In anticipation of the slayage set to commence tonight, The Legends Panel asked YOU, the fans to tell us what your favorite Janet albums were. Like the true Rhythm Nation that you are, an overwhelming 500 votes were counted! The Janfam voted, stanned, and threw a little shade along the way, and so without further adieu, let's dive right on in!
10. “Janet Jackson” (1982), A&M Records (2.1%)
A surprising amount the general public are under the impression that Janet’s first record was “Control”, and while it may have been the first album that truly displays the full scope of Janet’s many talents, it definitely wasn’t the first in her catalog. For those who are unaware, Janet’s signage to her first label A&M Records, along with her first two albums were done at the behest of Papa Joe in an effort to forge a successful entertainment career out of a 16 year old Janet.
Po’ thing just wanted to go to college and pay her college tuition through acting. So at any rate, it shouldn’t shock anyone that Janet didn’t put her all into the project. Musically, the production quality and lyrics in general serve some very generic 80’s soul teas. Despite all of this, “JJ” has some true bops on there.
As corny as it sounds, whenever I listen to “Say You Do”, which is the first track on the album, I always acknowledge during that minute and a half opening instrumental of this song, is the gateway is the slay that is Janet Jackson. Ya’ll may skip over this part of the song, because it is long as shit, but I always take that time to really ponder if Janet and the gang really knew the greatness that was come.
Critically, the album received subpar reviews, with critics at the very least acknowledging Janet’s potential, but throwing shade at her vocals (bitches tried it). Commercially, Janet eeked out 300,000 sales worldwide, which would be respectable by today’s standards, but at the time of cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and vinyls the album was considered a total flop. In my personal opinion, while “JJ” as a whole wasn’t her best by far, it showed that little Baby Damita Jo had potential.
9. “Discipline”, (2008), Island Records, (2.3%)
In late 2007, it was revealed that Janet had signed with Island Records after then-boyfriend Jermaine Dupri had been appointed the label’s President of Urban Music. Janet’s signage with Island led to her collaboration with the devil L.A. Reid, who at the time, headed up Island Def Jam and then took it upon himself to oversee the production and marketing of the album.
“Discipline” featured executive production from Dupri, along with contributions from The Dream, Ne-Yo, Johnta Austin, and Darkchild, who penned the lead single for the album “Feedback”, which garnered some love from Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, peaking at #19, which was Janet’s highest charting single on the chart since “Someone to Call My Lover”.
The album fared pretty well critically, with music journalists praising Janet’s improvement from her previous album (shade much?). Commercially, the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, giving Janet her 6th number one album on the chart, (yassss), and selling a respectable 181,000 copies its first week.
The promotional marketing campaign for the album started out strong, with Janet making appearances on MTV, her first since the fallout from the SuperBowl, and with the high chart position of the album plus the success of "Feedback", the era showed promise. However, after the second single "Rock With U" failed to take off, and the sales for the album stalled, Island pulled all its remaining promo, leading to Janet's departure from the label shortly after.
So, why did it rank so lowly in the court of the Rhythm Nation? For starters, the lack of Jimmy and Terry turned many older fans off of the newer sound of the JD period. There’s an undeniable chemistry that the threesome share, and their absence from the album was painfully obvious. Secondly, the fact that Janet didn’t write any of her material signaled (at least to me) that her heart wasn’t truly in the project.
Part of what makes Janet such an incredible talent (and something that many singers of today lack) is her willingness to bare her soul through her songwriting. She draws us in, and gives us a chance to see the world through her eyes, thus making her all the more relatable. However, the minute that Janet handed over the creative reigns to JD and Co, the album became THEIR expression, and not hers. Something about that didn’t set well with people. With all that said, I’m glad that Janet has truly found her way back home creatively, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us with “Unbreakable”.
8. “Dream Street” (1984), A&M Records (3.4 %)
1984 found Janet at a rough period in her life. Coming off of the disappointment of her first album, in the midst of her quick marriage to singer James DeBarge, and not really here for her role as Cleo Hewitt on the hit 80’s show “Fame”, an 18 year old Janet was thrust back into the studio.
Now you would think that with this second album that improvements would be made; Janet’s confidence in her vocal/musical ability would have grown, and she would have come out swinging, but nah. It wasn’t to be, not yet at least. Like its predecessor, “Janet Jackson”, “DS” is marred with basic, bland, and generic music, and again, the lack of passion Janet had throughout the album was quite evident.
One thing that can be said about Janet, when she isn’t fully invested in a project, it shows. That’s not shade towards her, that is just a praise of her work ethic towards her later albums. Anyway, the era that was “Dream Street” is forgettable at best, with an abysmal 44,000 units moved, with many of the same critiques from her previous effort.
