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ESSENCE: The Enigmatic Janet Jackson

Oooooooh…. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I see that?” Janet Jackson asks as I hold up the iconic cover of her 1993 album, janet., the world-shaking affirmation of sexuality that upended her public persona. “She was trying to come out of that shell, and be accepting of herself and of who she was physically,” she says after reflecting for a beat.

Janet Damita Jo Jackson is indulging me in a game. I’ve put all of her album art in a tote, and now I’m getting her quick read on the women before her. She has no idea which cover I’ll grab next—and nor do I—and the grin that stretches those famous high cheekbones of hers is both mischievous and suspicious. I draw the next album, Discipline. “Just a hot mess,” Jackson says, wrinkling her nose for dramatic effect. “I’m joking, but truly, what really comes to mind when I look at that is Jermaine [Dupri].” I draw a few more. Control. “Innocence.” All for You. “Someone who was happy—and ready to move on.” 20 Y.O. “A tough time, a tough period in my life,” she says, her voice fading away...

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