1986, Music

Control (1986) by Janet Jackson

I need to preface this by saying that I only know “New Jack Swing” as a name, I don’t really know anything about the genre and its history and have added it as a label to my reviews only when told by someone that “this music is New Jack Swing.” But if it’s true, it’s a testament to how messed up the music industry was (is?).

Supposedly, Janet Jackson invented New Jack Swing on ths record, specifically on “Nasty.” This record sold 10 million copies. “Nasty” went to #3 in the States. But then, this man claims to have invented it a year later for an R&B group he was producing. And this was received wisdom for years. Basically, he gaslighted the public that he, a male producer, invented it, not this young female singer.

Now, the truth seems to be more complicated. There appears to be a song from 1985 that might have done it first, before Jackson. On the other hand, that song doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, so it can’t have been as much of a hit as “Nasty.” Much like Miles Davis used to do for new forms of jazz, it seems that Jackson and her collaborators took something underground and made it mainstream.

The point of all this is that this record is a pretty big deal in the history of R&B, whatever else I might think of it. What I think of it is that it sounds pretty dated to me, particularly because of its reliance on drum machines keyboard bass. But those are the very things that ostensibly made it innovative.

I will say it’s relatively lean, like some contemporary hip hop, and that’s a nice change from the Wall of Sound approach of much R&B in the ’70s and early ’80s. I can see how that’s a bit of a sea change (though I have no idea how it compares to Jackson’s earlier records).

Some of the songs are quite catchy, though I find “Nasty” to be pretty damn dumb. Jackson, Harris and Lewis should sue Maurice Starr for ripping off “You Can Be Mine.” (Why doesn’t the internet seem to know about this?!?!)

The other thing I want to note is how much shorter this album is than Jackson’s later albums, and I greatly appreciate that. We haven’t reached CD bloat yet, because CDs either didn’t quite exist as a mass consumer vehicle yet or were brand new – I don’t know, I was 5 – and that’s a good thing.

Despite how dated it sounds, it probably was a really big deal and it’s all the more important to acknowledge that given that it was made by a young woman. Yes, she has a famous name, but it was still pretty damn rare at the time.

8?/10

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