Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 is the 4th album by Janet Jackson. The album was released on September 19, 1989 on A&M Records.
Despite demands from label executives for material similar to her previous album, "Control," Janet insisted on creating a concept album addressing social injustice. Collaborating with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Janet co-wrote six of the album's tracks. She also co-produced the album, with label executive John McClain serving as executive producer.
While writing lyrics for the album, Janet, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis drew inspiration from news media, exploring subject matter such as racism, poverty and substance abuse. Although critics viewed the album's theme as transparent, too generalized to adequately address any of these issues, Janet was hailed as a role model for youth because of her socially conscious lyrics.
Due to its innovative production and lyrical exploration, critics have regarded the album as the pinnacle of Janet's artistic achievement. It became her second consecutive album to hit number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified sixfold platinum by the RIAA, selling over 14 million copies worldwide. It has been named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of 'The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" and is listed in the Quintessence Editions Ltd. reference book, "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die."
All seven singles peaked within the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first and only album to achieve that feat. Janet received nine Grammy Award nominations, winning "Best Music Video, Long Form" for "Rhythm Nation" in 1990. Music videos for the singles, which displayed a mix of Broadway-style choreography and militant imagery gained heavy rotation on MTV. Janet was presented with the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1990 for significant contribution to the art form.
The supporting Rhythm Nation 1814 World Tour became the world's most successful debut concert tour by a recording artist. It proved Janet to be a consummate performer rather than a studio-only phenomenon as well as a fashion icon among young women.
Album Background & ProductionEdit
Following the success of "Control," Janet was motivated to continue songwriting and took a larger role in the creative process of her new album. The executives at A&M Records requested that Janet expand on the ideas presented on "Control" suggesting a concept album entitled "Scandal" that would've been about the Jackson family.
Janet wrote a song entitled "You Need Me" which was directed at her father, but she was unwilling to devote an entire album to the subject and subsituted her own concept for theirs. Janet commented that:
"[a] lot of people wanted me to do another album like Control and that's what I didn't want to do. I wanted to do something that I really believed in and that I really felt strong about." The song, "You Need Me" was added to the B-side of the lead single, "Miss You Much."
Producer Jimmy Jam recalled: "We would always have a TV turned on, usually to CNN ... And I think the social slant of songs like 'Rhythm Nation', 'State of the World' and 'The Knowledge' came from that." He commented that the Stockton massacre inspired the song "Living in a World (They Didn't Make)", explaining, "[i]t says that kids aren't responsible for what the adults have done."
Janet was also inspired by reports of youth-based communities throughout New York City, which were formed as a means of creating a common identity. She stated: "I thought it would be great if we could create our own nation ... one that would have a positive message and that everyone would be free to join."
The album title is inspired by the pledge: "We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together through our beliefs. We are like-minded individuals, sharing a common vision, pushing toward a world rid of color-lines" and her creed, "Music, Poetry, Dance, Unity."
The use of the number "1814" is twofold. First, R (Rhythm) is the 18th letter of the alphabet and N (Nation) is the 14th. The second, Janet explained, is that "[w]hile writing [Rhythm Nation] I was kidding around, saying, 'God, you guys, I feel like this could be the national anthem for the '90s' ... Just by a crazy chance we decided to look up when Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem, and it was September 14, 1814."
Janet also cited her mother, Katherine as her inspiration, dedicating the album to her on the album's interior booklet, stating:
"I have never known a more beautiful, caring, loving, understanding, and intelligent woman than you, mother. Someday I hope to be exactly like you. I love you with all my heart."
In an interview, Janet stated:
"I'm not naive—I know an album or a song can't change the world. I just want my music and my dance to catch the audience's attention, and to hold it long enough for them to listen to the lyrics and what we're saying. Hopefully that will inspire them, make them want to join hands ... and make some sort of difference."
The album was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with co-production credit given to Janet. A&M executive John McCain served as the album's executive producer. The lyrics for each of the songs were included in the album.
All of the tracks were recorded at Flyte Tyme Records productions studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota and mixed at Flyte Tyme in Edina, Minnesota. Jimmy Jam and Terry 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. The total production time for the album was seven months.