One of the few sunny spots on the album in my opinion, is “Don’t Stand Another Chance”, which was in fact one of the first songs Janet had written herself, along with brother Marlon and featuring production by big brother Michael. (Happy Birthday, Mike!). The single performed moderately well on the Black Singles (sounds like a dating site) chart. Both “JJ” and “DS” are two perfect examples of how setbacks become setups, but we’ll get to that in a short while.
7. 20 Y.O. (2006), Virgin Records (4.4%)
DISCLAIMER: I’ll start this one off by saying that this is why you keep screenshots of what you post online. Through either technical glitch, or bitch-ass-ness, somebody(s) decided to vote this one all the way up to number one. Not because of genuine interest, but because they wanted to troll. We peeped game immediately, and made the decision to place this one according to the data that we’d collected earlier in the day. To those that genuinely voted this as their number one pick, we apologize for someone else’s stupidity. To those that thought it was funny, you tried it, and we remain #unbothered. Thanks for playing.
When I heard that we were getting an album that was a celebration of the 20 years that had passed since Control, my body was BEYOND ready. I prepared my edges for snatching, and even bought a wig to be worn in it’s place. Alas...my edges stayed nailed down the entire time. I don’t want to go too much into it, because Control will have it’s own spot on the countdown.
In short, 20 Y.O. was not what it was marketed to be. Building up to the release of the album, Janet had undergone a stunning physical transformation after gaining 60 pounds for her intended role in Lee Daniels’ film “Tennessee”, losing the weight in just four months, and simultaneously turning a very fabulous 40.
About a month after her 40th birthday, Janet released the lead single to the album, the Nelly assisted “Call on Me”. While that may have bothered some people, including myself at the time, in retrospect, Janet’s decision to go a more urban route made perfect sense, seeing as though her blacklist from radio as a result of the Super Bowl was still very much in effect.
The single itself nabbed the number one spot on the R&B chart, and generated a number two placement for the album on the Billboard 200 chart upon release. All in all, 20 Y.O. fared okay, generating a Platinum certification by the RIAA, and selling 2 million copies.
However, the album lacked any real fluidity, and was just a collection of new songs by Janet, as opposed to a real nod to the Control era. There are a few songs there reminiscent of classic Janet, such as “Enjoy”, and “Daybreak”, but as a whole, the album failed to live up to the hype.
Was it a bad album per say? No. But had it been just marketed as a new album instead of an homage to Control, I think that it would have fared better with the fans than it did.
6. “Damita Jo” (2004) , Virgin, (5.9%)
I figure the more we say that, the likelihood of the fuckery and injustice of the album will be rectified and we’ll get a re-release. Perhaps even an apology from the NFL or the FCC?
At any rate, at number six on our countdown, we have “Damita Jo”. Now there isn’t anyone reading this that doesn’t know about the events that led up prior to the release of “DJ”. Because we all know what happened, and because I want to be able to remain off my blood pressure pills, we’ll leave the Super Bowl talk alone for now. We’ll talk about it in February, lol.
Instead, we’ll talk some numbers. Commercially, DJ peaked at number two on the Billboard 200, (that damn Usher and his Confessions), and went platinum within two months of its release. While it didn’t sell as much as Janet’s previous successful works, its potential for greatness was stagnated for several reasons, so this is definitely one of those cases of the numbers not meaning everything.
What I loved about the album musically, is that Janet strived to create a piece of work that shed light on the duality of her personality, and how all these many facets of her mind create encompass who she is personally and publicly
This was the first album in which Janet collaborated with a multitude of producers, such as The Neptunes, Babyface, Kanye West, and Dallas Austin, along with Jimmy, Terry, and JD. Instead of one producer’s influence being solely recognizable on the album, “DJ” is a great example of how multiple producers with various sounds can mesh together and create a great body of work.
Most importantly, all of these various sounds were still very much Janet in terms of who she is creatively as an artist. The album serves us helpings of vulnerability, sensuality, quirkiness, and sass, and any album with the phrase “A little lady, a whole lotta class, but do me wrong I’ll get in that ass”, gets automatic 10’s from me, and garners a "YASSSSSSS DAMITA JO! Slay me bitch!" response.
With all that said, I will say with 100% certainty that this was Janet’s last album that she’s released that I totally felt her, and her own ideas and creativity. Don’t let me down, Unbreakable.
