Phone interview conducted November 17, 2010
Singer/songwriter Jazmine Sullivan has returned to the music landscape with her sophomore album Love Me Back. It’s an opportunity for Jazmine to showcase her gentler side after gaining a “Bust Your Windows”-style reputation with her debut album Fearless released in ‘08. There’s no need for her fans to fret as it is not a total departure from what they’ve come to expect from this very talented vocalist...
Akim Bryant: All right! So, we have seven-time Grammy-nominated Jazmine Sullivan—
Jazmine Sullivan: Yeah…
AB: Yeah; you’ve got a new album out now called Love Me Back, which is the follow-up to the wildly successful Fearless album that everybody fell in love with based on “Bust Your Windows”, “Lions, Tigers and Bears” and the great “Need You Bad”. Additionally, you’re also receiving Billboard’s Rising Star of the Year this year. How does that feel?
Jazmine Sullivan: Yeah, it’s wonderful, definitely an honour. I heard that Lady Gaga received it last year, so to be given an award that Lady Gaga was given is very promising, ’cause she’s such a huge star. So I’m really happy about that. I put a lot of work into what I do, and a lot of passion, and it’s always rewarding to be recognized.
AB: Definitely…besides this award, do you think there is anything else that the two of you possibly have in common?
JS: I think we are both fearless—
JS: —in a way; her with everything, really [laughs].
AB: For sure!
JS: Everything that she does speaks of being fearless. And me, I am fearless because when you look at me, you would probably think that I would be going down this regular R&B route…but I try to do everything, you know what I’m saying, and be true to myself. And I’m a fan of all types of music, and I try to give that on my albums.
AB: Awesome. So why the title Love Me Back for this sophomore project?
JS: I named it Love Me Back because I look at what I do as a relationship—I compare it to a relationship. And when you’re in a relationship and you give a hundred percent, you want a hundred percent back. And I feel like I’ve gotten some of what I wanted out of the industry, with the Grammy nominations and the singles doing well, but I just want more and I want to do better; and I want to win some Grammys this time around. So it’s basically all the love that you give; wanting it back.
AB: So that’s the inspiration behind the album. Let’s get into some of the tracks from the album. I did get a chance to listen to it yesterday; I do love it—
JS: Thank you.
AB: I definitely gravitated towards a few songs, if you don’t mind talking about them briefly. “Redemption”, especially with that storytelling aspect and the switching between the two voices and characters…What is that song about?
JS: Yeah. I love writing stories. I think that’s something that I’m really good at and I enjoy doing it, but I don’t get to do it that often. So when I can kind of create these characters and kind of put you in the mood of these people and paint a picture in my music, I eat it up. So I really enjoyed doing that song. It was a very moody song, and the track was really great and moody, and it just gave me room to just create.
AB: And then you have a duet with Ne-Yo on the album called “U Get on My Nerves”…
JS: Yup, yup you get on my damn nerves [laughs]…
AB: This is like “Bust Your Windows Part II”…
JS: Everybody says that! Yeah, I recorded it in Prague. Me and Ne-Yo were working on a movie together, and he was working in the studio and invited me in, and we kind of just started feeding off of each other, and that song came. But yeah, it’s one of the songs probably that I’ll be known for [laughs]—
JS: —you get on my damn nerves.
AB: [Laughs] Well, a lot of people can relate, so…
JS: Yeah, of course.
AB: [Laughs] And then there’s “Famous”…
JS: Yes, I love “Famous”—I love “Famous”; I did that with No I.D. And it’s really talking about my desire—or the desire—of a person to be famous. And I think that a lot of people will probably relate to that song—not so much that they want fame, but they want to feel important and special to somebody around them, and they want to be the most important thing to that person. And I feel like we all want that, you know?
AB: Yeah. And I’m glad you talked about that and explained the meaning behind the song. What I do want to ask you is, do you think, possibly, the message in that song could be misunderstood, since especially nowadays there are so many people willing to do whatever it takes to be famous—and it’s not necessarily some good things?
JS: Well, what you decide to do for what it is that you want is totally up to you, you know what I’m saying? I think that there should be boundaries on anything, but that’s just me.
