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Jazmine Sullivan: The Philly Girl Speaks Her Mind.

July 17, 2015

JazmineOnline01Jazmine Sullivan began performing when she was just a teenager. She garnered a huge fan base after the 2008 release of her debut single “Need U Bad,” which was produced by Missy Elliott. Her first album, Fearless, went to number one on the Billboard R&B charts. Her second album, Love Me Back, was also a smash success.

In 2011, however, the graduate of the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts told her fans in a series of tweets that she was taking a break from music because she wanted to find out who she was without “a mic, paper or pen.” Last year, she revealed that she stopped doing music because she was in the middle of ending an abusive relationship.

Her hiatus was filled with a lot of family time, writing and praying.

Last spring, Sullivan, now 28, returned to music with a new album, called Reality Show. Meek Mill rhymes on a track – the North Philly rapper happened to stop by Sullivan’s session after recording in another studio at Milkboy.

Our Niesha Miller spoke with the “Stupid Girls” singer about her musical roots, working with music professionals from Philadelphia and why she considers herself a regular girl. Portraits by Michael Bucher. Show images by G.W. Miller III.

What role would you say Philly played in helping you break into music?

I went to Black Lily when I was younger, so I got a chance to really hone in on my live performance skills watching Kindred, Jaguar Wright, The Roots and Jill Scott. And all of them, all of those people who came through when I was just a kid, definitely helped me with being comfortable now with singing live.

Would you say any of those individuals served as a mentor for you after you got involved in Philly’s music scene?

Well, Kindred, I would say, was the most influential when it came to me because they really took me under their wing and actually put me on their record [I AM]. That was the first record I was ever on. Their first one. And they were like the big brother and sister. But just all of them. Being able to see everybody perform was helping me to become the entertainer I am now.

Our theme for this issue of  JUMP is “Young Bols and Old Heads.” What old heads would you say helped you get to where you are today in music?

I don’t know if my mom would want me to call her an old head but definitely my mom. She’s the most influential person ever. Everything that I do, I kind of model after her. She’s like the most creative person that I have ever known. I’ve always just tried to emulate her and just kind of follow in her footsteps. She actually used to write my songs when I was younger. I got to a point where I was like, “You know what? I want to try this.” Then I started writing because of her. She did it first.

Do you have any other people in your family that were influential musically?

My grandma. She was a playwright. I mean, my mom was a playwright. My grandma was a poet. I grew up around women who weren’t afraid to express themselves. I don’t know if I was thinking about it earlier but once I did start thinking about it, I had people to look up to.

You said the women in your life helped you express yourself more. How would you say that played a role in the lyrics that you write?

They’re just real. I just try to write stuff that I’ve been through. It’s not sugarcoated or anything like that. I get that not only from my family but just from being a Philly girl. We just say how we feel and it’s kind of how I write.

On your latest album, Reality Show, you released a few intimate details about a previous relationship. What made you want to tell such intimate stories about yourself?

First of all, it’s therapeutic for me. It’s helpful for me and I think sometimes we go through some things to share it and to possibly help somebody else. Just letting people know that they’re not alone with whatever they’re struggling with. There are some things that I keep to myself but for the most part, when I’m experiencing it and I’m working my way through it, I almost feel like it’s my duty to talk about it and possibly help somebody else.

I noticed a few favorite songs of fans that stand out on the album are “Stupid Girls” and “Brand New.” What inspired you to write “Brand New?”

I was just observing some rappers and their lifestyles. I was just looking and seeing that it didn’t seem right. It just didn’t seem like the women that they started with were the women that were on their arms, you know? Once men blow up, they kind of upgrade in every kind of way. I just felt like there was a story that needed to be told for the regular women. I’m an artist and some people may consider me a star but I identify mostly with regular women because I don’t look like the typical “star” and I don’t sound like the typical star. I just felt like that story needed to be told on their behalf. On our behalf.

Philly producers Dilemma and Joe Logic produced “Stupid Girls.” Do you actively reach out to work with people from Philly?

My whole band is from Philly. Joe was actually my engineer for like two years. We worked on the record and I didn’t even know he produced. So, we started getting to the end of the record and … he kind of felt like he knew what it was that I had been missing. I was coming in the studio and he had, I think, not “Stupid Girls.” It was another song playing. And I was like, “This is dope. What is this?” He was like, “Oh, this is mine.” I was like, “I ain’t know you produced.” I just started listening to stuff and it just happened naturally. That’s the kind of thing I like. I like when it’s natural. It’s not forced. And we spend so much time together just recording and goofing around and being friends.

“Stupid Girls” has a bit of that bluesy-jazzy flare. Would you say performing at the Black Lily helped shape your sound?

After hearing so much neo-soul every week, it definitely influenced the way I sounded and performed. It might still have an influence in the way I sound now but I think now, because I’m older, I’m able to draw from different influences. It’s not just neo-soul. It’s R&B. It’s gospel. It’s jazz. It’s hip-hop. It’s everything that I’ve listened to growing up.

What’s your favorite Black Lily memory?

My mom used to have these themes for the night. She used to dress me up in these costumes. So I started becoming known not only for my singing but my costumes that my mom would put me in. I would hate it so much.

You’re honest about your relationship in your music and in interviews. What made you want to incorporate your life into your performances?

My songs are a reflection of my life. When I’m on stage I have the chance to talk to people about my songs and what I’ve been through, so I just take that opportunity to do it.

What is it like performing for your hometown?

It’s amazing. You have your family in the audience. You have your friends in the audience. And just people who watched you grow up. It all just feels like family. After you go different places, you get love from different places because everyone’s a fan that comes to your show. But when you’re around people who watched you grow up, it just feels a lot more personal.

 

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