- Interlude: Pledge (0:47)
- Rhythm Nation (5:31)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: T.V. (0:22)
- State of the World (4:48)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: Race (0:05)
- The Knowledge (3:54)-[written by James Harris III & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: Let's Dance (0:03)
- Miss You Much (4:12)-[written by James Harris III & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: Come Back (0:21)
- Love Will Never Do (Without You) (5:50)-[written by James Harris III & Terry Lewis]
- Livin' a World (They Didn't Make) (4:41)-[written by James Harris III & Terry Lewis]
- Alright (6:26)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: Hey Baby (0:10)
- Escapade (4:44)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: No Acid (0:05)
- Black Cat (4:50)-[written by Janet Jackson]
- Lonely (4:59)-[written by James Harris III & Terry Lewis]
- Come Back to Me (5:33)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Someday is Tonight (6:00)-[written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III, & Terry Lewis]
- Interlude: Livin'...In Complete Darkness (1:07)
- Herb Alpert – trumpet, horn, brass
- Julie Ayer – violin
- Stephen Barnett – conductor
- Steve Barnett – conductor
- David Barry – electric and 12-string guitar
- Lee Blaske – arranger
- Chris Brown – bass
- Carolyn Daws – violin
- Hanley Daws – violin
- David Eiland – programming
- Rene Elizondo – background vocals
- Richard Frankel – art direction, cover design
- Johnny Gill – percussion, special effects, finger snaps
- James Greer – background vocals
- Guzman (Constance Hansen & Russell Peacock) – photography
- Steve Hodge – background vocals, engineer
- Peter Howard – cello
- Janet Jackson – arranger, keyboards, vocals, background vocals, producer
- Jimmy Jam – percussion, piano, drums, keyboards, programming, producer
- Jellybean Johnson – guitar, drums, vocals, background vocals, producer
- Jesse Johnson – guitar
- Lisa Keith – background vocals
- Kathy Kienzle – harp
- Joshua Koestenbaum – cello
- Jamial Lafleur – background vocals
- Terry Lewis – bass, percussion, arranger, background vocals, producer
- Tshaye Marks – background vocals
- John McClain – background vocals, producer
- Tamika McDaniel – vocals
- Tarnika McDaniel – background vocals
- John McLain – guitar, background vocals
- Shante Owens – background vocals
- Amy Powell – vocals
- Randy Ran – background vocals
- Nicholas Raths – guitar, classical guitar
- Sonya Robinson – background vocals
- Clarice Rupert – background vocals
- Warlesha Ryan – background vocals
- Tamas Strasser – viola
- John Tartaglia – viola
- Reshard Taylor – background vocals
- Romuald Tecco – concert master
- Anthony Thomas – background vocals
- Hyacinthe Tlucek – concert master
- Steve Wilson – background
The album debuted at #28 on the Billboard 200 and #87 on Billboard's Black Albums chart and steadily rose to number one on both charts. It topped the Billboard 200 for 4 consecutive weeks and sold 3 million copies within the first four months of the album's release.
In November of 1989, the RIAA certified the album gold, denoting 500,00 unit shipments within the United States. It rose to a platinum certification, denoting 1,000,000 units and later double platinum by the end of the year.
The album received generally positive reviews with a mixed reaction to Jackson's social and political themes.
Dennis Hunt of Los Angeles Times called it "intriguing" and diverse, ranging from "social commentary to lusty, sensual tunes, from dance music to songs laced with jazz and Brazilian textures."
Vince Aletti of Rolling Stone likened Janet's themes to a politician, "abandoning the narrow 'I' for the universal 'we' and inviting us to do the same."
Aletti complimented Janet's balance of "despair with optimism, anger with hope," incorporated within its theme of social progress.
Andy Ellis-Widders of Keyboard considered it "a powerful statement on racial integration, social accountability, and personal integrity."
In his review for The Boston Globe, Steve Morse compared its success to that of Aerosmith and Billy Joel, declaring it "a dance record with a ruthlessly frank social conscience that addresses drugs, homelessness, illiteracy and teen runaways. She's reached far beyond dance music's fluffy image to unite even serious rockers and rappers who usually look the other way."
Michael Snyder of the San Francisco Chronicle considered it a worthy successor to Janet's previous album "Control", adding "a little sociopolitical substance" as she "bounces between the two extremes of romance and generalized, politically correct topicality."
Writing for The New York Times, Jon Pareles compared the album's concept to Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and Guns N' Roses "Appetite for Destruction", referring to it as "a cause without a rebellion."
However, Pareles commended its musicality and vocals, stating "[t]he tone of the music is airless, sealing out imprecision and reveling in crisp, machine-generated rhythms; Ms. Jackson's piping voice, layered upon itself in punchy unisons or lavish harmonies, never cracks or falters."
Robert Christgau wrote in his review for The Village Voice, "Her voice is as unequal to her vaguely admonitory politics as it was to her declaration of sexual availability, but the music is the message."
In 1990, the album earned Grammy Award nominations for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" and "Best Rhythm & Blues Song" for "Miss You Much", "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist" and "Best Long Form Music Video" for "Rhythm Nation", winning the latter award.
Janet was also nominated for "Producer of the Year, Non-Classical", becoming the first woman to be nominated for the award.
The following year, Janet received nominations for "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" for "Black Cat," in addition to "Best Rhythm & Blues Song" and "Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female" for "Alright."
Contemporary reviews continue to find the album favorable.
Eric Henderson of Slant Magazine declared the album a "masterpiece."
Henderson also praised its diversity, stating: "She was more credibly feminine, more crucially masculine, more viably adult, more believably childlike. This was, of course, critical to a project in which Janet assumed the role of mouthpiece for a nationless, multicultural utopia."
Though referring to Janet's voice as "wafer-thin", Alex Henderson of AllMusic applauded her spirit and enthusiasm, praising the album's numerous "gems."
Henderson regarded it "an even higher artistic plateau" than her prior album, adding: "For those purchasing their first Janet Jackson release, Rhythm Nation would be an even wiser investment than Control—and that's saying a lot."