JS: It’s not really… this song is just talking about the desire of wanting that.
AB: Okay, awesome. And then my favorite track at this point, “Don’t Make Me Wait”—how did that song come about?
JS: You like that song? That’s so cute— [laughs].
AB: I love that song [laughs].
JS: That was like the first song that I did for the album, and it was like—
AB: Oh, wow.
JS: —I don’t know, it was kind of… I’ll say it kind of set the tone a little bit. It was a lot different from the first album, it was a lot more fun and it was a sexy song. I was like, okay, I love the song, and I was like… it kind of made me say I’m gonna try some different things I haven’t tried. And it was like an ‘80s-inspired song; I love Prince and I always wanted to do just ‘80s songs—I might even one day do a whole ‘80s album. But that was just a fun song and it was a sexy song, and I knew that the girls—and the guys [laughs]—would like this song.
AB: Yeah [laughs].
JS: And it’s cute.
AB: I think if you did an ‘80s-inspired album, you’re the one to do it, because I think you understand it the best and know how to make it still feel modern.
JS: Yeah, yeah. And it’s difficult to do that, you know what I’m saying? And not make it sound too retro. But I enjoyed that song.
AB: And then your new video for “10 Seconds” is out. It’s the second single, which is kind of—
AB: For me, actually, I can say—
AB: —I can say it actually has the edge and the fire that I felt was missing from the “Bust Your Windows” video.
JS: That’s why we did it that way.
JS: After “Bust Your Windows” came out, a lot of people were like, “Oh, she didn’t bust windows”—
JS: —and “she didn’t get to do that”—which I wanted to do; I actually wanted to do that. Videos these days, you kind of have to put a cap on some of the things that you do for the shows that you want it to play on. But I felt like people wanted to see that interaction and that pain and that hurt—
JS: —from a woman who was betrayed. And so that’s why I did it, because I wanted to give that to people who didn’t get it from “Bust Your Windows”.
AB: Great. So what’s your relationship like—I know you just came off tour with Mary J. Blige—
AB: How is your relationship with her?
JS: I love Mary; I love Mary—everywhere I go I always say that. And I was very, very honoured that she chose me to open up for her, and hopefully we can do some more tours and some more music. Actually, I’m supposed to be working with her shortly after Thanksgiving, so we’ll see what will come out of that. But she’s a wonderful role model. She texted me the other day and told me some really inspiring things, and I appreciate that somebody of her caliber would even think about me, to even say certain things. And it really means a lot. So I love her. Team Mary! Yay! [laughs]…
AB: Okay [laughs]. Yeah, that’s a great person to have on your team, big time. So whatever happened to the “Gonna Make It” song?
JS: “Gonna Make It”?
AB: Yeah. You two did a duet, “Gonna Make It”—
JS: Oh, I forgot [laughs]…“Gonna Make It”.
JS: I’m not sure. I think it was released on the Internet, or something like that? I don’t really know. But that was one of two songs that we did in the session, and she just released it in some kind of way—I’m not sure about, really, what happened with that. But that was the beginning of us working together. But I feel we just have so much more inside of both of us that we’ll get to, sooner or later.
AB: And you also have a special connection with another great artist by the name of Missy Elliott.
AB: What is that special something that you guys share that makes you able to create songs like “Need You Bad” and “Holding You Down”?
JS: I think we both just love music. You know, we kind of grew up the same way, in church, so we both have that connection—that background. But we love just making good music. We make music that we want to hear on the radio, and that’s basically it. So we go in there with that in mind, and something always comes out good when I work with Missy, and I enjoy it—’cause she pushes me, know what I’m saying? She stays up, literally, twenty-three hours a day.
JS: I don’t know how she does it. And so every time I go to work with her I pretty much—
JS: —I know I’m gonna be up for twenty-three hours.
AB: Get your Red Bull [laughs].
JS: Right [laughs].
AB: That’s cool. Out of all the songs that you’ve written thus far, do you have an absolute favorite?
JS: I can’t think of a favorite song.
