Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis can easily be regarded as one of the best songwriter-producer teams to ever exist. They created hits for your fave and their fave as well. In an exclusive conversation with Audacy's own Pat Prescott, Jam and Lewis open up about their debut album, their one-of-a-kind partnership, and share stories working with icons like Prince, Janet Jackson, and Morris Day.
"Well, the origination of the Jam & Lewis project actually started 35 years ago. And you mentioned Janet's name, so it's been 35 years since Control and right before we started working on the Control album, we had started working on our own project," Jam began.
At an assumed stopping point, an A&R wanted to hear what they'd done. So, they played some hits you might know— "Pleasure Principle," "Nasty," "When I Think Of You"— until the A&R asked for "just one more." The duo said 'forget it' and began to play their project. "About three songs in, he says, 'that's the song I need for Janet," Jam recalled. The next day at the studio, they played what became "What Have You Done For Me Lately," which was the first single of her career and according to Jam, "launched her career." It also shelved their project for three decades.
When they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017, they were asked what they hadn't done and would like to do. Jam recalled, "we looked at Babyface who was going in the same year as us and said, 'well we would like to work with Babyface [and] we'd like to do our own album.' So, selfishly we started keeping the songs for ourselves that we were giving to everybody else and now we have Volume One."
With the pair having worked together for so long, we're sure it wasn't without conflict. So, we had to know what makes their partnership so successful to create an album of this caliber. Jam expressed, "well I think the foundation of it is a word you said and that's resolve." He explained that the two men have never had an argument because "an argument is something you're trying to win [which is] different from a disagreement." He continued to define that a disagreement is, rather, something you're trying to solve.
Jam stated that he would never want to be apart of anything that causes Lewis to lose because they're on the same team. "When we have a disagreement, we come to not whether it's his way or my way, but what's the best way? And the best way always wins," Jam explained.
The other reason why their partnership works is because nearly 40 years ago, they shook hands and decided to split everything 50-50. Even if either one of them writes/produces a song 100% (which has happened), it'll still get split evenly between them. "We set ourselves up to succeed in the partnership because it is a true partnership," Jam continued.
For more tales on their classic hits and illustrious careers, get into the full conversation above.