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SIR LUCIAN
TURNS IT UP
UMG chief is sitting on top of the world. (9/16a)
OCEAN ACTIVITY?
Let's be Frank. (9/16a)
DRAKE IS EXTREMELY WEALTHY
And not just in Canadian dollars. (9/16a)
KACEY TURNS A PAGE
A close reading of star-crossed (9/10a)
TOP 20: RE-CERTIFIED
The Toronto Raptor strikes again. (9/16a)
HITS' 35TH ANNIVERSARY
A chronicle of the inexplicable.
GRAMMY: ALBUM OF THE YEAR
We make yet more predictions, which you are free to ignore.
2022 TOURS
May we all be vaxxed by then.
ROCK'S NEW CHAPTER
Power pop, global glam and the return of the loud.
THE B-SIDE
JAM & LEWIS: VOLUME 1 (AT LAST)
7/30/21

By Miles Marshall Lewis

Some of us have been waiting for Jam & Lewis: Volume 1—the debut album of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—for over 30 years. Not for the obvious reason: that the duo (known professionally since the early '80s as Flyte Tyme) has never before produced a Quincy Jones-like collection of new songs by other artists. Some of us remember Jam and Lewis on BET’s Video Soul in the late ’80s, hinting with host Donnie Simpson about a project called The Secret. Showcasing singer Lisa Keith (most famous for dueting with Janet Jackson on the 1987 Herb Alpert single “Making Love in the Rain”) with Flyte Tyme’s production as something like a group, The Secret was the original Jam & Lewis album fans were promised decades ago.

The Secret was well-kept indeed—unreleased and probably converted into Lisa Keith’s unheralded Walkin’ in the Sun, from Flyte Tyme’s Perspective Records label in 1993. Keith isn’t on Jam & Lewis: Volume 1. Responsible for the sound of late 20th century R&B radio as much as contemporaries like Prince, Teddy Riley and Babyface, the duo called on their amazing contacts list to fill out a modest 10-song, 49-minute album. Usher, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Sounds of Blackness, Morris Day and Boyz II Men were former clients. Others—like Toni Braxton, Charlie Wilson, Heather Headley and Babyface—were not.

The results are iffy. There’s a double-edged sword to releasing an album designed to be timeless by ignoring R&B trends of the past 25 years. Competing with Teddy Riley’s harder-edged new jack swing in the late ’80s, Jam and Lewis created Janet Jackson’s classic Rhythm Nation 1814. Refusing to contend with trap or Auto-Tune, Jam & Lewis comes across exactly as they intended: an album that wouldn’t sound out of place on R&B radio circa 1991. Depending on the listener, it will either evoke fond memories of a quintessential era in R&B or sound stuck 30 years in the past. Fortunately for them, modern artists like Silk Sonic are currently throwing back to the past that Jam and Lewis can still replicate effortlessly.

The lyrical rawness of, say, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales is conspicuous by its absence all over Jam & Lewis, musically stuck as it is in a moment in time. Mary J. Blige sings of a love that’s got her wheeling around on “Spinnin.” Mariah Carey laments over another broken heart on “Somewhat Loved (There You Go Breakin’ My Heart).” As one-time bandmates in Prince’s R&B protégé group, The Time, the duo have backed the pervy persona of Morris Day before—most proficiently on his only chart-topping solo hit, “Fishnet.” On Jam & Lewis’s “Babylove,” the 63-year-old Day moves on from sexy stockings to asking barely legal paramours for ID. With asides from Day’s mirror-holding valet, Jerome Benton, the song’s a highlight just for getting the old band back together.

Though their late mentor Prince never managed to produce others without having them sound like himself, Jam and Lewis couch Babyface in a song that sounds 100 percent like a ’90s Babyface ballad on “He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It.” It sounds comfortable, the best descriptor for Jam & Lewis: Volume 1 on a whole. Here’s hoping Volume 2—with Janet Jackson, or maybe some modern flavor from Lianne La Havas—takes a few more chances.