Rhythm Nation 1814
If 1986’s Control established Janet Jackson as a force in R&B, Rhythm Nation 1814, arriving three years later, was her soul manifesto; she used proud politics, stark iconography, and heavy-hitting beats to craft a State of the Union address that demanded to be danced alongside. Working once again with the Minneapolis production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, whose work on Control had kickstarted their takeover of late-'80s R&B-leaning pop, Jackson channeled her calls for respect into calls for unity—both lyrically and through her relentless genre-melding. The results include cracking rock songs like the sinewy "Black Cat" as well as funk workouts like the jubilant wedding-song-ready "Alright." Filled with aural collages and spoken-word interludes tackling the cultural ills that plagued the chaotic late '80s (and still reverberate decades later), Rhythm Nation 1814 flows like a long night at the club—complete with reminders of why finding transcendence on the dance floor is a necessary act. "State of the World" has a propulsive beat and slinky bassline that make its stories about people on the edge and its visions of a better world ("Can't give up hope now/Let's weather the storm together," she declares after verses about homeless kids and teen moms) hit even harder. "The Knowledge" takes a defiant stand against various strands of ignorance while synths careen around Jackson and her army—a phalanx that she envisioned in the stark black-and-white clips for "Rhythm Nation" and "Miss You Much," which featured her leading precision-grade dance troupes outfitted in decorated tops. The pleasure principle that made Jackson's previous album such a success powers this one, taking center stage on the buoyant "Love Will Never Do (Without You)," a giggly love song that features one of Jackson's most exuberant vocals, and the beckoning "Escapade," which blends the '60s girl-group ideal with New Jack Swing's synths and strutting. The ballads at the record's end, which include the Herb Alpert-assisted push into ecstasy "Someday Is Tonight," showcase her slow-jam skills and hint at the sensual side she'd explore on later albums like The Velvet Rope. While not as explicitly political as the other tracks, they still contribute to the album's ideal of a better world—one where strong women like Jackson can take control of their own bliss while leading the next generation to a place where knowledge and harmony reign supreme.