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LyricalLesson posted a topic in All About JanetHow Janet Jackson took control again with Jam and Lewis http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/kot/ct-jimmy-jam-terry-lewis-ott-1030-20151026-column.html Producers Jimmy Jam, left, and Terry Lewis collaborated with Janet Jackson on her new album "Unbreakable.” (Christopher Voelker)Greg KotContact ReporterJimmy Jam details how the Jam-Lewis partnership with Janet Jackson was rekindled. Jimmy Jam knows Janet Jackson well enough to know what works. Their first few albums, including "Control" (1986) and "Rhythm Nation" (1989), were basically three-person operations: Jackson, Jam and coproducer Terry Lewis working without interference or input from anybody else. When talk turned to Jam and Lewis rejoining Jackson in the studio for what would become her latest studio album, "Unbreakable" (Rhythm Nation/BMG), the producers stipulated one condition. "We insisted that had to be that process again — just us, no record company, no A&R or anything like that," Jam says. "Let us make the record we want to make. It felt like 'Control' again. It was a rediscovering of that, except her voice has matured and our chops in the studio have gotten better." It's no coincidence that "Unbreakable" is Jackson's best and most focused work since the '90s, back when she was regularly working with the Minneapolis duo, and debuted at No. 1 on the pop album chart. For most of the last decade, Jackson worked with different collaborators and bottomed out in 2008 with her previous studio album, "Discipline," recorded with a bevy of contemporary hitmakers. Only months after releasing the album, it drifted off the charts and Jackson parted ways with her record label. Then Jackson's personal life got complicated. Her brother Michael Jackson died in 2009, then she broke off a romantic relationship with producer Jermaine Dupri, scrapped an album she was working on with Rodney Jerkins, and married a Qatari businessman, Wissam Al Mana. Two years ago, the singer reconnected with Jam and Lewis. In an interview, Jam described how that relationship was rekindled. Here are few excerpts from that conversation: Q: How did you and Terry get back to producing Janet Jackson albums after so many years apart? Janet Jackson announces Chicago showsA: A couple years ago we had a catch-up lunch. We talked about family, life, not music. But she said that time will come. Later, her manager called and said, "Let's get you guys together and see what happens. If a record happens, great, if it's just a bunch of dinners and hanging out, it's fine too." We started trading ideas long distance or through email about a year ago. We decided to meet in New York, sit in a room together and see what we came up with. We got three, four ideas that we thought were kinda cool. We're not talking about what the album should be yet, but confirming our desire to work together. We give Janet a comfort zone to try things, where there really are no bad ideas, just ideas that won't get used. You can't undo the 30 years we've been working together, and she had things she wanted to say. On the albums from "Control" (1986) to "All for You" (2001), they were done in a vacuum with us. The first three were done in Minneapolis, where we were left alone, we picked singles, sequenced the album, and there was no input from anyone else. That was the combination that made good records. More recently, there were a couple (Jackson) records that weren't like that because there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and those records weren't as successful as ones that came before. They didn't have the continuity that the first five albums we did with her had. We all wanted to get back to that. Janet Jackson to release 1st album in 7 yearsQ: What took so long to get back together? A: A lot of it was just life taking its natural turns. I've always been a big believer you make records when you have something to say, and going back, we never made a Janet record where she didn't have anything to say. … Later on there was an album where she said to Terry, "You do the lyrics, I don't have any ideas," and I said to management that this is a total red flag to me. But so much happened after "Discipline" came out — her brother passing, that's a life changer, and she also fell in love and got married and moved to the other side of world to live. All that went into this record. Q: It's extremely rare in pop and R&B these days to see just one set of producers working on an entire album with an artist, instead of a bunch of producers all vying to create singles. How were you guys able to cut against the grain? A: It's timing and opportunity. When we did "Control," she had already done two albums before with multiple producers. With "Control," we got an opportunity to make a whole album with her, without scrutiny, because no one was saying, "I can't wait for the new Janet record." So we were left alone. There's a little of that