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Jimmy & Terry track by track reflection of Rhythm Nation on 25th anniversary


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If Janet Jackson's third album, 1986's Control, was a declaration of independence. The follow-up, Rhythm Nation 1814, was a constitution--a blueprint for the kind of country that this confident, sexy and newly independent 23-year old woman wanted to live in. At least it was for roughly a third of its runtime.
 
Released 25 years ago tomorrow, on Sept. 19, 1989, Rhythm Nation 1814begins with a pledge: "We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together through our beliefs." From there, it goes into the title track, a national anthem for this colorblind utopia Janet has imagined. The four digits in the album's title refer to the year "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written, and with the help of James "Jimmy Jam" Harris III and Terry Lewis -- the production team behind Control -- Jackson gives Francis Scott Key's greatest hit a New Jack Swing remake.

 

Rhythm Nation stays political for a few songs and then segues into kinder, gentler relationship songs, many of which dominated radio and MTV. An unprecedented seven of the album's singles made the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, and four of them -- "Miss You Much, "Escapade," "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" and "Black Cat" -- hit No. 1. The album, not surprisingly, topped the Billboard 200, vaulting Janet to a level of pop mega-stardom almost on par with that of her brother Michael Jackson.

 
In honor of the record's silver anniversary, Jam and Lewis led Billboard on a track-by-track trek down Memory Lane, offering their thoughts on the disc's 13 non-interlude songs. The duo produced and wrote or co-wrote all but one, the hard-rock detour "Black Cat," which Janet penned and helmed herself. Read on to see how these Minneapolis legends remember Janet's breakout LP.
 
"Rhythm Nation" 
Jimmy Jam: It needed to be anthemic. That was the whole point. It was the anchor of the album, the title track. I think we really achieved it. It has a great energy. The thing to remember, as I always say with all of Janet's stuff, is that she's such a visual artist. It's really hard to listen to the song and not think of the imagery and all the choreography that go along with it. That's the bonus we get with a record like that. We get to see the performance that goes along with it.

 

"State of the World"

Terry Lewis: At the time, we were trying to make some statements about worldly things. The song was created from conversation. We used to talk about everything before we would even engage in starting a song. We went on talking tirades, just conversational tirades, trying to figure out not only what was going on in the world, but what was going on in Janet's head. I don't think it's overtly political. It's just drawing attention to the things of the time. In the history of music, there's always been a social commentary with most artists that were substantial artists. You can only talk about so much love and clubs. You have to bring some awareness and have a voice in the times that you live in. That happens to be one of those songs.
 
"The Knowledge"
Lewis: We got the song title in London. We were speaking to a cab driver. Over there, every cab driver knows how to get everywhere, because they take a test that's kind of like a map quiz. They know every street every address in London. It's called "The Knowledge." When we heard that title, we wrote it down. When we had discussions about all these different things -- social commentary -- "The Knowledge" just popped up. And with Janet being associated in a lot of different ways with education, it just seemed fitting to use that subject matter and fuse it all together."
 
"Miss You Much"
JJ: That was the first song Janet heard when she walked in the studio. I remember that when she walked in the studio, I pointed at a note on the keyboard and told her to press that note. She pressed it, and that note ended up becoming the high string line in the chorus to the song. It's the record that got us off and running on the project. I love Janet's attitude on records. I think she sings that song with so much attitude.

 

"Love Will Never Do (Without You)"

JJ: At one point, we thought about doing it as a duet with Prince. It never happened, obviously. That's the reason she sings the first verse low and the second verse high. It became a duet with herself. It was a thought. I don't know how serious of a thought. This happens a lot -- you're doing a song, and you go, "You know who would sound good on this? Prince would be kind of cool." It wasn't any big thing, like we wrote it for him or anything. But then we thought, "Oh, it's cool the way it is," so we just left it like that.

 

"Livin' In a World (They Didn't Make)"

Lewis: [We were] just thinking about the turmoil that kids go through to become young adults and then adults. We throw so much mess into the situation for kids a lot of times, as a society, because we act without listening; that makes kids very uneasy about things, and rebellious. They didn't ask to be here, which is something we say all the time. They didn't ask to acquire the circumstances you put them in. We say they're our future, but they're our present, and being a kid is our past. We have to be little more mindful of those things, how we incorporate kids into our society. That song was born out of that concept, because they didn't choose to be here. Our responsibility is to teach them responsibility.
 
