Producers constructed new music around the King of Pop's preserved vocals.

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Even five years after his death, there is no escaping Michael Jackson. The latest evidence, Xscape, arrives May 13 with eight "contemporized" castoffs the pop superstar recorded from 1983 to 1999.

The project, completed at warp speed compared with the glacial pace Jackson kept during his career, was hatched in September when Epic Records chief Antonio "L.A." Reid met with Jackson estate co-executor John Branca.

FIRST LISTEN: 'Xscape' captures Jackson's enduring strengths

Reid, who was eager to take on a meaty challenge after two seasons on The X Factor, proposed a vault search for material that could be modernized without violating Jackson's artistic identity. He didn't want scraps.

"My guiding principle was simple," says Reid, who curated the project. "If Michael sang a song from top to bottom, it was an indication that he loved it. If he sang it multiple times, that was a strong indication that he wanted the world to hear it."

The estate combed Jackson's archives and found 24 suitable tracks. Reid settled on 20, then pared that to 14. Most were reworked, but only eight made the cut.

Reid wasn't convinced of Xscape's viability until he heard Love Never Felt So Good, a piano-driven tune written and recorded by Jackson and Paul Anka in 1983. "That was the seed that gave birth to this project," he says.

That update, produced by estate co-executor John McClain, was released last week with a companion version featuring Justin Timberlake. (The duet and Jackson's original recordings appear only on Xscape's deluxe edition.)

Reid initially approached Timbaland, "my favorite producer on Earth, period," who chose five songs to reconstruct, including Slave to the Rhythm, the tune Reid and Babyface wrote for Jackson during the Dangerous sessions in 1991.

"We were so intimidated," Reid recalls. "We were on a crazy roll making so many hits, but we couldn't nail it for Michael. We tried too hard. Michael came by the studio and heard Slave to the Rhythm, just the drums and bass, and he loved it. He sang it 24 times top to bottom, without a break. It was a beautiful moment."

Rodney Jerkins signed on to overhaul the title track 15 years after he played a demo for Jackson over the phone. They worked on the song for nearly three years. Stargate, a Norwegian duo Jackson admired, produced A Place With No Name, a reimagining of America's A Horse With No Name.

Reid's sole dictate: Leave Jackson's vocals intact. "I wanted Michael's voice pure and raw, not cut into bits and pieces."

Announced in March, Xscape initially met with cynicism, then rising enthusiasm as early listeners spread news of the album's virtues.

"Michael would be proud," says Reid, who overcame his own misgivings by tapping into his musical GPS and Timbaland's instincts. "I wanted to be really respectful of Michael's legacy. Going into it, I had to get my arms around not being able to measure up to Thriller or Off the Wall. No matter how good we make this music, Michael's not here."

Jackson has sold 12.8 million albums since he died in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but two-thirds were sold by the end of that year, and momentum has flagged since. Xscape's buzz points to a possible uptick.

Regardless of its reception, Reid won't be making an encore.

"I'm done," he says.

It's unlikely that Jackson has taken his last bow.

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