1989, Music

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)

I’ll be honest. I have no idea what the state of R&B was in 1989, outside of Michael Jackson and Prince. (And, I guess, Whitney Houston’s early hits.) It’s a genre I never spent much time with once you get past the early ’70s. Well, until very recently, anyway. So I really don’t have the proper context for this record. But, as usual, I am going to take a guess.

My guess is that it was highly unusual for a female R&B singer – hell, a female singer, period – to release a concept album, and I suspect it’s especially true of someone in Jackson’s position. And I don’t really care about the concept – most concept albums are kind of dumb – but rather I care about the attempt at having a concept in the first place. This is a genre, after all, that is not know for lyrical ambition. (Well, if you exclude funk, anyway.) To me, the very act of trying to produce an R&B concept album feels innovative and maybe even revolutionary, given the context of the time. Especially because it’s a woman doing it. And she’s “just a singer”.

The music itself is extremely ’80s, dominated by dated electronic instruments. But that hip hop sample really helps. Though this record is undeniably ’80s, it doesn’t sound anywhere near as dated as her brother’s massive album from the year before. I detect a pretty strong Prince influence – at least on “Escapade” and I think that plus the hip hop influence really helps make this record sound far less dated than it would had, say, Quincy Jones been involved.

And though the interludes are indeed annoying and don’t improve the album at all, they are far more restrained than these types of things would get in the 1990s. So I appreciate that too. It’s still too long, of course. But it’s relatively brisk for it’s length compared to other hour+ R&B albums I’ve heard.

So, though this is absolutely not my kind of music, I must respect it. And the woman who made it. It’s yet another reminder that Janet Jackson was making some of the best R&B and Dance Pop of the era. (I feel like possibly the best Dance Pop of the era, but what do I know.)

8/10 I guess

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