Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon is a Grammy-winning producer and musician who has worked alongside Timbaland for the last decade on projects by Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and many more. But when I interviewed him last year, he mentioned he had very strong feelings about one of his Timbaland collaborations in particular—not “Drunk In Love” or “Holy Grail” or “Pusher Love Girl,” but rather, Chris Cornell’s 2009 album Scream. In light of Cornell’s tragic death (which has been ruled a suicide by a medical examiner), it’s worth looking back at how one of that project’s creators felt about this little-remembered part of the singer’s career.
When the album was announced, it puzzled Cornell’s rock fan base. Hip-hop and R&B fans were also confused about why Timbo was working with the “Black Hole Sun” guy. When it came out, it was met with poor reviews, and Cornell completely changed direction afterwards, following it up with an acoustic live album.
But Scream nonetheless lives on, and its odd mixture has its defenders. Foremost among them is Harmon himself. He remembered that Cornell, who was a “huge fan” of Timbaland, approached the beatmaker for a change of direction.
“Chris wanted to break away from doing a progressive grunge-rock [album], because growing up, he listened to a lot of crooners: a lot of Sam Cooke, a lot of Otis Redding,” Harmon said. “He wanted to break away and do some more R&B/bluesy type of songs, but keeping it more progressive.”
The producer admitted that he was “surprised” by the idea, but they decided to go ahead. In the end, he was thrilled with the results, and sees in Scream a precursor to his later, far more successful work.
“To me, it was one of the best projects I ever worked on, actually,” Harmon said. “Because if you listen to it, it was the beginning of what [Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience] is now, where there was no breaks, no stops, everything just flowed into each other. But his fans just weren’t ready to accept it.”
Harmon continued with the Timberlake comparison. “I’m a crate digger, so I appreciate the challenge that was before us in putting it together. Had it been Justin, it’d have exploded. I can see it coming back five years from now, and it blows up. I think that project was a little ahead of its time.”
Back in 2015, Cornell shared similar feelings about the project with Rolling Stone.
“I don’t think there was any reference for [Scream] at the time,” he said. “And obviously the world of recorded and released music is a world that required reference 99 times out of 100. I mean, even for me, I could stand on a soap box and say that art shouldn’t require reference and then still make references to you. When I hear a band I’m gonna say something like, ‘It’s a cross between Abba and the band Swans.’ So I get it. The response to the album didn’t surprise me. But I do think there is more context for it now.”
You can judge for yourself whether the critics and fans were right the first time or whether, as Harmon and Cornell envisioned, people who dismissed the album or were too young to catch it at the time will re-discover Scream and give it its proper place in the canon. Listen to some of the tracks below and check out the rest of Scream here.