The Psychology of Jazmine Sullivan
STUCK OFF THE REALNESS
Jazmine Sullivan's soulful vocals and relationship struggles have made her the real R&B MVP but will a three-year hiatus, industry pressures and her perfectionism keep her from being great?
STORY: Stacy-Ann Ellis | PHOTOS: Devon Warren
Jazmine Sullivan talks to herself. The 27-year-old singer is reclined with her black boots up, pretending she’s trading lines with a therapist instead of occupying a black, leather futon in a midtown Manhattan studio solo. It’s well past lunchtime and her five-person entourage—comprised of Momma Sullivan, her stylist, makeup artist, hairstylist and publicist—is munching on breakfast eats on the sidelines while Jazmine puts on a convincing performance. “I've been wondering how you can help me, Doctor,” she says to self in her best Dr. Phil voice, seeking guidance for motivation and dealing with her relationships. "Tell me which path I should be walking.”
Her playful presentation might be light comedy now, but the truth rooted in her faux mini-therapy session points to the elephant in the room: her three-year absence from music. "Forever Don't Last,” a heartbreaking ballad from her forthcoming album, Reality Show (out today, Jan. 13, via RCA Records), shows her pain before she made the swift exit. "I had high hopes for us, baby/Like I was on dope for us, baby/Chasin' after a high that I'd never get back again," she sings of the physically and mentally abusive relationship that triggered her hiatus in 2011. Jazmine consulted no one before making the Twitter announcement on Jan. 2, saying, “I'm taking a break from music. I'm trying to figure out who I am. I promised myself when it wasn't fun anymore I wouldn't do it. And, here I am. I'm not saying I won't ever sing again in my life because I don't believe that. But in this moment... right now... got some things to figure out.”
Looking back on her resignation tweet, Jazmine laughs at the melodrama. "That sounds like a monologue!" she says, mocking her old self. Her emotionally-driven decision to leave the scene was so abrupt even her own momager, Pam, found out via Instagram. “I was by myself,” Jazmine says. “You know when you're in a bad place, making bad decisions and try to close yourself off to people? I was trying to do it on my own and that was the only way, at that time.” No one in her inner circle thought it was deep enough to try to stop her. "Had they known that I was just in a shitty relationship, they'd say, ‘Leave him,’” she says. "Nobody knew about that, so nobody knew to reach out."
“You know when you're in a bad place, making bad decisions and try to close yourself off to people? I was trying to do it on my own and that was the only way, at that time.”
One glance at the numbers on the chart, though, and her singles weren’t lonely. Her critically acclaimed debut album Fearless—which sold over 517,000 copies and produced four charting singles ("Need U Bad," "Bust Your Windows," "Lions, Tigers and Bears," and "In Love With Another Man")—earned her seven Grammy nominations. Her follow-up LP, Love Me Back, put two more notches on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop charts with "Holding You Down (Goin' In Circles)" and "10 Seconds." However, her love life made the positives foggy. “It consumed me and took away my focus, my energy, everything,” she says. Jazmine's kept her lips zipped on details of the three-year relationship with her mystery ex, whom she was living with on-and-off in California before her impromptu sabbatical. “I'm strong enough to take the pressures of the industry and I have good support, but my relationship was just mine to deal with.”
On a mild December evening, a sick Jazmine holes up in a DUMBO recording studio for hours with a scratchy throat, perfecting a cover of Whitney Houston's “I Have Nothing.” As the small audience cheers her on, she quickly shuts down the praise, visibly flustered by the sixth take. She gets some air in the hallway. Doesn’t say a word. The final session will release a week before Whitney, Lifetime's attempt at a Nippy biopic, and although she nails it by The Voice standards, she feels it isn't her best. "My power is my voice," says Jazmine, whose “Bust Your Windows” was deemed a classic by master penman, Stevie Wonder. “I don't dance, I don't do all this stuff, but I can sing. That's my thing.” Jazmine's mother (who was a former backup singer for Philadelphia International Records) feels her daughter's gift chose her. “It comes from somewhere else, the same place legends get their gifts from," Pam says. "It's not that she practices more than anybody else. It was just given to her.”