If there’s one constant we can count on, it’s the galvanizing way music makes us feel. It possesses an uncanny capability to immediately transport you to the precise time you first heard a specific song. While it can’t quite be explained, it is a unifying experience that a vast majority can understand.
For 40 years, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, now Jam & Lewis, have been consummate audio architects, crafting significant moments in R&B music. The producer/songwriter pair maintained the reputation of unforgettable benchmark periods that contributed to pop and Black culture. However, while assisting in cultivating such substantial careers for numerous singers, Jam & Lewis also had desires to release music for themselves.
Finally, unleashing their debut album Jam & Lewis, Vol. 1 to the masses, the idea for the body of work was actually conceptualized 35 years ago.
“We had started working on the Jam & Lewis album and we stopped that project to then work on the Control album with Janet [Jackson],” Jam recalls with Rated R&B over a phone conference. “When we were done, or at least we thought we were done with the Control album, we were recording in Minneapolis and the A&R person [John McClain] came to town. We played him a bunch of songs and we figure we’re done. He says, like all A&R people say, ‘I just need one more.’”
Jam continues, “We get in the car and Terry puts a cassette in and he says, ‘John, listen to this. This is our album, what we’re working on. We’re at the third song and John goes, ‘That’s the one I need for Janet right there.’ And we said, “What are you talking about?” He said, ‘We need that for Janet. Play it for her. If she likes it, give it to her.’ The next day, we go to the studio. We put the song on, just the track. When the track ends, she goes, “Who’s that for?” And we said, “You, if you want it.” And she said, “Oh, I want it.” That song became “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” So that song basically started her career and ended ours, as far as our album went.”
Fast forward to 2021, after amassing numberless chart-topping hits and accolades with Jackson, Jam & Lewis rounded up some of the other artists they love to revere them by creating music that would not only build on each other’s legacies but provide a refreshingly satisfying sound the two fittingly define as “new-stalgia.”
“The way we figure that is, it’s that excitement of hearing something new with the familiarity and comfort of hearing something that’s familiar” Jam says. “Our music, we’ve always felt, is timeless. If you think about a lot of these artists on [the album], and we definitely feel this way about ourselves, we’re at points in our careers where we don’t have anything to prove, but we still have a lot to say. There was no pressure in doing this. We’re not trying to do anything except make great music and empower those artists to be their best.”
Serving as a sonic bouquet for the artists they respect and are ultimately fans of, Vol. 1., one of Jam and Lewis’ main intentions was to remind fans why they fell in love with the artists, while enabling them to fall back in love with themselves. As a result, the album highlights features from former collaborators, including Heather Headley, Toni Braxton, and Boyz II Men.
“The air was always clear with any of the artists because we have great relationships,” Lewis shares. “It was always just a phone call away from something happening, and they made it very easy for us. These are unbelievable artists and unbelievable professionals. Once again, we are fans, so it’s a joy to have them in the studio at any time. We were blessed by them with such great performances. Man, everybody came to kill. You got to love that. They came ready, and there’s some great performances on this record from everyone. That’s the most important thing.”
“He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” with Babyface is the first proper single off the album, giving listeners a hearty taste of what to look forward to. Remaining in the top 10 on the Billboard R&B charts for over five months proves its connection and staying power with listeners. The track is true to form to Babyface’s long-standing motives, utilizing his debonair lyrics and vocals to come to the rescue.
Jam recollects the process of creating the song. “The idea with that song was to try to make the most Babyface sounding song that we possibly could make (laughs). It was fun because we actually started it pre-COVID, so we were able to actually sit in a studio together and actually compose the song. It was interesting because Babyface kept saying, ‘Who are we going to get to play guitar on this?’ And we were like, ‘You’re going to play guitar.’ You know, it’s funny, the artists never think of themselves the way we think of them, like we think Babyface is a wonderful guitar player, so part of his sound to us is him playing guitar. We recorded [on] analog tape, which was cool. For that particular song, we thought that was the way to go with it.”
Hopefully, foreshadowing another opportunity to work on his anticipated album, Jam & Lewis with Usher on “Do It Yourself.” Bringing a glowingly seductive energy, the mid-tempo ballad is an intense number that reassures listeners why the esteemed singer is a master at what he does.
“This song is one of those songs, if you could envision and encapsulate a Minneapolis feel-good song, this is that song,” Lewis explains. “It kind of puts you in the mind of the heyday Minneapolis sound and his delivery is superb. The song is very fly on the wall-ish, very voyeuristic, as he asks you, the listener, to pleasure yourself so that he can learn how to better facilitate you in play. He delivers it in a way that’s so sensuous and sultry, I can feel the sweat! When he listened to this song, as we did a playback for him one time, he said he felt like he was levitating, looking down on everything.”
One of the enkindling songs on the album is “Spinnin” with Mary J. Blige, drawing a supreme performance from the Queen of Hip-hop & Soul. With grand navigation from Lewis, the vocal master himself, we get the blazingly impassioned side of Mary that ignited the love fans hold dear.
“The chance to work with Mary is always amazing because she’s such an interpreter of lyrics, as not only writing her own lyrics, but interpreting what you write and singing it in a way that it really goes straight to your heart and straight to your soul,” says Jam. “Everybody’s life is changing and it’s that thing where you feel like you’re just spinning in the world. You don’t really know what’s up, what’s down. Terry always talks about, there’s gotta be a compass. At least you have to know where north is on the compass. This song is one that maybe starts off with confusion, but it ends with resolution. That’s the message that was important for her to say to people that when you’re feeling like things aren’t going your way, that there’s a way to come out of it.”
Purposely titling their album Vol.1 leaves an assumption for following installments to come, which Jam & Lewis have confirmed is in the works. “We’ve been around for so long and our list is so long,” Jam shares. “Everyone can’t make volume one, which is why we’ve got to do volume two, volume three, so on and so forth. Listen, Janet is always at the top of any of our wishlists. As is New Edition, as is Alexander O’Neal and Cherrelle, as is S.O.S. Band. Trust me, we don’t even have one list, we have lists. So, yes, I would say stick around and see who’s coming up next.”
In checking off releasing an album off their to-do list, they also plan to bring the album, along with some friends and their tremendously stacked catalog on tour for the Jam & Lewis experience.
The two are well aware that while they make the music, it takes a village to make a hit. As well as honoring their careers and the careers of the artists they’ve worked with, the album is also meant to uplift all the people involved; the various creatives, fans and any and everyone that champions their sound.
Jam proclaims, “There should be a celebration of music and an elevation, in our minds, of R&B music and the greatness of R&B music because that’s our roots and that’s what we do.”
Listen to Jam & Lewis, Vol. 1 below.