The Effortless Soul of Jazmine Sullivan
September 30, 2008 § 8 Comments
When I first heard Jazmine Sullivan, I was in the car unfazed by the latest in radio rotations. I can’t remember exactly what I was listening to, but it was lackluster and expected like much of what’s on radio today. Then Sullivan emerged with “Need You Bad.” In awe, I kept asking, “who is this woman with this voice?”
When I finally figured out who she was, I realized I had been sleeping (unintentionally) on Sullivan for a few years while others were already acquainted with the 21 year-old sensation who has been on her native Philly scene for quite sometime. And I know it’s cliche, but it’s also true: Sullivan is beyond her years, and it’s effortless. I haven’t been this excited about a female vocalist since Amy Winehouse.
As I listened to her debut album, Fearless, which dropped last week I found myself instantly immersed with not only her signature raspy alto (which has been likened to Lauryn Hill) but with her storytelling which is rich with imagery and frankness. Each track (she penned the entire album) is like a story or diary entry that allows the listener to not just hear the compositions, but feel the weight of the raw emotion that Sullivan breathes into each note. This is music that makes you feel–makes you think.
Another interesting facet of Sullivan’s album is how she is able to tackle different musical genres in terms of production, without falling flat. In her first single, “Need You Bad,” she sings over a reggae beat and gets a little help from Missy Elliot, whose production makes this sizzle even more. The result is a track that sounds perfectly authentic, despite the fact that Philly-bred Sullivan is not an Islander.
Her latest single, “Bust Your Windows” is beautifully arranged and produced by Salam Remi, known for his work on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The first thing that came to my mind upon hearing it was a flamingo-infused melody, which is an unexpected choice of sound considering the piece is a revengeful tirade about a woman who is so heartbroken by her man’s infidelity she transfers her anger over to a man’s most prized possession–his car. It’s her raw realness in this track that I admire the most, as she is unapologetic. “You see you can’t just play with peoples feelings/Tell them you love them and don’t mean it/You probably say that it was juvenile/But I think that I deserve to smile,” she cries.
She serves up the same honesty in “In Love With Another Man,” except this time the tables are turned and Sullivan plays the adulterer. The material in this song showcases her maturity as she vocalizes the illogical nuances of love and the emotional toll it takes. “You treat me so much better than him/And if I was sane there’d be no competition/But…I’m in love with someone else,” she admits, leaving her Aidan for her Mr. Big. Lyrically and vocally Sullivan distinguishes herself from the rest of the R&B female pack in this powerful ballad.
Sullivan’s album is full of other strong offerings like, “Switch,” a witty track that plays almost like a funny 60s musical in terms of its up-beat melody, where she is upfront and unyielding about her attraction to her date’s best friend. Another gem, the hip-hop infused “Call Me Guilty,” rings the alarm on domestic violence as the bruised woman takes the law into her own hands.
But my favorite track on the album (constantly on repeat) has to be “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” because it plays on a popular song of the same name from “The Wizard of Oz” while unveiling the artist’s vulnerability as she juxtaposes her confidence in all other areas of her life against her fear of falling in love. Again her honest lyrics hit home for some listeners and are paramount to this track. Her vocals are backed by fairytale-like string compositions. The result is a fluid piece that is dramatic and filled with heavy emotion from start to finish.
Sullivan’s Fearless at first sounds like a misnomer because it is filled with some tracks that hint at a fear of love and commitment. But that theory isn’t at all sound when we look at Sullivan’s musical risk taking. She borrows from several musical styles but still allows her distinct voice and personality to shine through. And in terms of lyrics, maybe it is her honesty in sharing her utmost fears and flaws that make her essentially fearless.
My Grade: A
Best Tracks: “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” “Need You Bad,” “Bust Your Windows,” “Fear,” “In Love With Another Man,” “After the Hurricane,” “Switch” and “My Foolish Heart.”