vibe here. The aim is to make a complete album. You don't have to make singles, you just make songs, and arrange them in an order that tells a story or a feeling, a continuity. And out of that there will be certain songs that will raise their hands: "I wanna go first!" It's a whole different mindset. … It's fun to do a project where you come in to work on one track. But there's nothing like getting into a project for the duration. I always felt our best work with Janet or someone like New Edition or Alexander O'Neal was when it was all of us working on the whole album together. Q: What songs set the tone for this record? A: The first song we recorded was "After You Fall," one of the most intimate and strongest vocals on the record. It happened organically. I had this idea, played it for Terry, and sent it to her. She called right back, "Oh my God, what is this?" I said I think it should be called "After You Fall," but I don't know what it's about. She sent it back the next day with the lyrics totally done. … Once she sang it, we played it back, and she never gives herself credit, but for this one she goes, "I don't mind that." That was our starting point. Q: This is a warmer-sounding, more intimate album for her in contrast to some of the more contemporary dance-oriented stuff she was dabbling in on the last few albums. Was that by design? A: The idea of the record sounding warm, that was just the way we were all feeling. There are some dance tracks, because she loves to dance, but it's also important to pay attention to lyrics. It's the strongest album she's done lyrically because she's writing from a standpoint of maturity and perspective that she didn't have before. "Broken Hearts Heal" is about her brother, which is the first time she opened up about that. And "The Great Forever," a lot of (oppressed) communities have already embraced that as their anthem. Q: The previous album, "Discipline," sounded desperate to keep up with pop trends. This one sounds like it was made without that sort of agenda. How much do you pay attention to what's trending in pop? A: There was really no concern about what is going on today. It wasn't about reintroducing her, because her fans are there. We wanted to make a record for those fans who have been there. What would they like that next album to sound like? We were aware of what's out there, and we always play records we love before we start recording. She loves Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil and artists like that — we listened to a ton of that. We love Basement Jaxx, then Azealia Banks, Big Sean, and I went to Coachella because I wanted to see FKA Twigs. We want to soak everything up, and then shut it down and make our own album. If it sounded like it was forced, or we're chasing something, that's not what we're trying to do. We did isolate ourselves. Our partners in BMG did not know what the album would sound like till we finished. She's an indie artist with her own label, which is cool, because it allows her to make an album without pressure or expectations of sales. That was refreshing. Q: How tough was it to record the song about her brother, "Broken Hearts Heal"? A: It was more a celebration of his life. It's a short song with few words, and the rest is feel, like you're leaving room for everyone to have their own memory of Mike. When we worked with Michael and Janet on (the 1995 single) "Scream," as soon as the music came on, Michael started dancing, stomping his feet, snapping his fingers, jangling his jewelry. He was off mic when he sang. He broke every studio rule. Janet, on the other hand, is very disciplined in the studio. You never have to change mic position because she walks in and nails it every time. But on the second verse of that song, she started snapping her fingers while she was singing and she would say, "Oh, man, I know you don't want that in there." But it fits. It's cool. That's exactly how your brother records. It was almost like his spirit had gotten in her. Q: Do you feel her career was unfairly tainted by the "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl in 2004 or has that been overblown? A: If anything the unfairness of it has been underblown. The attention to it was overblown. To me, it's about an African-American female being swept under the rug, and that's the travesty. We, I say that collectively, have no desire to bring it back up again. It's a blip on a 40-year career. … You see a woman's body part for two seconds and it becomes this major issue? It's sexist, it's racist. … If you live long enough, eventually you get measured by the deeds you do throughout your life. I think it's wonderful that Janet has persevered. "Come a long way, got a long way to go," as she says in the song "Well Traveled." You never stop learning, growing, that's the thing she always did. Even in the firestorm after the Super Bowl, she got better at her craft, she became a better singer, songwriter, dancer. That's the culmination of what you see on "Unbreakable."