Written by Aidan Werder
Long overdue for her time in the spotlight, Jazmine Sullivan’s time to shine has finally come with the arrival of Heaux Tales – her first release in over five years. The new project is already receiving widespread critical acclaim (Debuting at #1 on iTunes R&B; #3 Overall) for it’s unapologetic honesty, strength of vision, and beautifully executed conceptual direction – not to mention Jazmine’s undeniable electric energy and once-in-a-generation musical talent.
Musically, Jazmine Sullivan on Heaux Tales is exactly what we need right now. A strong, not to mention beautiful female voice from Philadelphia channeling the best elements of R&B, Soul, Jazz, and Hip Hop, updated with the fiery female energy of 2021 to articulate meaningful and relatable struggles in gritty detail – in a way that feels exceptionally fresh and authentic.
Never one to romanticize or sugarcoat the grey areas of love and relationships, Heaux Tales is no different… starting with its eye-grabbing title. The conceptual format of the album is centered around ‘tales’ from six women: impressively executed spoken word performances brilliantly described by the New York Times’ Jon Pareles as intimate “confessions and hard-earned observations.” The tales explore both sides of the gritty details of often-felt and seldom-discussed themes like cheating, abandonment, codependence, and the recurring theme of transactional romantic relationships – with each followed by a beautifully paired song that further explore the themes and fleshes out the concepts raised in the preceding skit.
For example there’s “Donna’s Tale” – a raw, organ-backed profanity-laced outburst from Donna Anderson articulating the fairly taboo topic of the oddly transactional nature of sex in so many relationships. “Donna’s Tale” is followed by “Pricetags,” a groovy upbeat track that channels the unique hip-hop-mixed-with-jazz energy of the talented Anderson .Paak, centered around money in relationships. It opens with a decidedly demanding Jazmine Sullivan and a commanding half-sung, half-rapped verse giving the female perspective, followed by a signature verse from the increasingly exasperated (and increasingly broke) Anderson .Paak giving the tapped-out male perspective.
The track “The Other Side” beautifully captures one of the most prominent and difficult truths of the album, the feeling of wanting to live the other side, having “Dreams of buying expensive things” and feeling “too pretty not to do something with it.”
Another key to the success of Jazmine Sullivan throughout her career, and perfectly displayed on Heaux Tales, is her command over a wide range of sounds and styles. From the stripped down, visceral tracks with minimal backing like “Bodies – Intro,” the leadoff single featuring H.E.R. “Girl Like Me”, or the beautifully arranged “Lost One” that highlight Jazmine’s impeccable vocals and raw emotion. There’s also “Pick Up Your Feelings” and “On it” with Ari Lennox, where we’re treated to powerful, full-bodied R&B ballads sure to make the likes of Jennifer Hudson proud. And finally on tracks like “Price Tags” and “Put It Down” we hear some definite hip hop influence in the 808 backing and flawless sing-rapping, sounding ready to go bar-for-bar with Queen Bey herself.
The beautiful thing about Heaux Tales – besides everything – is it’s lack of judgement. While describing and exploring these difficult and oftentimes taboo subjects, Jazmine Sullivan is neither endorsing nor condemning any particular behavior or choice, rather shining a light on many of the dark, underlying realities on which our world operates. Life is messy, people do bad things, and things don’t always work out how you intend. It’s okay to want to be taken care of, so long as it’s on your own terms. Heaux Tales is an unashamed reflection of the imperfect world we live in and the things people do to get by – very likely to make a lot of people out there, particularly women and particularly women in vulnerable situations, feel seen and heard.
Much like her debut, Fearless, it’s looking extremely likely that Jazmine Sullivan has another instant classic on her hands with Heaux Tales – a masterful display of undeniable talent, personal strength, and the beginnings of a conversation of massive cultural importance. Do yourself a favor and get familiar with the blossoming cultural icon that is Jazmine Sullivan, and her masterpiece that is Heaux Tales.
‘Heaux Tales’ debuted on Friday, January 8th, 2021 and is streaming now on all platforms.
Check out the album teaser album – and for a special treat check out Jazmine Sullivan’s live performance on NPR: Tiny Desk which dropped the same day, and has already amassed 1M+ views in just two days.
– Aidan Werder (@aidantheasset)