April 24, 2001.
“You just gotta get it in you now…”
“I know, right? I wish I had a lot of stuff in me now.”
Janet Jackson’s All For You opens with a completely random minute of mumblings between Janet and a friend in the studio. She ends it, asking, “Are you recording our conversation? I get the feeling you are. Are you, Jimmy?” And, while it is indeed random, it sort of sets the tone for the album. All For You is in many ways a conversation between Janet and her fans, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, and ex-friends.
But, lets get the tea on the salvage out of the way first. All For You debuted at #1, Janet’s 5th album to do so, and also had the second highest first week sales of any female album, ever. The album also included two #1 hits: lead single “All For You” (it perched at the top spot for 7 weeks, holding off Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”) and Nutty Professor single “Doesn’t Really Matter.” Follow up singles “Someone to Call My Love” and “Son of a Gun” were hits too, peaking at #3 and #28, respectively. This was Janet Jackson in her prime, slaying the charts as per usual from 1986-2001. It found her once again teamed up with the tried and true team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who co-produced the album alongside Janet and a new addition to the team, early 2000s hitmaker Rockwilder, who helped with several of the tracks.
Now, lets get into the real tea. The album’s first proper track is shady club number “You Ain’t Right.” On this synthy shadecapade, Janet effectively ethers an ex-friend. Shrouded in stylized, effected vocals, Janet details how one of her good friends have wronged her. On the chorus, she breaks into an infectious and lively chant, “Oooh-hooo, you ain’t right! Oooh-hooo, sick and tired!” Meanwhile, in the ad-libs, she mumbles more cutting chides, such as “you stupid bitch.” Indeed, Ms. Jackson was pissed: “Some friends you grow old with, they’ll be there until the very end – I do believe that. But, not with her like I thought; let her in and I’ll get stabbed again.” Rumors swirled that Janet was coming for ex-choreographer Tina Landon, and while this was likely true, Janet never confirmed or denied these allegations.
Following said shade, All For You slides into its nostalgic title track. Sampling Change’s “The Glow of Love,” the song exuded 80s euphoria and subsequently lit up the clubs in the Spring of 2001. The sexy and infectious lead single was a huge hit for Janet, and rightfully so. It was catchy, fun and encapsulating everything that folks had grown to love about Janet at that point. It oozed sex, it was danceable, it had fast-singing and it had her signature, higher range belting. Littered with hooks, “All For You” is still as fresh and enjoyable as it was in 2001.
The party kept on jumping as Janet moved us into the next track, “Come on Get Up.” This bouncy dance number evoked tribal house influences and fits into Janet’s catalogue perfectly. It is reminiscent of her older work, yet still sounded new. Topped off with her signature laughter, “Come on Get Up” is smile and sweat inducing. Speaking of sweat…
It seems as though “Come on Get Up” might’ve had ulterior motives: the next series of tracks moves the “dancing” to the bedroom. “When We Oooo” is beautiful, sultry and sensual ode to a lover she can’t get enough of. While it is indeed sensual, “When We Oooo” and it’s follow up “China Love” are more on the romantic side. Unsurprisingly, “China Love” features Asian flourishes in yet another love-making ode.
Slowly but surely, Janet progressed through the stages of love making with these few songs. “Love Scene (Ooh Baby)” drips in sensuality, and the lyrics – while sung ever so sweetly, are in fact becoming increasingly raunchy. It sounds sweet enough, and not too explicit, sure, until, in barely audible ad-libs, she coos sweet-somethings such as “When you’re fucking me…” and proceeds to moan softly in the midst of a metaphorical rain storm that drenches a flawless baby-making instrumental from Jimmy and Terry.
Indeed, “Love Scene” is the perfect lead in for the album’s most controversial track: “Would You Mind.” It is the song that single-orgasmedly garnered All For You a Parental Advisory sticker. Not only does it have explicit lyrics, but also explicit audio. It picks up where “Love Scene” left off in the lyrical department as well as in the moaning department. “Would You Mind” features a full-on recording of Janet in the moments leading up to her climax. Lyrically, she explorers nearly every corner of the bedroom: “I’m gonna kiss you, suck you, taste you, ride you, feel you deep inside me, ooh… make you cum, too.” If you haven’t heard it, its worth the listen for sure. You will be shocked, and probably turned on. However, that’s not half as torturous as being in the shackles of one of these guys:
Despite the strong sexual magnitude of “Would You Mind,” it was apparently not enough to make Janet cum, though. Her climax is hilariously cut short: “The song ended! What the f— I didn’t even get to cum. Did you? You men … you men are just lame at times, I’m telling you.”
