Jazmine Sullivan Talks ‘Love,’ Pain, Working With Missy Elliott & Mary J. Blige

Jazmine Sullivan made major noise with her 2008 debut, Fearless, and its urgent single “Need U Bad,” earning kudos for her scratchy soul pipes and audacious (see: “Bust Your Windows”), emotionally stark ballads. Now, the Philadelphia songstress is opening for idol Mary J. Blige on a nationwide tour and prepping the release of her sophomore effort, Love Me Back, in November. VIBE got some studio time with the singer-songwriter and chopped it up about her new album, battling image issues and where in the world is Missy Elliott.

VIBE: When “Need U Bad” came out, you earned a lot of comparisons to older and newer artists. Is there pressure to keep living up to the hype?

Jazmine Sullivan: I felt pressure within myself. For some reason, in the beginning of making this album, I gave myself a hard time. I was really, really nervous about whether people would like it and still think it’s hot, but I did that to myself, not so much the pressure other people put on me. But the more that I sang and recorded, I kinda let go of all of that and I was like, “You know what? I can’t do that to myself.” I gotta just make my music and do me and, you know, hope people respond.

What’s your creative process?

I don’t think of work between albums. Of course, I go through regular life and I live and I experience different things, good and bad, and it does help me, but I don’t think about writing or what I’m gonna do with whatever’s going on while I’m going through it. When I think back on things that have happened, it will come up again. [You live it] and then you choose to write about it and I choose to write about it because I know that it’s other people going through the same thing that I went through.

“Holding You Down” samples a bunch of songs. 

[Laughs] 80 billion.

Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, Mary J. Blige—Did you pick those beats yourself?

No, Missy picked it. She’s the hip-hop head, so that’s one of things that I go to Missy for—for her to add that hip-hop element to my music, because I’m primarily R&B and I grew up listening to gospel, so when I go to her, she’ll kinda school me on the older artists from the ’90s and you know. It’s just a feeling that the track gave me that you don’t get anymore. The music from the ’90s, you don’t have the feeling anymore, and I think that’s why people kinda like it and they gravitate toward it ’cause they’re like, “Oh, I remember that shit from back in the day!” You know. They respond to it well.

Nostalgic, yeah.

It’s a feeling that it gave you. It was just, like, an energy in it and a realness and rawness in it that we don’t have today.

How has your relationship with Missy Elliott evolved since you guys first met?

Well, one way that it’s evolved is, when I was younger, Missy used to write the songs and I’d be watching her kinda create these songs and I wanted to do it and I started working on my writing, and when I got signed to J, we called to work with her, and she’s seeing that I was kinda in control and I could write my stuff, she almost passed the baton. Almost like a proud sister, like, “She can handle this now. She can do her own stuff.” And I appreciated that because some people, if you work with them and they do a certain thing, they wanna do it. But she let me do it openly. She was like, ‘Go ‘head. Write ya stuff.’

What’s your favorite thing about her as a person? 

She’s funny and she’s a very committed friend. A committed person really. If she believes in something, she has got your back. Even when I was younger and there was nobody on Team Jazmine, she was. She believed in me then, and she believes in me now, and that’s why she works so hard when she’s working with me.

Why is she missing in action right now? She’s very behind the scenes and then you’ll hear a song and be like, “Oh, Missy produced that.”