Since being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis have logged a few more milestones.
The Grammy Award-winning songwriting/production duo, who got their start in Minneapolis, returned to their former stomping ground to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Minnesota Twins’ home opener on April 7. Jam also pumped out two made-in-Minneapolis hits on the ballpark’s organ: Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” and The Time’s “Jungle Love.” Prior to that, the pair composed their first-ever score for Onyx Collective’s hit Hulu series UnPrisoned. Hollywood Records is releasing the show’s soundtrack on Friday.
“We’d been approached numerous times about scoring for television or film, but the stars never quite aligned until this project,” says Jam. “It’s always fun to find things we haven’t done in our careers, and this definitely checks that box.”
UnPrisoned, which premiered March 10, stars the series’ executive producers Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo. A dramedy that unfolds in eight half-hour episodes, the series chronicles the life upheaval that occurs for a messy-but-perfectionist relationship therapist/single mom when her dad gets out of prison and moves in with her and her teenage son. Yvette Lee Bowser (TV’s Living Single) serves as the showrunner for UnPrisoned, inspired by the life of the show’s creator and executive producer Tracy McMillan.
The upcoming UnPrisoned soundtrack features 25 score cues, all written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. In an interview with Billboard, Jam shared a few more sound bites about his and Lewis’ scoring adventure, new recording projects with Yolanda Adams and others, plus the follow-up to the pair’s 2021 debut studio album Jam & Lewis: Volume One.
Why they chose this particular project: In this case, it was who was doing the asking, as much as what the ask was. Our friend Yvette Lee Bowser, who actually cast us in our acting debut on her  TV show Half & Half, was making the ask, so that already was a tentative yes. Then she mentioned that show creator Tracy McMillan was from Minneapolis and wanted the show to have that authentic Minneapolis sound attached. So that was another yes. Then the fact that it starred Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo and was part of the Onyx Collective sealed the deal.
Seeking advice beforehand: Besides Yvette, who always gives us good advice, Dawn Soler, head of music for Disney, literally held our hands and guided us through the process. During the first Zoom we had with the whole music team, someone made the comment, “Just do whatever you guys always do.” We laughed and said, “Actually, we haven’t ever done this.” We also got great help from our music supervisor Morgan Rhodes, who introduced us to great music. Frank Ciampi helped arrange and mix our cues to sonically work in the show and music editor Jessica Harrison made everything fit timing-wise. The entire creative team was a dream team who made our experience great. The very first music you hear on the opening episode is “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” by Janet Jackson featuring Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell, which I believe is the first time it’s ever been licensed for television.
The easiest and most difficult part of transitioning into scoring: Production-wise when we turn a song in for a record, in our minds the song is done. The hardest part of the transition was realizing it’s not done until it works against picture and that less is more. I remember with one of the first cues we scored, we filled it with tons of synths when all it really needed was a beat. The notes from the studio were basically to stay out of the way of the dialogue. We also realized that having musical options to choose from were good. So we would do a few different versions to get feedback on what worked best. The theme was unique in that it’s different in each episode, but it’s really just built on what we call “3 Tones.” The chance to do something musically innovative with rich, deep characters was very attractive. The songwriting was actually very similar to working with a recording artist. The characters inspire the songs and the sonics. For Lindo’s Edwin character, we used a lot of acoustic bass when you see him because it felt very cool like his character. For Washington’s character Paige, we used little girl sonics like a music box and bell sounds. So even though she’s now a grown-up with her own son, you could relate to her as a little girl, which was important in establishing her relationship with her unprisoned dad.
When fans can expect the follow-up to Jam & Lewis: Volume One: We’re currently working on Jam & Lewis: Volume Two as we speak. But we still have a few surprises and releases related to Volume One that we think our fans will enjoy. Continuing the theme of things we hadn’t done yet, Sony Japan just released a new album we produced by a Japanese artist named LMYK titled Desserts. Her current single “Without Love” is the end title to the anime series Vinland Saga, which is currently streaming on Netflix. We just released a new Stokley single from his album Sankofa; “Verbalize: Jeopardy” featuring Snoop Dogg was most added last week. Then we’re finishing up a project with Yolanda Adams that’s incredible, healing and needed with where we’re at in society right now. We’re also big on what we call the “hang factor,” meaning we enjoy the company even if we’re not working. So we’ve been hanging recently with folks like New Edition, SZA and Charlie Puth. We’ll see if anything comes out of it besides the fun that we’re definitely into.