"Alright"
Lewis: I love "Alright." I love the swing aspect of it. I love the incorporation of and collaboration with Heavy D [on the remix]. I love the happiness of the song. It's a song that comes on and makes you immediately smile. I love the video for that song. It was one big shot. I think it might have been one or two cuts in the whole video. It was a masterpiece. It's more than friendship in that song; it's just a feeling that song gives: "It's alright. It's OK to be who you are. It's OK to be my friend. It's OK to think what you think. Whatever you're doing is cool with me. I'm not being judgmental.' That song gives you that feeling. Music is all about feeling, even when the lyrics don't say exactly that. But when the words correspond with the feeling, it's especially powerful.

 

"Escapade"

JJ: I love "Escapade." Janet wanted to have a song you'd hear at basketball games -- big-crowd-type places -- and that's how we came up with the really big beat. The whole "Escapade" idea, that's lyrically hers. The track on that song was just a rough track we intended on redoing, and it never happened. Literally, the track on that song is like one track of drums, a bass line played on my left hand and a keyboard line played on my right hand, with really not a lot of overdubs on there.

 

"Black Cat"

JJ: Janet was a tough producer. Man, she had me redoing parts a million times. [laughs] It was her way of getting back at us. We went into the booth at the end to do the [sings] "Black cat…" part, and she had us in there for hours. We're going, "Janet, we don't sing." "No, do that again!" It was a great idea, great guitar riff. Jellybean Johnson, the drummer for the Time, who's also a great guitar player, ended up working with her on that and did a great job. If I recall correctly, the solo on that song was actually done by three people … Janet did a fantastic job. It was fun to play on. Janet would ask me, "What do you think?" And I'd say, "Nope, you're the producer." [laughs] It was cool.

 

"Lonely"

Lewis: It seemed like one of those songs that would be real comforting. Everyone has moments of loneliness, no matter how many people are around you, or how many people think you're wonderful. When you get in your introverted state, your feel like you're alone, but you're never alone, because there's always someone you can reach out to. That's what that song was all about: "Anytime you need me, call me. When you're lonely, I'll be there for you." Nobody should feel like they're alone. That's probably one of the most feared feelings in the world, which causes a lot of hate and a lot of crime and a lot of everything. Everybody on earth has the same basic needs, and the biggest of these is to be loved and appreciated.
 
"Come Back to Me"
JJ: At the time we did it, it was one of my favorite songs. I loved the lyrics and the vocal on it. The interesting thing for me was the live strings. I never heard the strings when we were doing it. We'd kept it simple, and Janet said, "It'd be great to get some strings on this." There was a guy in Minneapolis we used namedLee Blaskey, who was an incredible string guy. He arranged a lot of our string stuff. I said, "Hey, Lee, come up with a string thing for this," and he did. We loved it so much that the end of the song, it basically fades out with just the strings as the last thing you hear.

 

"Someday is Tonight" 

Lewis: New love! New love is always great. I don't think you can have enough of those songs. The feeling of that first commitment to someone is always a special one, whether sexually or emotionally. That song is built on that premise. You'll get to it someday, and that some day is right now! It's very special -- especially for young girls. The fact you can hold off and not be ready -- [Janet] has [sang about] that in previous songs. And then one day, you just grow and make that commitment. It's a beautiful thing.

 

www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6258726/janet-jacksons-rhythm-nation-1814-revisited-by-jimmy-jam-terry

 

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In 1989, as the world was going to hell, Janet Jackson was coming into her own. The pop star's ascent and the planet's downward slide intersected neatly onRhythm Nation 1814, a socially conscious, sonically adventurous, commercially massive album released 25 years ago tomorrow, Sept. 19.

 

Technically, Rhythm Nation is Janet’s fourth album, though her first couple don’t really count. It wasn't until her third, 1986’s chart-topping Control, that the youngest Jackson truly gained creative freedom and stepped out of her family’s shadow, and on the follow-up, she pushed things even further. As with Control, she worked with the songwriting and production team of James "Jimmy Jam" Harris III and Terry Lewis, former members of the Time and architects of the "Minneapolis Sound" popularized by Prince in the late '70s and early '80s.

 

As Jam tells Billboard.com, no one went into Rhythm Nation looking to make a political record. The concept emerged as he, Lewis and Jackson watched CNN during breaks in the recording and found themselves shocked by the homelessness, violence, drug abuse, racism and general craziness plaguing America.

 

 

 

"We felt like we had… not a responsibility to say something, but growing up in the '60s, whether it was the Vietnam War or whatever, it seemed like there was always someone commenting on it," Jam says. "And that was a good thing. Why not use the powers we have as songwriters to bring some of those messages across? Rap music was doing it in a very strong way."

