Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
This time, I’m really happy to welcome my guy Damon Dunn, one of the most prominent voices at the Soul In Stereo Cypher. Don’t let his relatively young age fool you – Damon’s a student of the R&B game, spitting more facts about 90s R&B than most 40-year-olds. He joins the Head to Head party to ride for one of his faves, the legendary Janet Jackson. Let’s go.
Name Janet’s three best albums
1. Rhythm Nation
2. The Velvet Rope
Rhythm Nation is Janet in her prime – socially conscious songs with powerful and meaningful messages mixed with fun dance/pop songs which help balance out the heavy themes and makes it an enjoyable listening experience. The Velvet Rope is also really good and concise but some songs near the end get lost in the shuffle and Janet is above Control because it’s a mix of several genres creating a more diverse listening experience but it slightly loses me near the end.
1. Rhythm Nation
2. The Velvet Rope
Hard to argue with my boy here. Rhythm Nation is a five-star classic, one of the defining albums of its era. The Velvet Rope isn’t far behind. But I’m going to go with Control over Janet for the third spot. I love Janet as much as the next playa but, speaking objectively, that album is needlessly lengthy. Control is a much tighter and more focused effort. I PREFER Janet personally speaking, but Unbiased Reviewer Edd gives Control the slight edge in quality.
And we had to go there: Name her worst album
Damon: Dream Street
Dream Street is a copy and paste 80s bubblegum pop album and it did not work for Janet. There were too many cooks in the kitchen when it came to making the album and I think that is why it failed. But Dream Street isn’t a complete nightmare. “Communication” is a taste of Janet’s sound in later albums
Edd: Dream Street
Janet’s debut and sophomore albums are largely forgotten these days, even by Super Stans and it’s easily to see why. While Janet’s self-titled debut showed lots of promise, Dream Street is as generic as it comes, sounding like a demo tape for Jem and the Holograms. Damon’s right, it’s not the worst album on the planet but it’s nowhere near the quality we’d get in later years.
Name the first Janet song that made you a fan
On first listen I liked it but couldn’t understand anything she was saying so I would search up the lyrics and “sing” along as I played the song on repeat. The combination of the electric guitar opening and Janet’s voice at the end got me instantly hooked.
Edd: “That’s the Way Love Goes”
Janet really was the original mumble-singer on “If.” I DARE you to recite that hook without consulting Google – clearly Damon couldn’t do it.
Anyway, I’ve gone on record many times to state that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the New Jack Swing sound, so while I enjoyed a few of her Rhythm Nation/Control-era songs, I didn’t LOVE any of them at the time. That appreciation would come later. My Janet fandom began in the Janet era, and starts with this single. It’s just so smooth and easy-going – a perfect bridge into a more melodic era of mainstream R&B.
Janet has a bevy of iconic videos. Which is her best?
Damon: “Rhythm Nation”
This video is simple yet effective. Janet didn’t need to be twerking for 4 and a half minutes while men where throwing money over her and calling it a visual experience. All Janet needed was a black and white filter, a few background dancers and military style dance moves to make one of the most iconic music videos of all time.
Is this a cheat? It’s probably a cheat, but it’s my answer so who cares. Janet’s long-awaited collabo with Brother MJ somehow met (and maybe exceeded) massive expectations. The fact that this video is still re-enacted today by younger fans and old heads with bad knees shows just how iconic it stands today.
Since we’re on the subject name Janet’s best feature NOT named “Scream”
Damon: “What’s it Gonna Be” with Busta Rhymes
It was tough picking between this and “Diamonds” with Herb Albert but I ultimately went with this gem from Busta’s Extinction Level Event album. While I can probably never watch the video ever again (the flying Busta Rhymes sperm-looking creature was enough to give me nightmares) I can’t deny how good the song is, Busta’s flow combined with the beat and the chemistry between the two is amazing. I’m not surprised the song was a hit.
Edd: “What’s it Gonna Be” with Busta Rhymes
I don’t know why we’ve buried Busta Rhymes’ legacy in recent years, but he’s a legend and his collabo with Janet is legendary in its own right. Yeah, the Terminator 2-looking visuals might not age the best today but forget that, it’s the chemistry these two share that truly melt this track down.
Also, while researching a pick for this question, I was reminded that Chingy had a Janet Jackson feature. CHINGY! Janet may be the most generous woman alive.
What’s Janet’s most underrated album?
Damon: 20 Y.O.
This album is a celebration of Janet’s career and while the album isn’t as good as the almighty four it doesn’t mean that this is bad. “So Excited” is one her best songs from that decade. It has the 2000s hip hop style production, good singles , great album cuts and it’s not too lengthy unlike her four previous albums.
Edd: Damita Jo
I know a lot of the perceived disinterest in this album has been pegged on the Super Bowl fiasco that occurred months before this album’s release. I don’t buy that in full – it’s pretty impossible to quantify that anyway – but whatever the reason, the world missed out on a really solid project. It was certainly wasn’t a total flop; Damita Jo went platinum and snagged a Grammy nomination, but I rarely see it mentioned among her fandom. That’s a shame, it’s a quality R&B release.
