On The Making of Rhythm Nation

“Before I ever started work on Rhythm Nation, I knew that I didn’t want to make another album like Control. Control was about my life; Rhythm Nation is about what’s going on in the world around us. The theme of the album is people united through dance and music, and we’ve tried to address some important social problems–bigotry, illiteracy, drugs, violence, the homeless–as well as the issue of leaving those problems behind for the next generation, which has no control over any of them.
While I knew I wanted to make a different kind of album this time, there was one thing I definitely wanted to keep the same: working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. We had such great success with Control, and my attitude was, if there’s magic there, why go and ruin it? The thing about Jimmy and Terry is that not only are they two of the most incredible producers around, they’re also great guys, and once again we had a lot of fun working together. 

We’ve tried to address some important social problems–bigotry, illiteracy, drugs, violence, the homeless–as well as the issue of leaving those problems behind for the next generation.

It took a while to get started-we were actually supposed to begin recording at the end of ’87, but we were all so tied up with different projects that we didn’t begin work in Minneapolis until January of ’89. But it was worth the wait, because it’s a real partnership with Jimmy and Terry; we trust each other, and they have enough confidence in me as an artist to really include me in the creative process.
I remember the night I arrived in Minneapolis, where we recorded the album in their new studio, I went by the studio just to say ‘Hi’ to the guys before heading for the hotel. Jimmy was getting ready to lay down a keyboard part, and I asked him if he wanted me to play the part while he engineered. He showed me the part, and I went ahead and played it; I ended up playing keyboards on ‘Rhythm Nation,’ ‘Miss You Much,’ and ‘State of the World.’
I’m also very proud of ‘Black Cat,’ which is the first song I’ve ever written completely on my own, as well as co-produced. We wanted to do a rock-funk song for the album, and one night I was in the hotel, getting ready to head down to the studio, when I just started humming this melody. I got Jellybean Johnson to play guitar and co-produce; Jimmy played some keyboards and Terry laid down a bass lick. ‘Black Cat’ was the last song we recorded for the album, and I think it turned out really well.
Overall, I’m very happy and proud that Rhythm Nation came together the way I had planned. I had a vision, a theme I wanted to get across, and to be able to convey that theme through music is very satisfying. This album means a lot to me, it really does.”

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