5. “All For You”, (2001), Virgin, (7.9%)
Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JaiMusick), have probably heard this story, but in short, Moms gave little Jordan $20 for her 10th birthday, and little Jordan ran on over to the local Wal-Mart and scooped AFY right on up. I was so excited that I opened up the CD in the car, popped it in my portable CD player, and then proceeded to learn more about human sexuality throughout tracks 6-10 than I’ve ever learned in any class. MY GAWD. Of course, when Janet trekked the world with her Number Ones tour, and dedicated AFY to Chicago, a small part of me thought that maybe she knew that story, and dedicated that song to me personally.
Anyway, for those that remember, by 2001, Janet was in a new space both in her personal and professional lives. Fresh off her split with husband Rico Suave Rene Elizondo, Janet wanted ya'll to know that she was single and ready to mingle. In comparison with TVR, "AFY" was a complete 180 in terms of creative content, and I meant that in the most positive way possible. “AFY” ushered Janet in a new millennium, with a sound that proved as a defining and influential moment in music for its time.
Like the chameleon she is, Janet used the AFY era as a reintroduction to a softer, more feminine version of herself, with equal parts of sass, sensuality, and vulnerability. Musically, Jam and Lewis outdid themselves, giving the fans flashes of pop rock, house, R&B, and everything in between.
Commercially, the album dominated the charts, with All For You the single hitting number one on the Hot 100, and the album debuting at Number one on the Billboard 200, selling over 3,000,000 copies, releasing two number one singles; a top five single (Someone to Call My Lover), and even earned Janet her sixth Grammy Award at the 2002 telecast for Best Dance Recording.
Around the time of the album’s release, MTV honored Janet, giving her its inaugural Icon Award, for her contributions to the entertainment world. And finally in what is both amazing, and bittersweet was that the release of "AFY", along with MJ’s “Invincible” marked the first and only time that both siblings released albums within the same calendar year.
4. “Control”, (1986), A&M, (11.4%)
Control is by far, one of the greatest albums of all time. OF. ALL. TIME.
The fact that the artists of today's generation STILL refer to their breakthrough albums as their “Control Moment", speaks volumes the net of influence that it has cast (#IMPACTnet.) Whether artists relate to it as their moment of gaining complete and total creative control of their work, or whether young men and women around the world relate to its coming of age mantra, the messages that Control conveys are limitless.
After the failure of her first two albums, Janet Jackson was at a critical phase in her life. Coming dangerously close to being labeled as “just another Jackson sibling", action needed to be quickly taken. Enter Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who believed that Janet’s potential was enormous if not tapped into yet, and so with her father’s blessing, the duo took Janet away from the lush life of California, and planted her firmly into their native Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It was on the streets of Minneapolis, out of the watchful gaze of her parents, that Janet was first exposed to the world through her own perspective. Using those day to day experiences, her need to live a life independent of her family’s, and her failed marriage to James DeBarge Janet combined all of her feelings in order to craft the concepts used for the album. It was as if a creative faucet was turned on, with Janet co-writing all but two of the tracks on the album, and also playing keyboards and other percussive instruments with Jimmy and Terry.
Simultaneously, Janet dissolved her working relationship with her father, opting to seek her own management as a means to continue her wave of exercising her own influence within her work both professionally, and creatively. Many critics have used the “Control” album as the definition of true breakthrough success, defining Janet’s work a masterclass in feminist theory with it’s fiery “My first name ain’t baby”, rhetoric. With songs such as “What Have You Done for Me Lately”, Nasty” and “When I Think of You”, it was Janet, along with contemporaries Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, and Tina Turner, that bridged the gap between black female artists and mainstream success with white audiences.
If that ain’t enough slayage, we haven’t even began to talk about the dancing yet. “Control” was the first era that displayed Janet’s legendary choreography. Teaming up with Paula Abdul, Janet showed audiences that she could really dance. How many of ya’ll almost broke your faces doing that “Pleasure Principle” routine??
Commercially, the album defied expectations, debuting at number 102 on the Billboard 200 upon release, and eventually skyrocketing all the way up to number one about two months later. The album grabbed four nominations at the 1987 Grammy’s, including Album of the Year and won for Producers of the Year. Since it’s release, “Control” has sold over 14 million copies, worldwide, and has been named by Rolling Stone magazine one of the greatest albums of all time, and listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the number 86 as “Top 200 Albums of All Time”. Now catch THAT tea.
3. “janet.”, (1993) Virgin, (21.7%)
It was as early as the “Rhythm Nation” era that Janet had decided that her next work would be thematically sensual, partially because the RN album dealt with such heavy social topics, and partially because she’d grown up as such a tomboy and lived that way for much of her life, that it would be a nice change of pace to reveal that side of herself to the world.
