“The album and the film is about people uniting through dance and music, dealing with a lot of the social problems we have. I feel that there’s one thing that we all have in common, and that’s music. I know a song can’t change the world, but if our music could inspire some of the people and make them want to join hands and begin to deal with a lot of the social problems we have, then hopefully we could make some sort of progress, and that’s pretty much what it’s all about.
With this heartfelt and inspiring speech at a press conference in the year of 1989 that Janet Jackson started the Rhythm Nation 1814 Era. After the success of the Control album, released in 1986, and all the attention she received from the media and the music world, Janet was still motivated to compose. In the interviews, she even said that the executives from her record label wanted her to record a Control pt. 2, expanding the ideas and contents of the album to give life to her new project. They wanted her to touch on the drama surround the Jackson family, Janet, however, refused, saying that it was exactly what the audience would be expecting from her.
She then joined forces, once again, with the duo of producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the Flyte Time Records studios in Minneapolis, and started working on what would be, arguably, her greatest album and a revolution in pop music. More confident and comfortable to talk about whatever she wanted, Janet contributed in different tracks along with Jimmy and Terry. She also composed and produced ‘Black Cat ‘ by herself.
This track, which would later become one of the biggest hits of her career, diverged from the sound that the fans were used to and showcased lots of guitar and raspy, screamy vocals. Janet’s inspiration to compose this song came from the story of a young drug addict who had pleaded for help from Jimmy Jam. “Control was about my world, my life and things that had happened to me. Now, I want to talk about issues of our world “. The phrase said by Janet in 1990 very well defines the whole concept of the album. Rhythm Nation 1814 talked about drugs, violence, racism and social inequality, problems that were ubiquitous in the world in the early 90’s and, in a sense, still today.
With the aid of audiovisual tools, Janet made history with the music videos and the short-film from this album. The film, directed by Dominic Sena was a TV special, later released on VHS, which told the story Kickdrum, a poor black boy that dreamt of becoming a musician, but saw this dream increasingly distant due to the difficulties and prejudice. Very angry, he ends up succumbing to the world of crime. The roughly 15-minute-long short film shows how music and dance saved the boy, a metaphor for the real intent of Janet with this album: to make people open their eyes and join to fight against real threats, social problems.
Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 remains the best-selling album of 1990 in the U.S. and the first and only to have seven Top 5 Hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The album had five Grammy nominations that year and gave Janet the Best Music Video Award. All of this without mentioning the breaking record at the Billboard Music Awards of 1990, when Janet took home 15 of the 16 awards she was nominated to. To date, the album is a milestone in the history of music and reference to many young artists.