Five years ago, Jazmine Sullivan took to Twitter to announce that she was taking a hiatus from music. Now the singer-songwriter has totally gotten her groove back with three nominations at the Feb. 15 Grammy Awards. Her nods for Best R&B Album (Reality Show), Best R&B Song (“Let It Burn”) and Best Traditional R&B Performance (‘Let It Burn”) bring her career total of nominations to 11 after just three LPs. Before she looks to take home her first gramophone, the Philly soulstress, 28, performed at the seventh annual ESSENCE Black Women in Music pre-Grammy event last Thursday in Los Angeles. Yes, you can call it a comeback.
ESSENCE: What does performing at the Essence Black Women in Music celebration mean to you?
Jazmine Sullivan: I do a lot in terms of my music—I’m a singer, I’m a songwriter, I’m getting into the production stage of it—so I’m just glad to be on a platform that honors women who do it all.
ESSENCE: What are some of the important issues facing Black women in music today?
Sullivan: I think that Black women are just fighting for respect in our industry. That’s kind of what I’m always fighting for and really the only thing that matters to me. More than fame or money or anything, I care about respect, people respecting what I do and how much work I put in and giving the credit that it’s due.
ESSENCE: Who are some of your favorite Black women in music?
Sullivan: There are so many women who I look up to, from Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan back in the day to Beyoncé, who is just a boss. But somebody who’s a little closer to me would be Missy [Elliott]. I kind of grew up watching her do everything: She was writing the songs, she was producing the songs, and that was always something that I admired and wanted to do. And because of the example she set, it made it easier for me to believe that I could do it. Now I feel like I’m following in her footsteps.
ESSENCE: You have now been nominated 11 times for Grammys, but you haven’t won yet. Are you starting to get anxious about that?
Sullivan: Hopefully this is the time, so I can breathe! I’m always in hard categories, so you can’t really be truly upset. We all have worked hard. So whatever the outcome, I just feel like my time will be my time. I’m just going to keep working until it happens for me.
ESSENCE: Who’s the lucky person who’s going to be your Grammy date?
Sullivan: My mother. She was like, “You better not think of taking nobody else! That seat is reserved for your mother.” And you know what? There’s no other person I would want there.
ESSENCE: You took a hiatus from music before Reality Show. How are things different for you in your second act?
Sullivan: Everything feels good now. I feel a lot more appreciative. I’m in so much more of a stable place in my life. I’m older and a little wiser.
ESSENCE: Is there one song on Reality Show that means the most to you?
Sullivan: Right now I would say “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa).” It’s just a great message that everyone needs to hear, including myself. It’s written for me to remind myself that I’m beautiful when I’m not feeling so hot. I’m a work in progress, but I’m great just the way I am. It’s kind of hard to believe that sometimes when you have so many things in society showing you what perfection is and you don’t fit that mold.
ESSENCE: Going back to “Bust Your Windows,” there has been a lot of drama in your songs. Do you feel like drama brings out your best music?
Sullivan: Yeah, I think I’m a bit of a drama queen! I have a background in musical theater, and my mom was a playwright as well, so I grew up seeing stories being told and acted out. I think that kind of made its way into my music. But the things that I talk about are real-life issues that people deal with every day. So there’s drama in it, but there’s also truth in it.
ESSENCE: Since your latest album is called Reality Show, what’s your favorite reality show?
Sullivan: Love & Hip Hop. These people are on TV, in front of millions, telling all their business. I wouldn’t do it, but it’s very entertaining to see.
ESSENCE: Are you still capable of busting the windows out somebody’s car?
Sullivan: I want to say that I’ve grown and I would never do it again, but you just never know because things get tricky. You don’t know when you gon need that bat!