Today, especially for some of the younger fans, it is hard to imagine a world without a sexualized Janet, (though it looks as though that’s where we’re headed now), however with the release of the Janet album, many were surprised, and very much elated to see this shift in her creative content. What is very much worth mentioning, and often forgotten about in the sexual hoopla that is that entire era, is that it was the first era where the comparisons between Michael and Janet were truly put to rest.
For the two successful albums that had been released prior to “janet.”, there was always a comparison made between that of Janet’s work, and that of her older brother. By dropping her last name, simply going by Janet, (a trend that continues today, mind you), and basically dominating every obstacle set in her path, Janet truly strove for and excelled in shedding the shadows of her famous family once and for all.
Now, let’s talk music. Jimmy Jam refers to the “janet.” album as “the love album”, because our girl had the glow. At that time, Janet was secretly married to her second husband, Rene Elizondo Jr. who was very instrumental in helping along the creative process for a few of Janet’s projects. The content for the album delved into love, loss, the need for social change, and everything in between, with it being an amalgamation of hip-hop, funk, house, soul, rock, opera, and of course, pop.
I don’t believe that there ever was, or ever will be a cooler and more laid-back lead single than “That’s The Way Love Goes”, which hit number one on the Hot 100, staying there for 10 weeks, and nabbing a Grammy for Best R&B Song.
The next single, “If” was a blend of rock, and hip-hop, with some very strong oriental influences, meshed together with intensely sexualized lyrics. The choreography by my girl Tina Landon, is in among the best in the court of fan opinion. Another single from the album, the slow ballad “Again” (which was also present in Janet’s 1993 debut film Poetic Justice) earned Janet her first and thus far only, Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
As successful as her previous albums were, it was the “janet.” album that truly propelled Janet into massive international superstardom, creating a vast base of fans outside the U.S. The album’s impact is legendary, with countless celebs and regular folk like us recreating Janet’s famous Rolling Stone cover photo, and citing Janet’s departure from her previous albums as influential. And MY GAWD how she looked fine throughout the whole era. Praise Janhova that we got that honey brown hair and those fierce curls for this new era.
Your. Fave. Could. Never. #AndIThankYou
2. “ Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814”, (1989), A&M, (28.6%)
By that, I mean she was one of the few artists well aware of the disparaging state of race relations, poverty, teenage pregnancy, the lack of education towards minorities, and the welfare of children. Instead of riding out the success of “Control”, and making a sequel like her label wanted, Janet used her artistry and fame as a platform to give voice to a generation that was otherwise voiceless, especially towards economically repressed, hope depraved black and brown people. What made it all the more visceral was the fact that she remained so humble throughout the entirety of the era, never fully acknowledging how many lives she truly impacted through her efforts. I often wonder to myself what it must of been like.
At the age of 24, the same age that Janet was when she released RN, I’m not sure if or how I would be able to take such a bold and selfless risk. What’s all the more incredible, is that at such a young age, Janet had the foresight to craft such an album, covering such an array of topics, while simultaneously still creating chart topping songs that brought the historic success that the album had.
The album at worst, is inexhaustible, and at best, cannot be properly comprehended into words. 26 years after its release, the themes of the album STILL hold true to the state of race in America, and the lack of progress we’ve made towards living in a post-racial society.
Janet strove to create a world where color/race was unimportant, which was reflected in the album’s many videos, with emphasis on the title track, Rhythm Nation, where the militaristic choreography, with Janet and her dancers in all black, created a force of unity. What makes me angry to this day, was the lack of enthusiasm on the part of critics at that time; doubting what influence if any that Rhythm Nation could have on the state of the world (all pun intended).
Though there were very vocal critics doubtful that such thought-driven themes would win over the average music consumer, the success of the album was massive. “Rhythm Nation 1814” was the first and ONLY album to have seven separate singles peak in the top five on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart, and was the first and only album to have three number one singles during three separate calendar years, (1989-1991).
The success of the album led to Janet’s inclusion on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, her awarding of the MTV Video Vanguard Award, and the Rhythm Nation World Tour, which is to this day the most most successful debut tour of any artist in history.
Outside of the heavy socially-conscious themes of the album, Janet and company still managed to eek out some of her best known singles, “Miss You Much”, “Love Will Never Do”, “Escapade” “Black Cat”, and “Come Back to Me”, and “Alright” all of which helped usher in the New Jack Swing genre of music of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Sales-wise, RN1814 has sold an estimated 20 million copies, (as of 2015), and earned a Grammy for Best Long Form Video for the title track.