 

Musically, Jam and Lewis were already gravitating toward an edgier sound perfect for the new lyrical content. Clangorous yet syncopated, spliced with rock, hip-hop, and urban sound effects, the music matched the franticness of the modern world. While it derived partially from the New Jack Swing sound pioneered by producer Teddy Riley, Jam and Lewis were essentially updating what they'd always done.

"Growing up in Minneapolis, watching people like Prince, we saw that all ideas are valid, and color lines are blurred," Jam says. "Rock guitar goes over funky beats, and keyboards replace horn sections. It was all of those things put together that became an incubator."

What grew out of the sessions wasn’t quite the straight-up topical album some remember. In addition to reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Rhythm Nationspawned seven Top 10 singles, only one of which, the title track, had any kind of political leaning. The others -- "Escapade," "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" "Miss You Much," "Come Back to Me," "Alright" and "Black Cat" -- were relationship songs that didn’t fit with trio of high-minded "message" tracks that kick off the album. The mix of personal and political, Jam says, was wholly intentional, and the album was sequenced with the heavy stuff up front.

They could have easily called it Escapade, Jam says, and swapped the stark cover shot for a nice color photo. That would have been the safe play, though the execs at A&M Records were fine with the tracklist and monochromatic presentation. In fact, Jam says, they didn’t raise a single objection until Janet needed a boatload of money for the half-hour video for the title track.

"She was asking for a million bucks or whatever," Jam says. "They were like, 'We haven’t heard any music.' The story was that Janet took Gil Friesen, the president at the time, in a Range Rover and drove up the Malibu coast with him and played him three or four songs. I remember she called me three or four hours later and said we got the budget. How could you not give the budget—hearing those songs, riding in a Range Rover with Janet Jackson on the PCH in Malibu?"

Whether blasting out of a Range Rover sound system or streaming through computer speakers, Rhythm Nation 1814 holds up a quarter-century later. Read on to see what else Jam has to say about the album’s genesis and legacy.

Professionally, where was Janet  Jackson at this point in her career?

She obviously had a lot of success on the Control album. There was pressure to follow that up, and an anticipation of what the next project would be... The thing that made it good for us was it had been three years since Control. We had no desire to try to follow up Control as much as make a new album. The difference was that when we did Control, we did it in Minneapolis, it took six weeks and nobody was paying attention. When we were doing this record, it took six months, we did it in Minneapolis and everybody was trying to hear something and give ideas. All of a sudden, everyone was interested. This album was much more under the microscope.

Where was she emotionally?

She was in a great place emotionally. She had begun dating Rene Elizondo, who ended up being her husband. Rene was a really good influence on her. She had done the things she talked about on Control. She had moved out on her own. She was making her own way. She was obviously making her own living. She was in a very creatively fruitful place. She had just discovered her writing chops. The mistake I always saw on her first two albums -- or maybe not a mistake -- was she just went into the studio and sang. She had no input into her records at all. A lot of it was probably her dad saying, "You should sing. You have a good voice. You should sing." Rather than her saying, "I really want to sing." The Control record, to me, was her saying, "I really want to sing, and I really want to be an artist." Coming into Rhythm Nation, she's hungry. She's excited, and creative juices are flowing. She can't wait to do this record. Everything had built up to this moment.

Is it true the label wanted her to make a record called Scandal, all about her family?

Honestly, I've heard that story, but no one I can recall came to me and said, "We should do a record called Scandal." I remember people coming to me and saying we should do a record called Control II. Everyone had ideas. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and have ideas after something is successful. At the end of the day, the creative team was simple. It was me, Janet, Terry and [executive producer] John McClain -- and Rene Elizondo also. Let me include him on the creative mix. If the ideas weren't flowing from that group of people, they weren't really being listened to.

Instead of talking about her family, she commented on issues of the day. The hard-hitting music seems to match the subject matter. What came first?

The very first track we did was "Miss You Much." That was kind of a hard-hitting song, only because I was using a different drum machine. Basically, everything sonically we had done on the Control record, I got rid of everything there, except for maybe one keyboard, called the Mirage. That's the only keyboard I used in common, because I wanted it to be fresh and have a new sound. But "Miss You Much," although the drums are different, it's kind of the same sound we used on [1986’s] "Nasty." I thought it was important there was something that was sonically familiar.

