COVER STORY | Don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years! In nearly 40 years, legendary producers James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis have worked with every notable singer under the sun. From origins as members of The Time, the Minneapolis duo defined their own signature sound that blends soulful melodies with stylish live instrumentation. Recently, the hitmakers announced their debut album to be released under a new deal inked with BMG.
Although R&B lovers have cherished their indelible contributions to R&B for decades, this will be the first time that the pair is to be credited as artists. Driven by a newly released single “He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” featuring fellow R&B super-producer, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the debut promises “iconic collaborations spanning their influential discography.”
In celebration of one of the greatest production duos of all time, let’s review their most memorable compositions of 90’s R&B.
Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes
Departing from the socially conscious and military-strong Rhythm Nation (1990), Janet Jackson explored a newfound, sensual femininity on 1993’s Janet. The debut single, “That’s The Way Love Goes”, was a sexy kick-back that remains just as hypnotic as its release date. Laying chords over James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis delivered a funky yet jazzy score that set the scene for Jackson’s longest-running No. 1 hit, earning her a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee
Aside from their work with Babyface, there is an equally midas touch when Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis place a song upon Boyz II Men. Casting all pride to the side, “On Bended Knee” puts the Boyz in full beg mode on this 1994 ballad. Complete with all the elements we adore from the Philadelphia quartet; acknowledgment of transgressions by Shawn Stockman, apology by Nathan Morris, final spoken appeal by tenor Michael McCary, plus one of the greatest vocal finales ever by Wanya Morris – its no wonder that this song shot to No.1 on the Billboard charts. “On Bended Knee” would make history as the first time a group replaced themselves at the number one spot since The Beatles, knocking “I’ll Make Love To You” to No.2. With voices like these, you can’t help but forgive whatever they did and fall back in love.
Patti LaBelle – The Right Kinda Lover
Patti snapped on this one! Co-produced and co-written by James “Big Jim” Wright and Sounds of Blackness lead vocalist Ann Nesby, “Right Kinda Lover” is an energized, confident and catchy bop performed by the Queen of the Divas. Under the helm of Jam & Lewis, Miss Patti cooks up a scrumptious salute to the man in her life, volleying from tender tones to soaring soprano. Appearing on both the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop III and her own LP, Gems, “Right Kinda Lover” made all the right waves on the Billboard, R&B/Hip-Hip and Dance charts.
Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic
When Jam and Lewis took Janet Jackson to see the 40-piece gospel choir of Sounds of Blackness, she was impressed by their ability to shift from praise to pop; they knew they had to get involved. The duo signed the choir to their Perspective Records label and released “Optimistic”, the contemporary gospel fused with New Jack Swing debut single in 1991. Described by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ as their “favorite song we’ve ever done”, the song had major crossover appeal on soul and dance charts. A pioneering testament to the evolution of gospel, this Grammy Award-winning uplift continues to encourage us all to keep our head to the sky!
Janet Jackson – If
When you work with a chameleon like Janet Jackson, you too must be a shape-shifter. Throughout Janet’s 1993 album, the producers and their muse explored new layers of funk, dance, rhythm and blues. On the album’s second single, “If,” Jam and Lewis utilized all of their musical weaponry to compose a rock/soul tour de force. Jackson’s vocals wade seductively beneath guitar riffs, pounding drums and that Supremes sample for an unforgettable breakdown. The video was just as enticing with flirtatious choreography that still keeps us entranced.
New Edition – I’m Still In Love With You
When R&B supergroup New Edition reunited on their 1996 album Home Again, the return of Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe, Mike Bivins and Johnny Gill would have been remiss without a contribution by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Recreating the magic they crafted on “Can You Stand The Rain”, the boys-now-men delivered another classic ballad. Led by Ralph and Ricky, each soloist shines among the harmony on this certified gold love song that satiated longtime N.E. fans while exposing new listeners with strong radio airplay.
Chante Moore – Chante’s Got A Man
Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis are masters at tailoring a song to its artist. No composition was more bespoke than Chante’s declaration of boo’d up-ness. Dedicated to Moore’s then-husband Kadeem Hardison, the chanteuse had a lot to sing about and her passion shined through every note of this record. You couldn’t hate, only congratulate, the love in her life. Even though she and Dwayne Wayne didn’t work out in the end, the song broke the Billboard Top 10 and remains Chante’s most signature hit.
Jordan Knight – Give It To You
When Jordan Knight wanted to show his blue-eyed soul, he knew exactly who to call. Written by Robin Thicke, the former New Kids on the Block member entrusted Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to concoct a bass-driven, stop n’ go summer smash that still knocks hard! His eponymous 1999 debut was certified gold, declaring Knight’s independence from his boy band origins, reaching No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and breathing new life into his career.
Janet Jackson – I Get Lonely
With such an extensive catalog in the 90s, the collaborations of Jam, Lewis and Janet truly deserves its own article. Appearing once again on our list, each song is a landmark of artistic growth and Jackson’s 1997 release, The Velvet Rope, was no exception to the groove. One of her most personal projects to date, Janet teamed with her longtime chemists to serve this intimate, snap-inducing, soulful solace. “I Get Lonely” feels like a quiet storm and we loved walking in the rain. Break it down, Miss Jackson. Break it down.
Ginuwine, RL, Tyrese, and Case – The Best Man I Can Be
A star-studded film like The Best Man warrants a soundtrack with just as much star power. On 1999’s “The Best Man I Can Be”, Jam and Lewis found a way to translate the hearted message of the film through music in the soulful quartet of RL, Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Case. Co-produced by James “Big Jim” Wright, the song gets bigger and stronger as it progresses. No one was half-steppin’ as this dream team of vocalists drew strength from each other for a magnum opus and unforgettable moment of brotherhood.
Zumble is proud to share “He Don’t Nothing Bout It”, the first single from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis featuring Babyface! Enjoy!
We look forward to the upcoming album, Jam & Lewis Vol. 1, to be released in Spring 2021.