Janet Jackson’s ‘Janet.’ Turns 20

Janet Jackson re-declared her independence 20 years ago. Released on May 18 of 1993, her fifth studio album and first for Virgin Records was titled simply janet. It was punctuation as career statement, as she bucked the trend of her prior projects and left her family’s behemoth of a surname deliberately out of the title. This symbolic move to be accepted on individual artistic terms was complimented by a set of 14 R&B songs and mood-setting interludes that expressed her own confident views on sex and sensuality, and of balancing the confident with the coy. Production and songwriting assistance came courtesy of the hit-making Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis team, but this was Jackson’s moment of assertion.

The legacy of janet. has grown steadily over the last few years, especially after Kendrick Lamar scored a hit when producer Scoop DeVille hooked up a sample from Miss Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place” for the Compton kid’s “Poetic Justice” single. So we checked in Scoop and a wave of current artists who’ve either paid tribute to the album (as with How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell covering “Again” during live shows) or whose appreciation of the record’s organic sensuality has seeped over into their own songwriting (see: modern soul men Jesse Boykins III, Bilal and Raheem DeVaughn). We also talked to alt-leaning figures like U.K. warbler Alice Russell and musical renaissance man Dev Hynes. Here’s how they reminisce over janet.

Check out MTV Style’s tribute to Jackson’s iconic fashion.

1. First Time, First Place
janet. was released back in 1993, when many of its future fans were still in their formative musical stages. Here are those first listen memories.

Dev Hynes: I first heard that record from MTV. I remember being struck by the videos, especially around that time as MTV and video were kinda like in full force so the songs and the videos to me at that point are one and the same. My sister had the album the week of release and I guess I was like eight years old. I looked up to my sister so everything that she would listen to religiously, I would also listen to religiously. We’d sit and listen and dance and pretend to make up dance routines and things like that — the routines were definitely Jackson influenced! But that album reminds me of so much; there’s so many things around that time and it was like a soundtrack. I really associated it with the 1994 World Cup in the USA and my mum letting me stay up to watch some of the games. It was definitely the first Janet album that I can recall hearing and begin aware that it was happening at the time. Then it was later on that I got into the earlier records. It’s funny ’cause it’s almost my love for the album is almost detached from my Janet Jackson love in a weird way just because of how young I was when I first heard that music.

Tom Krell: The first time, I was about nine years old. I was in the car, like my mom was playing it in the car. At the time I was mostly listening to stuff on KISS 107.5 in Denver, so rap and R&B. I remember songs like “Again” and “Any Time, Any Place.”
Scoop DeVille: I was a young kid and my mom owned the record and we used to listen to it a lot. It was innovative and with her being part of a family that had such a big legacy, everything she did was top notch. My mom was a huge Janet fan from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 — and she was also listening to a lot of Teena Marie and Michael Jackson then — so I grew up on it. It’s second nature for me.

Jesse Boykins III: The first time I heard janet. was my freshman year at college; one of my friend’s roommates was playing it. We were freshmen, so we were 17 and it was the first time girls were outside of their parents’ house and got a chance to be completely open with themselves and that Janet album actually symbolized that for a lot of young girls, like to be open sexually and sensually and be able to date and experiment when all these things went down around that time. For a lot of women I knew, that was true. A lot of times women that I’d hang out with would put me onto a lot of different records and this was one of them.

Bilal: I think I was over at a girlfriend’s house. I had a girlfriend who was really into Janet Jackson — I think all girls were really into Janet Jackson though! I remember just the craftsmanship on those songs, like the range and the arrangements. I really felt like the production on that album was on a whole other level as soon as I heard it.

Raheem DeVaughn: Those records, you hear them and it takes you back to high school prom and it takes you back to the first mixtape you made for a girl and it takes you back to your first kiss. It’s just fond memories of love for me.

Alice Russell: Basically, before hearing the album I remember the image of her boobs! I remember all the billboards in the area — I know in some places it wasn’t allowed — so I remember the image before hearing the album, if you know what I mean.

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