton for as long as they could before they were killed, physically or psychologically”, he was, he says, “crucified”.
Why he feels this was the case?
I happen to know there were a couple of people in very, very high places in the establishment who, like Zeus, were kind of amused at my little routine.And it was working. Everybody was cashing in and happy. But behind my back, more and more A-list stars were complaining about the attention I was getting. The other gods on Olympus were sending their managers to ask: ‘What’s going on?’ The establishment had to do something about it because it couldn’t have all the gods angry.
Asked whether he truly believes he was manoeuvred out of the music business at the behest of several internationally famous musicians (or, at least, their record company: he, Jackson and, for that matter, George Michael were all on CBS), he replies: “I was a political sacrifice. This isn’t my theory. I’m telling you.”
I didn’t make this album to be back in the fray. I still have Madonna’s number. I can still call her and go: ‘What’s up, bitch? What’s going on?’” As his emails attest, “bitch” is a catchall for associates, male and female. Not that he’s overly preoccupied with what people think these days. When I ask whether he thinks his new music is, lyrically, too esoteric for mass consumption, he answers, “Maybe it’s not meant for mass consumption.”
D’Arby isn’t the first (nor will he be the last) musician to suggest that their career was sabotaged by a more established but potentially insecure peer.
So, let us know…