The same can be said for her forthcoming album Reality Show. The LP—which veers away from purist R&B sonics and is comprised of songs with disco, pop and "Drake" vibes—is partly about her, but mostly about you. “It was more important for me to tell stories,” she says. Her narratives on wax range from the lives of video vixens (“Mascara”) to being a boy's emotional plaything (“Stupid Girl”) to caring for a family by illegal means (“Silver Lining”). But at the end of the day, subject matter comes second to the main attraction: her soulful and bluesy voice. “It's effortless,” says executive producer Salaam Remi on her vocal control. “Her vocal range and what she's able to do is isn’t paralleled in this generation."
The demand for Jazmine’s talents have been a long time coming. While growing up in the historic Strawberry Mansion in North Philly’s Fairmount Park, an adolescent Jazmine was prepping for a lifetime in the spotlight. “I don't remember singing just to sing around the house,” Jazmine says. “It's always been my life, what I felt I was supposed to do and what my parents felt I was supposed to be doing.” While other 11-year-olds were finding mischievous ways to entertain themselves and piss off their parents, Sullivan was polishing her pipes live at the Apollo Theater and onstage at Strawberry Mansion High School. A now infamous YouTube clip shows a pigtailed Jazmine in a checkered blue frock wowing a crowd with "Home" from The Wiz. She then attended the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, when she was scooped up by Jive Records at 15 then dropped after graduating. After a few years of staying linked with Missy Elliott and writing her own material, she signed to Clive Davis' J Records in 2007.
Now, with her new home at RCA, Jazmine is a sharp deviation from the Ratch&B radio hits orchestrated by DJ Mustard and Co. and softer singers like Tinashe, Jhene Aiko, SZA and Willow Smith. For one, her alto pipes can maneuver through any heart-clutching slow jam (see: "Forever Don't Last") or funky, dance track ("Stanley.") She doesn't OD on vocal theatrics. Despite the title of her comeback LP, her pen game hits closer to home than Love & Hip Hop. On "Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)," her actualization of self-love strikes a chord. "Every part of me is beautiful, and I finally see I'm a work of art," she sings.
"I still feel like I'm introducing myself to the world."
Even the full-bodied voices of competitors Teyana Taylor, Keyshia Cole, Elle Varner, K. Michelle and Tamar Braxton—the latter two of whom she openly admires—haven't substituted JS’s raspy, buttery notes. "About last night. I was moved to tears with @jsullivanmusic performance," K. Michelle gushed on Instagram after Jazmine took the stage at ASCAP's Sixth Annual "Women Behind the Music" Series. "There's nothing like the feeling of real music entering your soul." Naturally, she appreciates the love but the biggest critic she aims to please is herself. “I still feel like I'm introducing myself to the world," she says.
Inside the belly of Gramercy Theatre and away from the line of 499 fans wrapping around the block outside, piercing notes are permeating the lobby walls during Jazmine's soundcheck. New York is the last of four big cities from her intimate, pre-album tour (she hit Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago beforehand). The gig is sold out, and both old-school loyalists and millennials are excited to see her back in front of a mic. "You don't know how long I have been begging for the skies to crack open and my Jesus to tell me that Jazmine Sullivan was coming back to make another album," says social media-bred comedian Kid Fury on The Read, his joint podcast with Crissle.
Forty minutes after sound check, the house lights dim and Jazmine struts onto the stage with the confidence and sex appeal of two Beyonces. She flaunts her womanly silhouette in a curve-hugging black zip dress, a sexier upgrade from the knotted headscarves and belted knit sweaters she donned in her 2008 "Need U Bad" video. As she transitions into "Dumb," she moves around the stage like a rock star, body rolling when the beat calls for it and dancing her hoop earring right off her ear. Jazmine swings and fluffs the curls of her taut ponytail in between flawless riffs and runs.
An emotional delivery of "Mona Lisa (Masterpiece)"—a melodic, choir driven self-love anthem a la Kendrick Lamar's “I” and J.Cole's “Crooked Smile”—brings a handful of audience members in the front to tears. "Y'all like that song?" Jazmine asks the crowd rhetorically, with a huge grin. The game plan going forward orbits around her stripped-down views of personal success. "It's not about fame at all," she says. "I just want people that I wouldn't think would listen to me, to listen to me. After you hear my album, my songs or come to my show, I want you to feel something. Whatever it is, just feel it. Intensely."
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