Ranking the Best Janet Jackson Albums

Back in December I had the privilege of seeing Janet Jackson live for the first time ever. And while she was in her third decade of her career by that point, you couldn’t tell it – her energy was off the charts, her choreography was strong and her socially conscious messages were as powerful as ever.

I sat there thinking to myself “and this is the woman who just had a baby?”

Long before there was a Rihanna, Ciara, Tinashe, Britney, Aaliyah and yes, Beyhive, way before even Beyonce, Janet was the premier pop trendsetter.

Today we look back at her storied discography, ranking her albums from bottom to top. As always, rankings are determined by album quality, consistency and impact on the genre. Also, while this list will exclude greatest hits collections, remix albums and compilations (sorry, no Design of a Decade, y’all), it WILL include her often-overlooked albums prior to her breakout hit Control.

It’s time to honor arguably the most influential female artist of her era.

dream street

11. Dream Street (1984)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: After showing some promise on her debut, Janet’s sophomore album was a bit of a step back. It’s generic pop galore, filled with songs that would have been OK on an episode of Jem & The Holograms but weren’t indicative of her talent. Better days were ahead.

Forgotten favorites: “Hold Back the Tears”

janet jackson

10. Janet Jackson (1982)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: It’s funny, similar to her brother Michael’s trajectory, Janet’s breakout record was so strong that many fans forget that she had albums well before her mainstream peak. Her oft-forgotten self-titled debut wasn’t bad but wasn’t very memorable, coming off as a copy/paste Jackson 5 release. But there were definite signs of promise.

Forgotten favorites: “Say You Do,” ” Love and My Best Friend,” “You’ll Never Find (A Love Like Mine)”

discipline

9. Discipline (2008)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Janet decided to forgo her usual collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to adopt a newer, trendier sound here. The results were pretty mixed, with the hodgepodge of house, dance, R&B, pop and electronic sounds making the house very incohesive. There were a few gems to be found but not enough to generate many repeat listens.

Forgotten favorites: “Rock with U,” “The 1”

20 YO

8. 20 Y.O. (2006)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: One of Janet’s more overlooked releases, 20 Y.O. celebrated two decades of fame following her breakout Control. And it proved she still had gas in the tank. Unlike Discipline, the blend of genres was much more seamless here, producing more than a few underrated tracks. This one is better than you probably gave it credit for.

Forgotten favorites: “With U,” “So Excited,” “Call on Me”

unbreakable

7. Unbreakable (2015)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: I’ll admit my expectations weren’t very high for Janet’s 2015 comeback, following years of label drama, a so-so previous release and her desire to start a new family. But Unbreakable would be one of Janet’s best releases in years, resurrecting the addictive pop tracks and socially conscious numbers that made her a household name. Janet came back hard.

Forgotten favorites: “Dream Maker/Euphoria,” “Dammn Baby,” “Black Eagle”

all for you

6. All for You (2001)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Reviews were pretty mixed when Janet dropped All for You in 2001, likely because it couldn’t measure up to its classic predecessor and does mark the slow decline from her heyday. But by no means is this a bad album. After several years of more R&B-flavored releases, All for You was a return to the pop realm, featuring some of the biggest records of her career. It’s a bit too lengthy (a common problem among almost all of Janet’s albums) and can’t reach the extremely high bar set by her four previous efforts but All for You still presents a winning formula.

Forgotten favorites: “China Love,” “Truth,” “Come on Get Up”

damita jo

5. Damita Jo (2004)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Blame it on Nipplegate or the album’s overly mellow mood or whatever – forget what the naysayers tell you, this is by far Janet’s most underrated album. Sure Damita Jo was a pretty big step down from Janet’s previous commercial success, but I’m not about the numbers, I’m here for the music. And creatively, Damito Jo hit the mark, showcasing effortlessly smooth R&B and yet another batch of danceable grooves. Jam and Lewis were joined by veteran hitmakers like Babyface and rising producers Scott Storch and Kanye West to create a solid, if underappreciated, gem.

Forgotten favorites: “R&B Junkie,” “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex,” “Strawberry Bounce”

janet

4. janet. (1993)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Easily one of Janet’s most beloved albums, janet is home to some of Ms. Jackson’s biggest records. As a collection of hits, it’s peerless. As an overall album, though, the number of tracks and the almost oppressive number of interludes (one after almost every song!) make for a really exhaustive listen. But that doesn’t stop janet from being one of the most important albums of the decade – and her career.

Forgotten favorites: “Funky Big Band,” “The Body That Loves You,” “New Agenda”

control

3. Control (1986)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Talk about a breakout record, it’s the album so good that it wiped its mediocre predecessors out of listeners’ minds. Control became a musical AND cultural statement, a declaration of womanhood that inspired a generation of girls to embrace their own destinies. And the tracklist looks like something out of a greatest hits collection. After this record, a star was born.

Forgotten favorites: “You Can Be Mine,” “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive,” “Funny How Times Flies (When You’re Having Fun)”

velvet rope

2. The Velvet Rope (1997)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: In my mind, there are three definitive Janet eras – the ‘janet’ Era, one era we’ve yet to discuss, and this, the Velvet Rope Era. All the themes that Janet brought to the table in previous releases – sexuality, feminism, social justice – reached their apex with this album. Janet’s boldness and willingness to sing through her pain made The Velvet Rope a classic release.

Forgotten favorites: “My Need,” “Anything,” “What About”

rhythm nation

1. Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)

Soul in Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: That other era I mentioned above? Here you go. Rhythm Nation was more than an album, it was a musical revolution. Janet’s place in the annals of music history were cemented right here, thanks to a release that layered social commentary and sensuality over incredible production. An iconic release from one of music’s greatest trailblazers.

Forgotten favorites: “Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make),” “The Knowledge,” “Someday is Tonight”

Which Janet album is your favorite? Let us know below in the comments.

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