In 2007, Rolling Stone included “Rhythm Nation 1814” as one of the greatest albums of all time. With the opening of the Women Who Rock exhibit at the Grammy Museum in L.A., Janet’s handwritten lyrics for “Rhythm Nation” are on display, (only temporarily, because I’m stealing them bitches the moment I set foot in that museum).
While the album’s commercial success is important, it again goes without saying that the far-reaching impact of the entirety of that era and its humanist efforts are things that will be remembered long after we leave this earth, and as a black woman, living in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I find the message and goals of the album to be something that I am exceedingly grateful for.
1. “The Velvet Rope”, (1997), Virgin (30.5%)
I have heard countless stories about how this album LITERALLY saved people from the depths of depression, simply because their favorite artist, one that seemingly had the entire world in the palm of her hands, experienced those same feelings and emotions that they did.
Now, I can talk about the commercial success of the album, how many were records sold, and what the critical reaction of the album was, but I won’t. These are things that we all know, and that are also online, so a quick Google search will give you all of those facts. Because it is such a personal album, that all of us in one form or another can relate to, all I can do is talk about it from an emotional standpoint; simply because talking about statistical facts, in regard to an album that is so deeply, fundamentally, and unapologetically human, in my opinion cheapens its value.
For those who don’t know or remember, while the “janet.” album may have found Janet at her career peak, she suffered a very deep and dark, and quiet depression throughout the tail end of it. Depression, along with many other mental illnesses, are topics that are still very much taboo, especially in the African American community.
What makes TVR all the more appealing in my eyes, was the fact that Janet remained so courageous in unapologetically telling the world what she was feeling emotionally, physically, and sexually.
The Velvet Rope also solidified Janet’s status a gay icon, as she spoke out for same gender loving individuals, and penned the massively successful hit, “Together Again” as a tribute for the friends she lost due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Janet also used TVR to address domestic violence; yet another topic that to this day is still shamefully overlooked. Musically, the album is divinely organic, with each track seamlessly flowing from one song to the next, formulating a body of work that is at some points, vividly erotic, at other points very chill and laid back, and at other points hard-hitting, all while having that mainstream appeal that made it successful.
When I was about 19 or 20, I went through a period of hopelessness, which is what I guess could be called depression. I had no idea where my life was headed, no plans on how to proceed into adulthood, and felt like I’d already missed out on so much life. By that point, I’d of course heard the Velvet Rope, but had never really LISTENED to what Janet was really saying.
I had a moment one night, where I sobbed to my aunt and told her how bad I was feeling, telling her a lot of words, but unable to really express myself to really explain what was going on. She tried to help me as best she could (and always does), but at the close of our conversation, I didn’t feel any better. Shortly afterward, on the way to class one day, I decided that I was in a Janet mood, and started listening to “You”. on the train. Really listening. These lyrics stood out to me most:
“Spent most your life pretending not to be,
not who you are but who you choose to see.
Learned to survive in your fictitious world,
does what they think of you determine your worth…”
“You gotta mean what you say,
you gotta say what you mean
tryin to please everyone
sacrifice your own needs”.
For a long time, I (and unfortunately still do) tended to put other people’s needs ahead of my own. When you do that for an extended period of time, you tend to feel as though no one cares about your own issues, and thus in my case, keep it all bottled in. What that song really says to me, (or moreover what that entire album says to me) is that no matter who you are, or what your circumstances in this life are, you have to take that time out to really reflect, allow yourself to feel, and accept your hardships, flaws, and faults, so that you can be a fully functional and happy person.
I finally began to pick up the pieces and really try to learn how to put myself first. It’s not an overnight thing, and I’m not innocent of still allowing myself to feel that way I did then, but I can say with no bullshit, that “The Velvet Rope” did in its’ own small way help me realize that. Why? Because I knew that if Janet could get through those feelings, so could I. I suspect that a lot of you feel the same way, which is why “The Velvet Rope” grabbed the top spot on our countdown. Perhaps the writers over at Rolling Stone feel this way too, because along with RN1814, TVR was included in on their list of the greatest albums in history. As if we didn’t know. ;-)
I close this by wanting to thank you guys for taking the time out to participate in the voting process, and then reading this full post. This by no means was an easy undertaking, but you all made it a lot more enjoyable to do. Finally, (even though she may never see this), I’d like to thank Janet on behalf of all the fans, for baring your soul, dedicating your life to music, and making us just a dance a little bit. As far as this new era goes, get ready ya’ll. We’re in for one hell of a ride.
Now, excuse me while I prepare my wig for tonight.
By: Jordan Listenbee (@JaiMusick)