Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are the architects of contemporary R&B. The pair met as teenagers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and after being discovered by Prince, they would eventually join forces as founding members of The Time. Eventually, they branched off to become one of the most prolific songwriting and production duos of all time crafting timeless songs and albums—most notably, with frequent collaborator Janet Jackson. Their catalog includes hits written and produced for The S.O.S. Band, New Edition, Michael Jackson, Boyz II Men, Usher, Alexander O'Neal, Johnny Gill, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey and countless others. When they launched their own imprint Perspective Records, they introduced Mint Condition and Sounds of Blackness to the world. 

Over the course of their illustrious career, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have written fifteen No.1 pop hits, 25 No.1 R&B chart-toppers, won 8 Grammys including Producer of the Year, and sold over 100 million records worldwide.

For their contributions to the music industry, they were recently enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2022.

EBONY spoke with the duo about their recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, what defines the sound of Minneapolis and the secret to their long-lasting creative partnership.

EBONY: How did it feel to get the call that you would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Jimmy Jam: I was surprised but it was very very cool. The way I look at is if you're writing a book on music history, it means that you have to include us somewhere in one of the chapters even if it was just a paragraph. We have to be part of it. So I think that feels very good, particularly because of this hall of fame unlike a sports Hall of Fame, you don't have to be retired to be a part of it. We're kind of happy about the fact that we don't feel that we have anything to prove at this point but we still have a lot to say. We still have a lot that we want to do. Our ultimate goal in this whole thing is that we wanted to leave music in a better place than we found it and so if we have the opportunity to continue to do that, then to me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is almost something to live up to rather than to retire from. 

Terry Lewis: It feels good. As always, it's good to be an honoree. To be honest with you, I don't know how to feel about it because it's one of those things I'd never thought about so it's kind of overwhelming, in a sense like wow, we’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don't know how to feel about that but I'm very happy about it at the same time. I learned a long, long time ago when people want to give you an honor just shut up and take it. Just allow it to happen. Because of the way we approach things, we never let awards define us, although they're very nice. But we always looked at it as the reward is better than the award. The reward is being able to do what we love to do.

And it's nice to show up to an awards show knowing you've already won [Laughs]. The other thing I'll say about it is that I feel like this is about our life's work so it includes all of the people that we've come across who have helped us achieve this. Obviously, all the fans that have purchased, played, danced to, or made love to the music that we've made. But also all the musicians we grew up with in Minneapolis, that's our incubator. Of course Prince, Janet, all of the artists over the years, and Leon Sylvers who put us in the studio for the first time. It's a shared experience because of all of those people who have played a part in what we've done in our careers. I hope they're happy about it and feel like it's a shared experience with them because that's the way we feel about it.

Along with Prince, you were instrumental in shaping the Minneapolis sound. What is about Minneapolis that makes it a place for incredible musicians to emerge and what defines the sound? Is it the cold weather?

JJ: When I think of the Minneapolis sound, I think it's derived from what Prince did which was to take synthesizers and use them as musical instruments. When we first started, I remember, synthesizers were sound effects machines. Prince actually played horn parts on synthesizers and made the sound and then paired that with, at the time, the Linndrum, the LM one, which was the first Linndrum. To me, that was the foundation of the sound. Even from back in that day, it was all about the keyboards, putting them in the forefront but then also adding in rock guitar and a hybrid of a bunch of different kinds of music solidified what the Minneapolis sound was. It was the sound of freedom.  As far as the cold weather, you didn't mind being in your house all day rehearsing because you weren't trying to be outside [Laughs]. So that kept you very focused on your craft for sure. 

TL: I think what Jim said is appropriate. I do think the Minneapolis sound correlates directly with the rise of Prince and we are born of that cloth. I think that's the genesis of that. But I will add that there's something in the water for sure. Minneapolis musicians play a lot different than other musicians from other cities as those musicians play different from people in other cities as well. So we had our own random style of playing and we were very aggressive with how we played. I think that's a big part of it as well. Certainly, the sounds of the synthesizer were a major part of what we were doing.