Next is quite the change in tune: “Trust a Try.” This rock ballad finds Janet delivering a rapid-fire vocal about trusting a new lover despite a failed prior relationship. It is a sonic standout on the album, and packs a fiery punch. Since Rhythm Nation, Janet made it a trend to include at least one song with a rock flare. janet. had “If,” The Velvet Rope had “What About” and All For You has “Trust a Try.”
However, All For You also has “Son of a Gun.” Sampling the Carly Simon classic “You’re So Vain,” Janet assumedly rebukes her ex-husband Rene Elizondo for the wrongs he’s done to her. Melding its rock inspiration with a more urban, hip-hop inspired structure, “Son of a Gun” unsurprisingly was assisted by a Missy Elliott feature and a Puff Daddy remix that packed a few extra punches. The video was a frighteningly perfect visualization of the dark, angry song and a highlight in its legacy.
To add insult to injury, she followed her smoking “Gun” with a healthy dose of “Truth.” Much more straight forward, “Truth” is a laundry list of call-outs of his lies. Of many notable lines, she sings “I had a career before, now didn’t I? Sold out around the world before, now didn’t I? I had a few hits before, now didn’t I?” However, “Truth” isn’t wholly bitter or indifferent. In its bridge, she sings “It’s hard to believe the love between us is over, it’s sad to think we couldn’t work it out but, how much is enough to pay for this mistake? Hope your love was sincere.” And really, after a divorce, that’s all one can do.
Well, that and find someone new: enter “Someone to Call My Lover.” The song opens with a sampled guitar riff from America’s “Ventura Highway,” and will instantly put a smile on your face. It is an optimistic, upbeat bop that is perfect for a summer day, top-down moment a la Janet in the music video. “Someone to Call My Lover” also famously introduced Janet to her future-now-ex-boyfriend Jermaine Dupri for the So So Def Remix.
The album approaches its closing moments with blissful bop “Feels So Right,” and the inclusion of her 2000 hit “Doesn’t Really Matter.” Both songs add to the positive tone set by “Lover” and inspire one last bop before the album’s more contemplative closer.
“Better Days” was the perfect choice to end the conversation that was All For You. Beginning with its dark and dramatically chilling intro (“When you live a nightmare, its hard to dream” is quite the line), “Better Days” morphs into an uplifting anthem of letting go and rebirth. “Leaving old shit behind,” she sings, “the blindfold’s off my eyes, and now all I see for me is better days.” Melding R&B and electronic dance music in a manner reminiscent of The Velvet Rope, “Better Days” is one of the album’s brightest standouts. She offers words of wisdom: “Can’t let this petty attitude start to jade my point of view; only thing that does is bring me down” and brings the album to a close by coming full circle. It began with a bit of a negative tone, but by the end, all of that negativity has been shed. For Janet, life from then on would be better. As for the fans, she ends the album officially by saying, “Well, if you like it then I’m hoping everyone else will.”
In a way, All For You marked the end of a Janet Jackson who was sorting through the struggles of life and sharing those struggles through her music. Not until last year’s Unbreakable had Janet again ventured into such personal and hard-hitting territory. Even then, Unbreakable is much more socially conscious than it is introspective. On 2006’s 20 Y.O., Janet said “there’s something to be said for not saying anything… I don’t wanna be serious, I wanna keep it light; I wanna have fun.” Perhaps unintentionally, this sentiment harkened back to All For You‘s hope for “Better Days.” 2004’s Damita Jo relished in her newfound love, 20 Y.O. was just, well, fun, and Discipline was flat-out impersonal; Janet unfortunately stepped away from the pen completely. While this seeming lack of depth disappointed many fans and critics, it was selfish to demand such content from Janet. She just wanted “Better Days.”
All For You was Janet’s last moment spent in the middle. It cemented her legacy as an icon (MTV even honored her with a special ceremony) and laid the groundwork for her now legendary status. After a four year absence and creeping over the dreaded 30-year-old hill Janet proved she still had it, and it was the last time that she ever needed to. All For You was the icing on the cake; Unbreakable was the cherry on top.
So, happy birthday, All For You – 15 years later, you finally got your cherry. Eat up.