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Janet Jackson Finally Learns to Say 'I'

April 15, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

Jimmy Jam, who co-produced Jackson's two best-selling albums, seemed surprised in a separate interview that Jackson would worry about anyone suspecting she was some kind of pop creation. He, too, sees Jackson as a "strong, natural" talent.

"To begin with, when someone says, 'Well, she brought in a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,' you've got to remember that we weren't exactly (the hottest producers around.) We weren't Quincy Jones," he said in phone interview from Minneapolis. " 'Control' was our first . . . smash. The same with Paula. It wasn't like Janet was (hiring) Fred Astaire. You know what I'm saying? She took a chance on all of us .

"So, the question (can be debated): Who raised who to what level? I think everyone benefited. I know Janet has taken our songs and raised them to a new level of success. Bottom line: none of it would have happened without her."

Her confidence strengthened by the success of "Control," Jackson briefly considered doing a concept work about her family that she said was suggested by A&M's McClain, but she eventually rejected it in favor of the socially conscious "Rhythm Nation" theme.

The idea, she said, was based on what she had read of "nations" of young people, mostly black, in New York who gathered together for identity and support. It was again a collaboration with producers Jam and Lewis.

Said Jackson, "I was reading about all these clubs and 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," she said.

The theme is not only expressed in such songs as "Rhythm Nation" and "State of the World"--a song about a homeless boy that she said was inspired by a TV news report on a homeless family--but also in slogans included on the album jacket and on souvenir T-shirts sold at the concerts.

Sample lyrics from the album's title number:

Join voices in protest

To social injustice

A generation full of courage

Come forth with me.

Those aren't sophisticated lyrics even by undemanding pop standards, but Jackson feels that the message of good will and social responsibility still comes across.

"I can just imagine what some people thought when they heard the album was going to be socially conscious . . . that I was trying to be Tracy Chapman," Jackson said as the bus pulled into the Centrum backstage parking area before the second Worcester concert.

"Well, I admire Tracy Chapman and bands like U2 a lot, but I am talking to a different audience. . . . I wanted to take our message directly to the kids, and the way to do that is by making music you can really dance to. That was our whole goal: How can I get through to the kids with this?"

When Jackson stepped on stage three hours later, the Centrum audience again cheered mightily. Jackson's not the frequently breathtaking performer her brother is, but she does exhibit considerable authority for someone who has only been touring a few weeks. On the other hand, Jackson has been performing, either on television or records, since she was 7. That might cause some people to feel jaded.

Not Jackson. "I feel like a kid still, like I'm must starting," she said during the bus ride to Worcester. "I'd like to produce some albums, do more writing, and I can't wait to get started in movies."

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