Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.
So in 2014, Jeff, Robert and I (along two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Z) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.
Mary J. Blige “No More Drama” (#15 pop, #16 R&B, #1 dance, 2001)
Produced by Jam & Lewis
Written by Jam & Lewis with Barry DeVorzon & Perry Botkin, Jr. (the latter two credited due to a sample of their “Nadia’s Theme.”)
…and a career-defining Grammy performance from 2002 that left Celine Dion slack-jawed.
MJ: The song itself is fairly typical, self-referential MJB (I’m surprised that she didn’t co-write it.) In this case, she turns a fairly ordinary song into a fantastic one via the conviction of her performance. I wouldn’t have known this was a Jam & Lewis song had I not read the liner notes (is it too soon to get nostalgic for liner notes?)
Jeff Giles: It is most certainly not too soon to get nostalgic for liner notes.
Michael Parr: Also, I definitely miss liner notes. You’d think that with the Internet that artists would find a way, but no one really bothers.
JG: I think that’s the next big frontier for services like Spotify — lyrics and liner notes. If Spotify had a competitor that offered that stuff, I’d gladly pay more for a subscription.
MP: Inspiration comes from all sorts of places; using the theme song from a daytime soap in a tune called “No More Drama” is a pretty inspired stroke. I agree, however, that this would fall flat in a lesser artists hands.
Dr. Z: I think that at some point, we played the “Young and the Restless” theme in elementary or middle school band (I hit the skids before high school band).
In all seriousness though, it’s a perfect sample. The simple minor chord motif, the associations between the lyrics and the sample’s signification, the way that all of those elements combine to emote – as Parr said, it’s a stroke of genius. Particularly the way in which MJB and Jam and Lewis took the sparseness of the source material and really built it up into an intense crescendo as the song progresses.
MP: Y&R was (one of) my mom’s soaps when I was growing up, so I had an knee-jerk reaction to having to hear that theme over and over.
Going back to something MJ said earlier, though; were it not for this column, I would have had no idea this is a Jam & Lewis track. We’ve spoken often about the duo’s signature sound, yet this is (seemingly) devoid of the elements that tip you off. Looking at the record as a whole, there are a slew of producers—Dre, The Neptunes, Missy Elliot, Swizz Beats, to name just a few—who all have some pretty signature-sounding tunes (hell, “Family Affair” could be the next “The Next Episode”), do you think there was a conscious effort to not sound like a Jam & Lewis production?
MJ: Here’s the thing, though…do they have a signature sound?
I think the fact that they were able to adapt/morph is what kept them around longer than L.A./Babyface and Teddy Riley, who’d kinda fallen off the planet commercially by the early 2000s. Timbaland did the same thing: “Suit & Tie” sounds nothing like “Pony.”
Z: I think they absolutely have a signature sound. When I typically think of Jam and Lewis’ style, I think primarily of the records where they were harnessing the Minneapolis sound – be that recording Minneapolis artists like Alexander O’Neal, or grafting that sound onto other artists (a la Janet). I default to this as their “sound,” because while picked up by others, it’s an identifiable style that they helped to create in the early ’80s. They evolved past that, as they had to. But after what I call Flyte Tyme 2.0 (the 1814/Pandemonium sound) I do think that they were often indistinct, although certainly still a great production team.
MJ: I can see both sides of that point.