Legendary Mpls. producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis discuss new album, legacy


 – by Marquis Taylor

Photo by Marselle WashingtonJimmy Jam (left) and Terry Lewis

As one of music’s most decorated songwriting and production teams, there are few things left for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to accomplish within their illustrious career. While their musical impact has spanned decades thanks to the hits they’ve produced for the likes of Alexander O’Neal, New Edition, and Janet Jackson, crafting an album for themselves has been nothing short of an afterthought.

 With no greater time than the present, the Minneapolis natives have unveiled their long-awaited debut to the delight of longtime fans. Simply titled “Jam and Lewis Volume One,” the 10-song album is a star-studded affair with collaborations ranging from Babyface, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, and the Sounds of Blackness.

As the two luminaries explained, the origins and inspiration for this record can be traced back to a pivotal point in their career. 

“The inspiration behind this project started 35 years ago,” Jimmy Jam told the MSR via Zoom.

“It was around the same time when we were working on Janet’s [Jackson] record ‘Control.’ When we were done with the album, John McClain, who was an A&R at A&M Records, came to Minneapolis to listen to the work we had done.

“As he was listening, he felt that the album was missing something and that it needed one more song. Afterwards, John, Terry, and I went out to eat, and on the way there, Terry played a track we’d been working on for our album. Once John heard it, he got excited and said, ‘That’s the song we need for Janet’s album!’ Janet eventually heard the song and loved it. The song would later become ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately,’ which launched her career and put an end to our album.”

In the ensuing years, many artists would seek out the hitmakers in search of their magic touch. This would cause more delays in their project as material intended for themselves would be given to other artists. After they were bestowed with a prestigious honor, the two decided to take matters into their own hands, as Jam recalled.  

“Three or four years ago, we became selfish and decided to finally work on our album. We were also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame during this time, along with Babyface, who is someone we always wanted to work with.”

Birthed out of their hall of fame induction is the album’s lead single and collaboration with Babyface, “He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It,” which has been a fixture on radio for the better part of 2020 as well as 2021. For the three producers whose trademark sound dominated the charts and airwaves for almost 40 years, this dream collaboration is a welcome addition and a throwback to ’90s adult contemporary soul.

“Being in The Time we had the best teacher in the world because we had Prince…”

— Jimmy Jam

With an all-star cast of collaborators, creating a cohesive vision for this project can come with the tallest of orders. However, as Lewis explained, each song not only represents the album’s collective vision, but the songs also represent elements of the Minneapolis Sound.  

“All of the songs represent the vision of the project just given the amount of time it took for everything to come to life,” Lewis said.

“The whole album is like a tree bearing its fruits because there are many fruits to choose from. For the Minneapolis Sound, the album represents the beginning and the beginning since it opens with the Sounds of Blackness—which signifies the start of our record label—and ends with Morris [Day] and Jerome [Benton], which represents the start of our career with The Time,” Lewis continued. “Then you have Mary J. Blige, who we’ve worked with before, followed by Toni Braxton, who we have never worked with before, but have always been a fan of her work.

“You add that with an artist like Babyface, who we respect so much as a songwriter and producer. To have all of these people come together for one project is very extraordinary.”

Along with their album, this year also marks the 35th anniversary of Janet Jackson’s “Control” and the 40th anniversary of the first album by The Time, two important periods in the producers’ lives and careers. The super-producers reflected on these collective milestones and the moment they experienced stardom as a member of The Time.

“Being in The Time we had the best teacher in the world because we had Prince,” explained Jam. “We also had Morris Day, who was amazing himself. In fact, it was Morris who fought to get us in the group because Prince, at one point, was trying to switch people in and out of the lineup. Morris was very adamant about me and Terry being part of the group and it worked out really well.”

Jam continued as he recounted one of The Time’s earliest tours.

“I remember one of our first tours where we opened up for Cameo and Shalamar. I believe it was at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. Detroit was one of the first cities that immediately embraced us and that’s thanks to the Electrifying Mojo, who played all these records by Prince and The Time on his radio show. What I remember most about the show was the moment we hit the stage and how loud the crowd was. When people ask me about the moment I felt like a star, I always point back to that show in Detroit.”

On their work with Jackson and her 1986 breakthrough album “Control,” Lewis added, “The biggest love story I have about the ‘Control’ album was just hanging with Janet for a week and chillin’. It had nothing to do with music, but everything to do with creation. I think about this time as the incubation period because we were incubating what the future was and forging a new relationship.

“Over the years we’ve been able to see Janet’s growth as an artist, but also as a person, especially as a mother, which is something she always wanted for herself,” Lewis continued. “For us, it wasn’t about the music or the hits, it was about loving the person and developing a relationship with the person we were working with.”

As their latest release continues to break ground, the duo remains hard at work with new material on the horizon.

“Believe it or not, volume two is in the works,” Lewis proclaimed. “We’re starting to work on new music and put things together. The volumes are only going to get better and better as time goes on because we’re going to keep working on it. But the first volume has been an amazing journey and we appreciate everyone that’s been part of it.”

For more on Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and the new album, visit their Facebook page @JimmyJamandTerryLewisOfficial.

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