“I don’t want to judge anybody. I just want to love on everybody—especially women and especially Black women, because we need it,” says R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan. She’s explaining her decision to not vilify any type of woman on her latest EP, Heaux Tales. “I went through a period where I was almost feeling ashamed of the things I did and the mistakes I made,” she adds.
These points were the catalyst behind Heaux Tales, which chronicles the journey of a young woman grappling with public and personal perceptions of sex, love and growth. “I had to really give myself grace,” she says. “And I wanted to do it for other women, too, because it’s important for us to know that we are not the sum of a bad year.”
Sullivan is speaking from her home in Philadelphia, where she’s preparing for a virtual performance. The band and background singers are piling into her space for an intimate set, and Sullivan is quietly humming at the start of the conversation. (“She comes on singing!” her longtime rep Theola Borden, senior vice president of publicity at RCA Records, who connected our call, says with a laugh.) Even from her minimalist, hushed vocal runs, you can hear Sullivan’s dexterity loud and clear. She’s your favorite singer’s favorite singer for a reason.
At just 33 years old, Sullivan has come to embody the very heart of R&B and has become one of the most-respected vocalists of her generation. Revered artists like Solange Knowles and Missy Elliott sing her praises. In fact, Elliott has been one of her biggest supporters for years. “I been tried to tell y’all ’bout my sis Jazmine Sullivan,” the Grammy-winning rap star wrote on social media in late 2020. When -Sullivan chooses, her voice is as big as a choir, brushing against the rafters with crystal-clear soprano notes; or nearly muted, rumbling like the night sea as she. pushes out lower tones. She is comfortable as a songwriter as well—she holds writing credits on each song on Heaux Tales, as well as on each of her previous albums, Fearless, Love Me Back and Reality Show.
The response to her latest work has been overwhelmingly positive. Just days after its January 8 release date, she was tapped to perform the National Anthem at the 55th Super Bowl alongside Eric Church. After a particularly trying year marked by grief, division and fear, her voice is just what we need to soothe our souls as we continue the healing process. Yet, regardless of her status as one of music’s elite talents, Sullivan is still in awe of the fact that she was chosen. “I never even thought about that as a tangible goal, really,” she says humbly. “I didn’t think that my career would lead me there—and a week and a half after I put this project out, the opportunity came up.”
She’s also currently in talks with friend Issa Rae about turning Heaux Tales into a short film and possibly adding a few extra songs. (In 2017, -Sullivan cowrote “Insecure” for Rae’s original series of the same title.) And Mary J. Blige, one of the foremothers of Sullivan’s inclination to blend hip-hop sensibilities with updated blues/soul lyrics, is interested in remixing one of her songs. So, yes, it’s a great year to be Ms. Jazmine Sullivan.
This rise comes after a six-year gap in solo projects following Sullivan’s previous effort, Reality Show, in 2015. She’s never been one to oversaturate the music space, but after her mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2019 (she wrapped up her last round of chemotherapy last January) and the roller coaster that was 2020, Sullivan is ready to spend a little less time away between projects. Of her next venture, slated to be a full-length album, she says, “I do know that it won’t take me as long to start and finish it, just because I view time differently after 2020. The last year was crazy. And you don’t know if tomorrow is -promised and what’s going to happen when it comes. So I just don’t want to waste the time.”
While we wait for her next artistic offering, she’s given us more than enough to chew on with Heaux Tales. When asked about the spirit of grace with which she imbued the EP, she gives an answer that’s sure to resonate. “I think that women are told very early on that we have to present ourselves a certain way, and we have to look a certain way and act a certain way,” she says. “It’s ingrained in us from very young that we have to be perfect, and we have to unlearn that so we can be fully ourselves and move about this world the way we see fit. So we can be happy, really.”
Forgive yourself and be happy, sis. ’Cause Jazmine Sullivan said so.