The original album only tells some of the full story, though. Included in the deluxe reissue is vital ephemera, including the heavily played “TNT Remix Edit” of “I Get Lonely,” featuring Blackstreet. As Teddy Riley, the most influential producer of early ’90s R&B, worked on it with Timbaland, the most influential producer of late ’90s R&B, the skittering fast-slow rerub represents a formal passing of the baton. Historic. Also included is the “Jimmy Jam Deeper Remix” of “Together Again,” which reimagines the song as a ballad (as it was reportedly conceived initially). The “Ummah Jay Dee’s Revenge Mix” of “Got ’Til It’s Gone” puts the song in the hands of Dilla, whose remix of the Brand New Heavies’ “Sometimes” inspired Jackson’s original. He outfits Jackson in some woozy harmonic work, nudging the song into more avant-garde territory.
The included house mixes are a who’s who of ’90s major-label remixers with underground roots—Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Armand Van Helden, Masters at Work, Tony Humphries, Tony Moran, Jason Nevins—that indicate the unlikely club reach of The Velvet Rope. Via these pepped-up revisions, the self-consciously mellow album’s first four singles all went Top 10 on Billboard’s club play chart, with two of them (“Together Again” and “Go Deep”) hitting No. 1. By not including the Roni Size remix of “Go Deep,” though, the set forfeits the opportunity to draw a line from Janet’s filtration with drum’n’bass to the contemporary mumble jungle represented by the likes of PinkPantheress. Oh well, find it on YouTube.
The Velvet Rope’s press cycle was uncommonly long, and as it went on, people wrote and wrote about its relatively disappointing chart performance. The dek on David Ritz’s 1998 Rolling Stone piece read: “After being told her album was a flop and her tour was a bust, she did what she knows best—she worked harder.” The ensuing tour, directed by Jackson herself, was credited as pulling the era together (rumors of its bust, according to Ritz, were greatly exaggerated). The two-hour show was nonstop spectacle, a blur of Jackson’s hits and outlandish costumes that found The Velvet Rope material perfectly integrated into her catalog. If anything, the album’s songs rounded out the taste profile with some sour.
To hear Jam tell it, no one at Virgin pushed back on the relatively difficult material. “They loved the record. They knew it was gonna be tough to get, but they really championed it,” he told The Boombox. Its creation alone meant success for Jackson, who reported that she had purged demons through her art. “I never liked myself before. I hated myself. I can honestly say that I like myself now,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. Incidentally, “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” the supposed flop first single, is now one of her most played songs on Spotify, with 75 million streams. It has more listens than most of her No. 1 singles. This suggests that it’s not that she picked the wrong song to lead the album, it’s that the whole creative venture was ahead of its time. We’re still catching up.