In a series of joint articles published by Reuters and Billboard, Janet’s new album and upcoming tour are talked about. In the first in the series, Jimmy Jam and Jermaine Dupri speak about their efforts on Janet’s new album 20 Y.O.
Janet Jackson pays tribute to breakthrough disc
By Janine Coveney
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) – Don’t call it a comeback. Janet Jackson conceived her new Virgin Records release, “20 Y.O.” (due September 26), as a celebration of the joyful liberation and history-making musical style of her 1986 breakthrough album, “Control.” That album has shipped more than five million copies in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. (Her most recent album, 2004’s “Damita Jo,” shipped a million copies, according to the trade group.)
Jackson’s musical declaration of independence launched a string of hits, an indelible production sound and an enduring image cemented by groundbreaking video choreography and imagery that pop vocalists still emulate.
On “20 Y.O.,” Jackson reunited with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and was joined by Jermaine Dupri to craft a musical reflection of who she is today and how the artistic promise of “Control” has been fulfilled some two decades later.
Creating a project with such lofty goals was a relatively smooth process, Jam and Dupri say. Conversations that began before Christmas 2005 between Jackson and the producers narrowed down the theme early, and songwriting and recording began in earnest in February.
The discussion turned to how Jackson was feeling at the time “Control” was recorded (when, incidentally, Dupri was just 13).
“I started asking questions like, ‘What was the feeling of life when you were 20?’ I was so intrigued with what was going on in her life then that I just thought her album should be called that,” Dupri says.
Jam adds, “It made sense as a concept because, obviously, the 20 years since the ‘Control’ album, but it also means — for her — a sense of rejuvenation. A sense of that excitement that you have when you are 20 years old, when your life is beginning and you’re striking out on your own. She has that same sense of hunger and excitement.”
For Jackson, recruiting Jam & Lewis was a no-brainer. Working creatively with her boyfriend Dupri, who is not only a distinct hitmaker in his own right but also president of Virgin’s urban music division, was more of a risk. Although they have been together for five years, during which time Dupri crafted Mariah Carey’s comeback project “The Emancipation of Mimi,” the couple had never collaborated professionally.
“I didn’t know how we would jell, if we were gonna get in an argument,” notes Dupri, who admits that he can be a bit ruthless in the studio. “I didn’t even want to walk down that path with her, because we’re such good friends. I never wanted this business part to get between us.”
Rather than contribute separate tracks for “20 Y.O.,” Dupri and the Jam & Lewis team decided to collaborate. The process could have caused ego and procedural conflicts. But Jam & Lewis give high marks to Dupri, who Jam says knows more about the Jam & Lewis style than the Minneapolis-bred moguls themselves.
“The great thing about working with Jermaine, he came in with total respect for us, we had total respect for him,” Jam says. “The fact is that we were fans of each other and for Janet.”
The entire team of Jackson, Jam, Lewis and Dupri created the tracks, with occasional contributions from songwriter Johnta Austin. The project was recorded chiefly at Jam & Lewis’ Flyte Tyme Studios in Los Angeles and Dupri’s Southside Studio complex in Atlanta, with some sections undertaken at Village Recorder in L.A. and the Hit Factory in Miami.
All the parties note that Jackson is an extremely focussed in the studio. “She’s one of those you literally have to kick out the studio. She’ll never tell you her voice is getting tired, she’ll just work and work,” says Jam.
The first single, “Call on Me,” pairs Jackson with St. Louis rapper Nelly, with a video directed by Hype Williams. Dupri notes that other than her 1998 outing singing hooks on Busta Rhymes’ “What’s It Gonna Be,” Jackson had not worked with any contemporary hip-hop artists.
“If Janet had just come out, people wouldn’t be asking that question. Of course she don’t need Nelly, but in today’s market, half the kids watching (BET music show) ‘106th & Park’ don’t even know what ‘Control’ sounds like.”
While “20 Y.O.” celebrates “Control,” the album does not reference songs from that project. Instead, there are subtle cues that hark back to the 1986 smash. “There are little pieces of ear candy in almost all of the songs that references something over the past 20 years, but you really have to be a fan or someone who had listened to a lot of her music to recognise it,” Jam says.
Jam & Lewis also left behind one of their signatures: building new songs from the rhythm beds of classics, as they did using Sly Stone’s “Thankyoufalettinmebemicelfagin” for “Rhythm Nation” and Change’s “Glow of Love” for “All for You.”
Lyrically Jackson examines her life today, with upbeat grooves, sexy ballads and a positive outlook.
“It’s a lyrically confident album,” Jam notes. “She talks about a whole lot of different subjects, but it’s not anything heavy. It’s not (1989 album) ‘Rhythm Nation,’ it’s not (1997’s) ‘Velvet Rope,’ there’s no pain, no bitterness, no suffering. It’s more confident woman lyrics.”
Other tracks from the set include “Show Me,” which Jam calls a “happy record”; “With You,” which Dupri calls a bona fide smash; “So Excited”; a sexy fantasy called “My Body”; and “Get It Out Me.”
Key to the project is reconnecting Jackson with her urban base without losing the strong core of pop and dance fans she has built during the last two decades.
“Times have changed from when (elder brother) Michael (Jackson) and Janet were out in the ’80s,” Dupri notes, pointing to the fact that urban artists no longer have to cross over to pop before achieving maximum exposure and sales. “Janet shouldn’t be changing or trying to change to get on pop radio.”