20 Years Later, ‘Damita Jo’ Is An Underrated Gem In Janet Jackson’s Cannon

Released on March 30, 2004, the LP explores themes of love and romance with exceptional songwriting and stellar production.

In 2004, Janet Jackson was already revered as one of the most acclaimed artists ever. She sold millions of records, played at sold-out concerts worldwide, and starred in several feature films. Arguably, she was the most successful pop star at the time.

But the multi-Grammy Award winner would be mired in controversy after her performance in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Infamously, her right breast, covered with a nipple shield, was exposed by Justin Timberlake to those in attendance and the millions watching on TV while performing his song “Rock Your Body” as one of her surprise guests.

Following the incident, Jackson found herself and her music blacklisted by VH1, MTV, radio stations, and other platforms that refused to play her videos because of the fines levied by the  U.S. Federal Communications Commission. She was also barred from participating in the upcoming 2004 Grammy Awards. With all those factors at play, it's no wonder Damita Jo, Jackson's eighth studio album,  often gets overlooked.

Released on March 30, 2004, and titled after her middle name, Jackson worked on the project from August 2002, at the end of her “All for You Tour,” until February 2004, making it the longest she has worked on a project.

Along with long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jackson enlisted several other prominent producers, such as Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Dallas Austin, Kanye West, and Scott Storch, to produce on the album. Because of the diversity of producers, Damita Jo has a sample-driven sound that reflects the growing influence of hip-hop that Jackson incorporated into her sound over her last few projects.

"Just a Little While," the album’s first single, was produced by Austin. The guitar-laden track captures Jackson at her best with the sexual lyrics that detail her desire to hook up with her lover. While the song only reached number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a low placement for Jackson, the song topped the Dance Club Songs chart] and became a global hit, reaching number three in Canada, six in Spain, and the top 10 in Hungary.

The second single, “I Want You,” was written by Harold Lilly, West, and John Legend and produced by West, Jam & Lewis, and Jackson. Sonically, the song is in the vein of a Motown track from the 60s, a clear departure from the contemporary R&B and pop sound that was Jackson’s calling card. Eventually, the song became Jackson's 33rd consecutive top-40 hit on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. 

"I Want You" was certified platinum for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards. Many critics believe that “I Want You” would have been a crossover smash if not for the backlash Jackson experienced.

"All Nite (Don't Stop)” was the final single from the LP and is regarded as one of the best tracks from the project. The electro-funk track features Jackson bringing all of the sultry vibes and the video showcases the signature choreography that her fans have adored her for.

While “All Nite” didn’t chart on Billboard Hot 100, it landed at number one on the Dance Club Songs and reached number eight on Hot Dance Airplay.

Other standout tracks include the seductive “Sexhibition,” the smoothed funk of “My Baby,” the laid-back groove of “Spending Time With You,” and the sensual “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex.”

Upon its initial release, “Damita Jo” debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 and was held out of the top spot by Usher’s Confessions album.

Damita Jo was nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album and  "I Want You" received a nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The album would go on to sell three million copies worldwide.

 Although the album didn't produce the same numbers as some of her previous offerings, “Damita Jo” was a success despite the forces in the industry that sought to sabotage the project and her career

While Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, and janet will always be considered undisputed classics of her catalog, Damita Jo is a tremendous addition to her sterling discography. Jackson was not afraid to experiment with her production and delivered a cohesive body of work that showed her pushing the boundaries of her creativity after being in the entertainment industry for more than three decades. Today, it still sounds fresh, which is a testament to her brilliance as an artist.

Without question, the album suffered from the Super Bowl XXXVIII controversy, which slowed down project sales. Since her self-titled debut in 1982, Damita Jo proved that Jackson was still on the cutting edge in the music world.

After years of being in the game, Janet, Ms. Jackson if you're nasty, still had it.

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