Throughout your careers, you've always spoken about Clarence Avant as one of your greatest influences. The way how the music industry is today, do you think there could be another Clarence Avant?

JJ: Singularly, there won't be one person like Clarence Avant. His influence was huge on us and on all of the people that have been a part of his six degrees of separation or his universe. You're seeing the effects of that now and that's why he's called "The Black Godfather." So, I think because of that he will always be a part of everything that we ever do. And after we thank God, we thank Clarence.

I went to the Rock and Hall of Fame ceremony last year where he was honored and it was just incredible to watch. Clarence got a two or three-minute standing ovation which was cut down to about 30 seconds for TV. It was just amazing and so well deserved. If it wasn’t for Clarence, we're not here. Simple as that.

TL: Clarence is a rarity in any era. He's philanthropic, and he's into music but he's not a musician. He doesn't play anything and doesn't write but he just loves the music and he loves the business. Then there's the Civil Rights part of him wanting to get equity for our people. That was always a huge part of his presentation so he's just a rarity across the board. I haven't seen anybody like him and he does it for all people. It doesn't matter who you are, he's fighting for you. He fought for all of us even before we knew it. So the fact that we had the pleasure of working with him and getting to know him, is like one of the biggest gifts that we could have ever gotten.

Also, we tried to model ourselves after Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. We can't get away from any interview without mentioning them. There's no Jam and Lewis without Gamble and Huff. They're the roadmap. They're the blueprint. They're whatever analogy you want to use. Once again, not only because of the way they produce records and the way they wrote songs but who they are as men and as mentors to us over the years and they continue to be.

When you first started producing did you already have songs written or would you go and create in the studio with the artists?

JJ: We weren't creating in the studio at first. We were creating on our little four-track recorder. We were living at a house with some friends from Minneapolis out in LA. and they would be gone all day at work or at school or whatever they were doing. All day, we would sit in this little bedroom and we would just make demos of songs. So those songs were pre-done but they were written with The S.O.S. Band in mind. Actually, we wrote. “Tell Me If You Still Care” on a plane. We had a little Casio keyboard that I still have and we just made the most of what we had.

Terry, what advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians who want to make a name for themselves in the music industry?

TL: I think the key is to be yourself and just to do just that. The industry requests so much of you because it desires what's already happened. People only know what they hear and what they see as being successful and they don't think past that. They say, “We’ll give me one like that.” By the time you do that, they've moved on to a different time. You just have to do the music that you love and hope everybody else agrees. That's how you end up doing you. Also. I always suggest that musicians listen to all types of different music. Between Jim and myself, we listen to all types of music that's not related to what we do all the time. We try to find out where the culture is, and where the music is and try to interject that into what we do. But the main thing is to not be afraid to be creative because that's the only way you learn. Some of our biggest accomplishments have come when we just tried things. When we started using the Roland-808 drum machine we never read the directions. We were the first people to use the boom in a record and now it's commonplace in music. You should never be afraid to try things.

For over 40 years, you have achieved immense success in the music industry and have remained partners. In your opinion Jimmy, what are the secrets to your long-lasting partnership?

JJ: I don't know if there are secrets because we've always been pretty open about what it is. It starts with as Terry says, “Respect, respects respect.” So it starts with the respect that we have for each other and the love we have for each other. Part of the love for each other is that you have to love what the other person loves. It's not always about what you love, it's about what the other person loves and you have to feel good about that. Along that line, we always say we've never had an argument. The reason we've never had an argument is because an argument is something you're trying to win but if you're trying to win something, that means the other person is going to lose. I never want to see Terry Lewis ever lose at anything and he never wants to see me lose at anything. So we take the argument out of it. We do disagree. For us, a disagreement is something where we’re trying to find a solution. There are literally records and I hear them on the radio and I'm like, “Hey, when you do that?” But my name is on it so it's all good because 50/50 is the foundation of our partnership. We're not going to argue about whose lyric, whose title, or whose melody it is because it doesn't matter. Just make it the best it can be and the best idea wins. We have the trust, the love, and the respect so, to me, that's what it is.