Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 - Composition and Production

Composition and Production

The album was produced by James "Jimmy Jam" Harris III and Terry Lewis, with co-production credit given to Janet Jackson. A&M executive John McCain served as the album's executive producer. Lyrics for each of the songs were included in the album. All the tracks were recorded at Flyte Tyme Records productions studio in Minneapolis Minnesota and mixed at Flyte Tyme, Edina, Minnesota. Jam and Lewis also penned or co-wrote the songs with Jackson, as well as arranging and programming the music, and playing much of the instrumental tracks. Total production time for the album was seven months. Like its predecessor, Control, the album is a construct of rhythm and blues, rap, funk and synthesized percussion. Author Ken Hughes of Keyboard Magazine notes that although considered to be crude by modern standards, "he startling, groundbreaking production work and sound design done by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 album owes its existence to the creative exploitation of the severe limitations." The New York Times music critic Jon Pareles described the album as having a multi-radio format, containing songs that appeal to a wide variety of radio airplay, including top 40, mainstream rock, quiet storm, and Adult Contemporary (AC). He commented: "The pleasures of 'Rhythm Nation' come from technique—the sudden sputters of drum-machine triplets, the richness of electronic sounds meshed with vocals ... Most of the music was made on synthesizers and samplers, and there's no attempt to disguise the artificial timbres of drums, tape loops and sampled guitars." This style of music was coined new jack swing in 1987 by Teddy Riley. In The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950–1999 (2006) musicologist Richard J. Ripani describes Riley as "probably the most important innovator of this style." However, Ripani observes that Riley was likely influenced by Jackson's single "Nasty" from Control, arguing "ince Jackson's album was released in 1986 and was hugely successful, it is not unreasonable to assume that it had at least some impact on the new jack swing creations of Teddy Riley."

The use of sample loop, triplet swing, rap vocals and blues notes are present in the album's title-track "Rhythm Nation". It samples a single measure of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" performed by Sly and the Family Stone, which became the basic background loop for the song. Vocals are alternatively sung in octaves or rapped in spoken verse. Ripani wrote that "Rhythm Nation" articulates the broad spectrum of rhythm and blues music, noting its significance to the development of R&B in the early 1990s. "Escapade" was inspired by the Martha and the Vandellas 1965 single "Nowhere to Run", which Jackson originally intended to remake, but instead chose to record a new song with a similar feel after a suggestion from producer Jimmy Jam. The background vocals for "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" and "Miss You Much", both penned by Jam and Lewis, were recorded in late 1988 prior to Jackson recording the lead vocals in 1989. The song "Black Cat" was written solely by Jackson and was produced by Jellybean Johnson; it was the final song to be recorded on the album. "Black Cat" departed from Jackson's typical musical style, being the sole rock production of the album. Jackson was inspired to write a song about a young man who was suffering from substance abuse and asked Jimmy Jam for his assistance in writing the chorus and verse. Once the initial track was established, Jam suggested Jackson speak to Jellybean Johnson to produce the song, as he was a "closet rock-and-roller." Johnson later confirmed his love of heavy metal guitar and agreed to produce the song. Johnson asked David Barry, who had worked on Jackson's previous album, Control, to play guitar for "Black Cat". To give the song a heavy metal feel, it was recorded using a mixture of Rockman and Marshall amplifier.

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