The hard-hitting part -- we were going in that direction anyway, sonically. What really changed with the "Rhythm Nation" part was we then had a purpose. It was more directed. And it became more industrial-sounding. Trashcan lids, glass breaking, feet stomping -- anything that felt like an army of people, that was sonically what we started going for once the lyrical concept started going in that direction.

How did the concept develop?

It really happened because we watched so much TV. There wasn’t Direct TV. It wasn’t 500 channels. There were maybe 20 channels that mattered. You had CNN. You had MTV, BET and VH1. And then you had ESPN. So that was it. That was what you watched. We ended up watching MTV all the time; then we'd switch it to CNN. Then we'd switch it to BET. You couldn’t help but somehow be impacted by the things that were going on. It was a crazy time. The Reagan years were ending. There were school shootings. There were all these unbelievable things starting to happen. We’re all sitting around watching this going, "Man, that’s messed up. Somebody needs to do something about this."

What was it like recording in Minneapolis?

It was comfortable for her. There was no outside interference. There was no, "You need to make it more commercial." It was us in our little vacuum, in the middle of the wintertime. All of that really contributed to what we came up with. The theme of Rhythm Nation came from literally watching CNN and reacting to what we were seeing.

And yet it's not all politics and heavy stuff. The second half of the record is mostly love songs.

That was the great thing about sequencing the album. One of the things I miss about the idea of albums is we were able to sequence the album so "Rhythm Nation" comes first, straight into "State of the World," straight into "The Knowledge." After "The Knowledge," she says, "Get the point? Good -- let’s dance!" It's not all doom and gloom. I thought that was pretty brilliant [of her] to do that.

Did you notice a change in Janet's personality, or had she always been aware of these bigger issues?

It's both of those things. She'd always been aware of the world around her, but she then felt empowered to actually talk about it and embrace it in her music. That was the difference. It had a lot to do with her growing confidence as a songwriter, and obviously her confidence in us as producers. Between Control and Rhythm Nation, we'd expanded our studio to a 48-track studio from a 24-track. Technically, we'd gotten better at what we did as producers and writers. Coming back toRhythm Nation, I felt like we were all firing on all cylinders. We were hungry. We felt like sonically, we had a lot of new things to say.

 

The video component was key. It seemed like she was catching up toMichael Jackson in a way.

She grew up very similarly, loving musicals. She'd always talk about Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and the Nicholas Brothers. Interestingly enough, Cyd Charisse and the Nicholas Brothers, she put them in "Alright," one of the videos. She was able to pay homage to all these people she'd grown up listening to and admiring. But Janet always thought outside the box … She always had conceptual ideas of visuals in her head and what dances should look like. All those things were always running through her head. That was from her love of musicals growing up, much as Michael had. But this was her chance to do it. Not so much doing what Michael did, but doing her version of what she saw growing up, using those images to bring the songs across.

 

A lot of people talk about Rhythm Nation influencing much of the R&B music that followed in the '90s. Do you think it was a game-changer?

Yeah, [it influenced] a lot of music I heard, particularly coming out of Sweden, quite honestly. It's funny -- we're actually working with Robyn on her new album. Robyn talks all the time about the influence Janet Jackson records had on everybody there, sonically and style-wise. A lot of the music coming from Europe definitely embraced a lot of that sound and the sonic textures.

The album is sometimes labeled New Jack Swing, but it transcends that, bringing in elements of the Minneapolis Sound and everything you guys had done before.

We're influenced by everything we hear. We really liked the records Teddy Riley was making at that time. They were fantastic. New Jack Swing -- I always felt like "Nasty" was part of that. It has that feel. "Nasty" actually predates a lot of that New Jack Swing stuff. It’s just that we didn’t make 10 records that sounded like that. We made one record that sounded like that and then we moved on.

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Miss Jackson If You’re Nasty: What Are Janet Jackson’s Most Sexually Empowering Albums?

 

Janet Jackson began her solo musical career more than 30 years ago as the fresh-faced baby sister of her famous older brothers. But starting with 1986′s Control and reaching full flight with 1989′s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, Janet matured into an artist equal to any elder Jackson and a grown women in full command of her status as a budding sex symbol.

 

While her early albums flirted with girlish sensuality, she would eventually exude a confident sexuality, overt at times, but never at the price of her independence. Her breathy vocals and hot body inspired women and made men fall in love. Even at her most lascivious, exploring BDSM on The Velvet Rope album, she was always in sole possession of her desires. If she was to be objectified, it would be on her terms.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, we asked ourselves which of her albums best illustrate her empowering sexual character and where they rank in her discography. Hop into the gallery above to find out how Jackson’s prowess came through and matured on her best LPs.