Name an album cut that should have been a single
Damon: “The Knowledge”
I’m still unsure why this wasn’t a single over “Alright.” The message of the song not only has a good meaning but it’s still relevant today and also it was featured in the Rhythm Nation short film to promote the album.
Edd: “My Need”
Man, there are so many. “Thinkin Bout My Ex” and “Anything” immediately come to mind. I’ll go with “My Need,” a song that somehow maintains its vibey-ness while also turning out the dance floor. THIS, dear children, is the difference between today’s Nyquil-drenched vibes and an addictive groove.
What’s Janet’s best acting role?
Damon: Justice in Poetic Justice
This is probably Janet’s most iconic film role, her chemistry with 2pac really worked in the films’ favor. She also won 2 MTV movie awards including best female performance.
Edd: Penny in Good Times
Look playa, I love Janet as much as the next fan but y’all know I’m here to be honest. Janet’s acting roles … don’t usually move me. But every once in awhile she does a solid job. Her role in Poetic Justice rightfully gets a lot of attention but I’ve gotta go old school with Penny from Good Times. She was a pretty underrated child actress and Penny is involved in some of the most memorable (and infamous) moments of the latter half of the series.
Janet obviously has classic albums, but how many? And what are they?
Damon: Hmm I’d say she has four: Control, Rhythm Nation, Janet and The Velvet Rope are classics. Control brought New Jack Swing into mainstream, Rhythm Nation has the record for the most top fie singles out of ANY album ever with seven and is considered one of the best albums ever, Janet is easily one of the most influential R&B albums of the 90s and The Velvet Rope may not have the mainstream success as the previous three albums however it’s very influential to the dark and moody themes that we see today.
Edd: I’m definitely with you on Rhythm Nation and Velvet Rope for the very reasons you shared. I’m a little on the fence about Janet and Control. As I said earlier on, Janet may be her most beloved album, there are still a few noticeable flaws that keep it from reaching that upper echelon for me. Control is a better album but again, doesn’t quite feel like a shoe-in for classic status under my notoriously picky standards. Still, I won’t argue too hard against classic status for either – both are highly influential and helped push R&B and New Jack Swing, respectively, into the mainstream spotlight. Two bonafide classics and two “probablys” is an incredible track record.
So many younger artists have been inspired by Janet. Who does her legacy the most justice?
Beyoncé embodies what is great about Janet and in her work – great dancing in her videos and live shows, the trendsetting in their music and their adoration by fans. While artists such as Ciara and Tinashe are also clearly inspired by Janet, Beyoncé has the ability to do multiple genres of music and have an overwhelming influence on other artists.
I can hear it now – the Beyhive will throw a tantrum after this response, saying “No OnE iNsPiReD dA kWeEn!” while the Janet’s folks will yell ‘BUT SHE’LL NEVER BE JANETTTTTTTT!!!!!”
There’s really no winning on the Internet.
However, once again, Damon is right. Watch Beyonce on stage and there is no question that Damita Jo is all up in her DNA. Other artists have borrowed from Janet – from tone to stage presence – but none have done it as successfully as Beyonce. Sorry, those are just the facts.
Would Janet’s current day career be any different if the Super Bowl fiasco didn’t happen?
Damon: I’m going to be fair here, if the Super Bowl fiasco did not happen I don’t think there would be much difference to the success of the Damita Jo album or the singles from the album. At that point she was a legacy artist and she wasn’t a trendsetter like she was the previous decades. However the only impact it had on her career is that she was blacklisted from radio. Janet is one of the biggest artists from the 80s and 90s but if you ask someone who was born after 2004 to name a Janet song they probably can’t name one (trust me I’ve asked a few friends). An entire generation has grown up without knowing any of Janet’s legendary material and that’s so unfortunate.
Edd: Come on now, Damon, people don’t read these things to see us agree, they want us to drag each other! But I’m sure we’ll both be dragged by your fellow Janet stans after this one.
I’ll spare y’all yet another one of my Nipplegate rants, I’ll just say that despite Twitter’s claim to the contrary, there is not one totally innocent and one totally guilty party in the situation. But that’s life. Although the majority of the fallout very unfairly landed in Janet’s lap, I’m not so sure I buy the narrative that her career was completely derailed and never recovered. To Damon’s point, by 2004 Janet was transitioning into the role of legacy artist – the hitmaker guaranteed to give you good albums and big tours but probably not record-breaking sales anymore. The scandal stunted the promotion of Damita Jo album but certainly not its quality. And the last major concert I attended before Ms. Rona put the world on lockdown was Janet’s State of the World tour, and that place was packed. Almost two decades later and she’s still eating.
Without the scandal, I think her career would be right where it would be today – solid albums and sold-out tours, just minus the constant Justin Timberlake slander. The Super Bowl fiasco may have been a speedbump but it in no way stopped the unstoppable Janet.
Who got it right, Damon or Edd? Crown the winner below and share your thoughts on the questions too.