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15 Years Ago: Jennifer Lopez Releases ‘J.Lo’ Album

Jennifer Lopez J.Lo Album
Epic Records

If you were to mention that Jennifer Lopez is one of the greatest entertainers of the past twenty years, the statement would be received as old news. Being that she’s a household name and has been so for quite some time, rating the actress-singer as anything other than an modern-day icon would be preposterous.

After all, Lopez isn’t just a mere entertainer, but a revolutionary figure that transcended pop culture and emerged as a global superstar due to her acting and singing career. And while her acting resume is certainly nothing to sneeze at, we contend that if it wasn’t for her foray into music, the 46-year-old may have flamed out like many other one-hit wonders.

In 1999, Lopez would release her debut album, On The 6, which would be a resounding success and stamped her as the first actress to successfully make the transition to music since Vanessa Williams did with her debut album, The Right Stuff, in 1988.

On The 6 would position Lopez as one of the hottest new stars in all music, but it would be her second album, J.Lo, that would cement Lopez as an artist and see her fully evolve into a pop star, all the while still retaining her “Jenny from the block” steez that had made her so beloved by the hip-hop community. Choosing to name her second album J.Lo — which she also adopted as her new stage name — was also a subtle reminder that the mainstream success had not affected her connection with her roots.

Detractors may have looked at her sudden jump into the music game as a money-grab in light of the burgeoning Latin Explosion spearheaded by the mega success of Ricky Martin and others, but Lopez’s passion for music runs deep. While many people are aware of her being a Fly Girl on the groundbreaking comedy-sketch show, In Living Color, they may not be privy to the fact that Lopez took up singing at the age of five.

But childhood hobbies aside, the biggest factor in her decision to pursue a music career as a recording artist was her experience portraying Tejano music icon Selena in the late singer’s biopic in 1997. One scene in particular from the film, in which she performed on stage in front of a large crowd, help put the singing bug in her.

“It was a real concert; 30,000 to 40,000 people showed up, just for her, for that scene, to re-create it,” recalls Lopez in a 2015 interview with Billboard. “Afterward, her mom came and hugged me and held me and cried. It was very emotional. It touched the family very much. For me as an actress, at that moment I had learned how to really become a performer and give everything I had to the audience. That really freed me up, and it was a very ­powerful moment.”

Watch Jennifer Lopez’s “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” Video

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Selena would go on to be a major commercial at the box office, raking in $60 million, and would position Lopez as the next big leading actress in Hollywood. And while the acclaim and spoils from concentrating on acting alone were in the palm of her hand, the creative in her decided she needed to fulfill a burning desire in her that was reignited during the filming of that fateful scene.

“It had a lot to do with it — all those performances,” Lopez admitted during the 2007 interview with Billboard. “I sang in musicals before, but as part of a cast, never as a solo artist upfront or a recording ­artist. It made me realize, ‘Don’t neglect parts of yourself and let people put you in a box because you’re an actress. You can do this, and you can also do that. Life is short, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Go for your dreams and don’t let anyone hold you back.”

Watch Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real (Murder Remix)” Video

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And with that, Lopez set off to begin her pursuit of a music career. But little do fans know that her original plan was to sing in Spanish, but was prodded by music executive Tommy Mottola to record the album in English instead. “The first demo I ever made was in Spanish. It was called “Vivir Sin Ti,” Lopez said in a 2007 interview with Billboard. “It was actually written by the backup singer of Selena, but it didn’t come to me through the movie I don’t even remember how it came to my hands. And I went to [producer] Sergio George and I said “do you want to do this demo?” We did and my manager took it to the Work Group in Los Angeles and there was interest. And the head of the label was Tommy Mottola and he said ‘You speak English’ and I said ‘Of course.’ And he said ‘we ought to do a English album.’ and the rest is kind of history”

History was indeed made when Jennifer Lopez’s debut single, “If You Had My Love,” peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first artist since Brittney Spears to achieve that feat. On The 6 also featured the hit single, “Waiting for Tonight,” which earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording and is considered to be her best song by many critics, but also enjoyed its fair share of backlash from critics who weren’t too impressed. Mixed reviews aside, On The 6 would be one of the most talked about – and purchased – albums of the year and create the demand for a follow-up. Lopez obliged her fans’ request with her sophomore album, J.Lo, on January 16, 2001, and would make history once again.

Released the same week as her film, The Wedding Planner, both project debuted atop Billboard 200 chart and the box office, respectively, making Lopez the first entertainer to ever do so and displaying the magnitude of her star power.

Watch Jennifer Lopez’s “Play” Video

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Lopez kicks off J.Lo with the uptempo lead single, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” which is more suited for the TRL set than her core fans, sees Lopez opening on a strong note, with the superstar singing about placing love and affection above fancy trinkets and scoring another hit in the process. The momentum keeps building with “I’m Real,” another lively ditty that sees the songstress positioning herself as a down-to-earth and honest partner in a relationship before ratcheting up the BPM’s on “Play,” an infectious standout that see’s Lopez hitting on all cylinders.

Lopez’s desire to represent for her fellow Latinos and their style of music can also be subtly detected on J.Lo as well. “Ain’t It Funny,” which features a distinct Latin flavor, as well as cuts like Carino (which bears a striking resemblance to Marc Anthony’s hit, “Need To Know”), “Si Ya Se Acabo” and her duet with Latin Pop singer Chayanne, “Dame (Touch Me),” are all shades of her spirited performances in Selena. Cultural sentiments aside, J.Lo isn’t devoid of its share of blemishes. Tracks like “Walking on Sunshine,” “That’s Not Me,” and “Dance With Me” are all clunkers and lend credence to the critics jabs at her lack of artistic depth and prowess as a vocalist.

Watch Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t It Funny” Video

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Overall, J.Lo is a pretty solid album with its share of quality offerings. Selling nearly four million copies since its release and setting the stage for the J to tha L-O! The Remixes album that would strengthen her popularity among the hip-hop set, J.Lo is Jennifer Lopez’s most successful album to date and features many of the tracks that continue to dominate her concert sets. Bolstered by it’s multiple hit records, songs like “Secretly,” a slow-burning ballad that sees Lopez getting as sensuous as ever, and the bouncy “That’s the Way” also help compensate for the lesser moments on J.Lo.

Looking back 15 years later, J.Lo may not be considered a classic album, but it did help establish Jennifer Lopez as a pop culture icon.

Watch Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Gonna Be Alright” Video Feat. Nas

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