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10. Janet Jackson
Even with notable TV roles in the `70s and `80s, Janet Jackson was still overshadowed by her family when releasing her debut album in 1982. The self-titled album was overseen by Jackson’s dad, Joseph. Though there were songs about relationships, including the modest hit “Young Love,” a teenage Jackson came nowhere near any sexual themes.
 
9. Dream Street
Jackson’s father also helmed her second album, Dream Street. The 1984 LP was heavy on keyboard synthesizers, but not on sex appeal. The singer’s love songs felt inauthentic and the album never made it higher than 147 on the Billboard 200.
 
8. Control
After two lackluster albums under her father’s direction, Jackson stepped out of her family’s shadow in 1985. She dropped her dad from her business dealings and teamed up with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, associates of Prince. Control, Jackson’s breakthrough album, showed the singer could command her own path. Lyrics described her empowering tone in relationships, but she steered clear of being sexually provocative on the 1986 LP. One of its most popular tracks, “Let’s Wait Awhile,” was seen as an abstinence anthem.
 
7. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814
In 1989, Jackson released the album that made her a superstar. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 largely tackled social issues, but also included danceable pop hits. In videos for many of the singles, Jackson bared little skin, donning fitted black outfits. However, the album’s final track, “Someday Is Tonight,” hinted the singer was ready to turn up her sexuality. Jackson simulated orgasms for the last 20 seconds of the six-minute track. By 1991, when “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” was released, Jackson was showing her hourglass figure and midriff on the beach. Were they signs of things to come?
 
6. Discipline
Jackson’s 2008 studio album, Discipline, featured a futuristic theme and electronic beats. Even with a new sound, the singer’s sensual allure felt dated. Songs like the title track and “Curtains” saw Jackson trot out themes of bondage and voyeurism, which she’d done previously. Part of her appeal was about reinventing her sexiness with each album, but she didn’t make it happen here.
 
5. 20 Y.O.
Marking 20 years since her breakthrough, Control, Jackson released 20 Y.O. in 2006. Paying homage to her early career kept sexiness to a minimum, but she slid some quivering tracks onto the album. “Take Care” ends with Jackson pleasuring herself while waiting for her lover, while “This Body” dropped metaphors when describing men who love seeing her on magazine covers. “Do It 2 Me” sees the singer overtaken with lust, demanding that her lover meet her needs.
 
4. Damita Jo
Damita Jo was released after Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl set. The performance, where her breast was accidentally exposed by Justin Timberlake on national television, caused a corporate backlash against Jackson. Damita Jo was a formidable pop album, but was marginalized in the wake of the Super Bowl controversy. Jackson had an edgier sound, borrowing heavily from hip-hop. Her new sound added extra flavor to sexual tracks like “Strawberry Bounce.”
 
 
3. janet.
Jackson was music’s highest-paid female artist when she released janet. in 1993. Her producers left behind the Minneapolis sound that defined her two previous LPs. The singer also brought her sexuality to the forefront. Two singles, rock-inspired “If” and the sultry “Any Time, Any Place,” described different facets of Jackson’s appetites. Their videos were equally titillating. The clip for “If” depicted nightclub patrons’ sexual fantasies, while Jackson coyly summoned a hot neighbor for sex in the video for “Any Time, Any Place.” Rolling Stone also featured an iconic topless photo of Jackson on its cover, the full image of her album’s art.
 
 
2. All For You
Singles from Jackson’s 2001 album, All For You, signalled a return to the singer’s radio-friendly love songs. However, the initial LP’s release featured a few risqué tracks, prompting Jackson to release a clean version. Many songs had lyrics altered for the clean LP, but one song was completely dropped. “Would You Mind” saw the singer begging to perform oral sex, among other favors, and was too controversial for younger fans. The album's original version was also banned in some countries for explicit content. Even with the mild backlash, Jackson stated she wasn't ashamed for her provocative album.
 
 
1. The Velvet Rope
After suffering a breakdown, Jackson explored emotional darkness in 1997’s The Velvet Rope. She also touched on sexual discovery, including songs about bondage and bisexuality. “Rope Burn” described the singer’s penchant for being tied up and blindfolded during sex. In her cover of Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night,” she didn’t change genders for the object of affection in the lyrics, perhaps singing to another woman. In interviews, she admitted to being bi-curious, but said she hadn’t been with a woman. Jackson also sported nipple rings during the album’s marketing campaign, proving she’d unabashedly taken her sexuality to its boundaries.
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