5 Things About Janet Jackson’s Songwriting Duo That Helped Launch Her Career


Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the producing partnership that worked with Janet Jackson from ‘Control’ to ‘Rhythm Nation’ to ‘The Velvet Rope,’ couldn’t have told her tale without them. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

Janet Jackson will finally be introduced to the world through her A&E/Lifetime documentary Janet, despite having grown up in the spotlight. According to Billboard, the first two episodes will premiere on Friday (Jan. 28) and will chronicle her childhood as the youngest sister of the Jackson 5 until she broke out on her own with 1986’s Control and 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis played a major role in Janet’s success on those two seminal albums.

«Janet Jackson’s two records [1982’s Janet Jackson and 1984’s Dream Street] were both well-produced records,» Jimmy told Rolling Stone in 2015, «but we always felt they had none of her in them.» It was nothing more than her turning up and singing… We knew Janet had a lot of attitude and feistiness from watching her on TV when we were kids. Let’s make music with that mindset and then let her run with it.»

The outcomes are self-evident. Janet’s stumbling career was launched by Control, which achieved No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and delivered her first Hot 100 No. 1 with «When I Think Of You.» Janet has collaborated often with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis since then, with their most recent collaboration being 2015’s Unbreakable. So, who are these two masters of production?

Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis Are A R&B Songwriting

Matt Licari

One of the most successful writer-producer teams of the 1980s was Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They’ve written 41 Top 10 songs in the United States and have «more Billboard No. 1 hits than any other songwriting/production duo in history,» according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

They’ve written/produced songs for the Human League («Human»), George Michael («Monkey»), Boyz II Men («On Bended Knee» and «4 Seasons of Loneliness»), Mariah Carey («Thank God I Found You,» featuring Joe and 98 Degrees), Mary J. Blige («No More Drama»), and Janet’s brother, Michael Jackson («Scream,» with Janet Jackson). In 2017, the Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted both Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

They are natives of Minneapolis.

Two of Minneapolis’ favorite sons are James Samuel «Jimmy Jam» Harris III (born June 6, 1959) and Terry Steven Lewis (born November 24, 1956). They met while they were both teenagers. Jimmy told ASCAP, «We were in a program called Upward Bound, and it was at the University of Minnesota.» «At the time, we were both in junior high school, so it was like a summer program.»

Jimmy was walking through the dorms one day when he peered through an open door. «I was just blasting Kool & the Gang and played the bass section with Kool,» Terry explained. Because I didn’t know him, I just remember thinking, «Ooh, that dude’s cool, whatever he is.» He exuded a laid-back aura.»

«I recall seeing Jimmy playing the piano in the lunchroom with a few girls around him. ‘Aw, cool!’ I exclaimed. ‘He can play the piano!’ Jimmy joined Terry’s band to perform the Upward Bound dance, and the two would go on to form the Flyte Time band. Prince, on the other hand, would bring about some significant changes in that organization.

Prince had previously fired them.

In 1981, Flyte Time became The Time under the guidance of Prince, who teamed the group with his protégé, Morris Day. «The Bird,» «Cool,» and «Jungle Love» were all hits for Morris Day and The Time.

In 1982, however, Jimmy and Terry, who had begun writing songs and releasing records on their own, were forced to cancel a show in San Antonio due to a sudden Atlanta snowfall. Prince is said to have fired them for it, but the singer of «Purple Rain» has denied that he was the one who dismissed them.

In 1990, Prince told Rolling Stone, «I’m playing the bad guy, but I didn’t dismiss Jimmy and Terry.» Morris inquired as to what I would do in his shoes. You have to keep in mind that it was his band.»

Terry and Jimmy, on the other hand, have claimed that The Purple One was the one who fired them in the years since. They also praised him for sharing his expertise. Jam told Rolling Stone, «We discovered that Prince is a genius.»

«Overall, the studio experience couldn’t have been a greater learning opportunity since he was so unconventional, yet incredibly spontaneous.» Prince was always the most productive, the fastest, and the most self-sufficient. He could design, write, and play just about anything, and he could do it all quickly. It was a fantastic and invaluable lesson in recording for me.»

They’re most well-known for their collaborations with Janet Jackson.

Eugene Adebari

«Our idea was to produce a Jam & Lewis album after we were liberated from the Time — so kindly by Prince,» Terry Lewis told Variety in 2021. «When [Tabu Records founder and famed executive] Clarence Avant brought us in to make the S.O.S. Band, we fell in love with him and he enabled us to create as we saw fit. Anything he asked us to do was a delight, and we were free to pursue any creative theme we pleased. Then Janet showed up, and we started working with her and got sidetracked.»

Jimmy and Terry were kept busy by Janet’s achievements. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, released in 1989, was her follow-up to Control. «The idea with «Rhythm Nation» was that you could dance, but we could also do something smarter,» Jam told Rolling Stone. «My favorite record of all time, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, is always the pattern for accomplishing that.» That was the attitude with which Rhythm Nation was created.»

Janey also collaborated with the duo on her debut album, Janet., which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 1993. The number-one songs «That’s The Way Love Goes» and «Again,» as well as the risqué cover art, made it a hit. «That’s The Way Love Goes» is Jam’s favorite Janet song, «and if someone asks, ‘What’s your favorite Janet song,’ that’s the one,» he says.

Jimmy and Terry had a squabble with Janet on occasion.

Jimmy and Terry collaborated with Janet on The Velvet Rope in 1997, All for You in 2001, Damita Join 2004, and 20 Y.O. in 2006. They didn’t appear on Janet’s Discipline album in 2008, but they reunited for Unbreakable in 2015.

According to Billboard, the three of them are all strong-willed when it comes to composing music, as Janet’s documentary from 2022 illustrates. Janet loses her cool during recording «You Need Me» as she notices the producers giggling. «Can you tell me why you’re laughing?» Jimmy, tell me what’s wrong,» she says. «You’re laughing, and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.» You’ve got to tell me something, because I’m singing this over and over again, and you’re not telling me what I need to know!»

«There isn’t any energy!» That sh– and the way it sounds are audible! There’s no energy in the music!… He snaps back, «You’re the singer, all you have to do is sing!» However, the three now know that this was simply a part of the creative process.