‘Dear Culture’: Are Janet Jackson’s albums better than Michael Jackson’s albums? A discussion with Matthew Allen

OPINION: The two music addicts chop it up about one of the crazier questions ever asked.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

If I can just be honest here for a second, I don’t ever actually think that any of my “takes” are “hot.” Or even absurd. For the most part, I think I’m just stating a fact and expecting everybody else to look up and to the left and then tell me just how right I am and how amazing my brain is. That’s my expectation. Alas, it almost never turns out like that. 

Such is the case with the question and discussion presented here in this latest episode of Dear Culture, our first as we kick in the door and celebrate Black Music Month. Many moons ago, I wrote a whole article based on a conclusion I came to while driving around in Washington, D.C., one day: I think that Janet Jackson’s best albums—her four albums that include Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet and The Velvet Rope—is arguably better than the best four-album run by her big brother Michael (a run that includes Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous). I genuinely thought I was just stating the obvious. As it turns out, I was NOT stating the obvious at all. In fact, a lot of people said some very mean things to me that I won’t repeat and have yet to get over. Some things you should just never say about a man’s wallet. 

Well, that conversation and the ensuing uproar and disagreement (not from everybody; some people agreed with me) has been one that I love to partake in any time there’s a lull in a convo. Nothing excites people like the nuclear bomb presented here. So when we decided to relaunch this podcast right around the time of Black Music Month, well, this conversation seemed like a layup. If anything, it’s provocative and will get the people going. 

But who do you talk that talk with? Thankfully, Matthew Allen is also here at theGrio and he is a sincere music head and also thinks I’m insane, two ingredients you absolutely need for a conversation nobody ever asked for. When we reached out to the homie, Matthew, he was ready to get to it right then but we had to tell him to slow down, you’re going Off the Wall right now, bro. Sure, it will be a Thriller of a conversation, and maybe even my take is Bad, but let’s do this properly, so it’s not Dangerous. You see, I wrested Control of the situation while I did a little bop like we were living in a Rhythm Nation. I asked the homie Janet (I don’t have a homie named Janet, beeteedubs) to find me the Velvet Rope that I know I had laying around because this, right here, was about to be a VIP conversation. I know you see what I did there. 

Matthew and I talked about my premise and reasoning, and he clearly explained why I’m wrong, while also going way deeper into Michael’s raison d’etre as a musician on those albums than I ever. I’ve always just jammed out; Matthew thought about their purpose beyond the jam. I still think I’m right, but Matthew gave me some things to think about. Especially since I think all of Janet’s albums were as purpose-driven as one could be with an album; they were personal and had an assignment—what more can you ask for?

It was a good fun conversation, and we did that thing we do where we end it with a Blackfession (poor Matthew and his terrible Blackfession) and thankfully a Blackamendation to bring it home right. 

Thanks for checking out Dear Culture and our first Black Music Month conversation! Stay tuned for more Blackness and for more of the culture! Next week, we’re talking about one of the most anticipated albums of 2022!

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.