JS: The songs change depending on what I need at the moment [laughs]. Sometimes I feel like “10 Seconds” is my favorite song and sometimes it’s something else. But I don’t know, I haven’t really listened to all of my music to even pick out a favorite song, and I probably won’t be able to do that until I’m 78.
AB: Yeah, years down the line when you can reflect back, and the whole deal.
AB: Cool! Now, coming from Philadelphia, which is your hometown, right?
AB: Everybody knows Philadelphia has a very particular sound. Is that something that translated into your music and to your individual sound?
JS: It did when I was younger. I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, growing up in the Philadelphia sound; so my music, of course, then reflected it. But as I got older and I started to listen to different types of music and experience different things, of course I started to draw from those as well. So it was definitely—that soulful element that I grew up in, I definitely had taken that and I used that in my music; but that also comes from church—
JS: —but the soulful element of the Philly sound, I had.
AB: Okay. Now, I think there’s a slight difference between this latest album and the first—you know, the debut album: whereas the debut album pushed the edge a little bit more—there were pop songs, there were the R&B songs, there were the soulful songs; whereas I feel like this one—Love Me Back is more in that R&B soul lane, and really solidifying your position there. Was that like a conscious decision?
JS: Not really. I think that it’s just, again, how I was feeling. I guess I was more [laughs] in my R&B vibe this time around.
JS: But you know, I love music, so the next album will possibly change and be different, you know what I’m saying?
JS: It’s always going to be… and I like it like that because I feel like, when I look back on my albums, I want to hear every stage that I was going through. I want to be able to hear it in my music.
AB: Yeah, which is what you should do as an artist… Who is the one artist who influences you the most when it comes to your vocal style?
JS: I grew up listening to a lot of gospel. Karen Clark, the Clark Sisters… you know, just gospel all the time [laughs].
JS: And then there was one voice that really stuck out to me, and it reminded me of mine, which was unusual because my voice didn’t sound like anybody’s, really—
JS: —and it was Kim Burrell. And when I heard her I was like, “Oh, my god, somebody has a raspy voice too [laughs]—
JS: —out there.” And it really made me feel comfortable with my gift, ’cause my voice was always low and it was always raspy and it was always different from everybody else’s. And when I heard her, she just kind of put me at ease and made me feel comfortable with my own gift. But she definitely was my biggest musical influence.
AB: Cool. So you had some time getting used to the difference in your voice?
JS: Yeah, I did. Because back when I was younger, singing high… if you could hit a high note, you could sing [laughs].
AB: Yeah, yeah.
JS: And that wasn’t necessarily what I could do. So I had to kind of get over the fact that my voice wasn’t high, it wasn’t really clear or anything, and I had to accept that. But the moment I did, and embraced it, I felt like everything was cool.
AB: Actually, on a side note, I actually just had a conversation with Kandi (from Xscape) about the same thing. Her voice is wildly different than the other girls that were in the group… and just talking about having that appreciation for it being different and unique and not sounding like everybody else.
AB: Okay, cool. Are you at home or most comfortable in the studio or onstage?
JS: I will say in the studio.
AB: Okay. Why is that?
JS: It’s just really intimate and it’s basically just me. When I’m in there creating, I’m not trying to perform or show anybody what I could do, you know what I’m saying?
JS: It’s just me and the music, and I’m just creating. But I do love, love, love, love performing, and I love the fact that it is different from that intimate moment of being in a studio, because I love connecting with an audience and feeding from off of them, and all of that energy. But I’ll say the studio.
AB: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about you?
JS: That I’m mean [laughs].
JS: People think I’m angry and mean and bitter, and I’m really not—I’m not [laughs]. I feel like what I do is, I write songs for women who don’t have a voice—
JS: —you don’t hear songs like “10 Seconds” and “Bust Your Windows”; you don’t hear that, you know what I’m saying? It’s songs of heartache, which is what those songs are… a woman in most of the R&B songs about heartache never has any power, and it’s like, we’re beat down and disgusted and broken down; but in my songs I’m beat down and I’m broken, but I’m strong—I’m not gonna let you just walk over me. You’re not going to walk over me. I’m-a bust the windows out the car!
AB: [Laughs] It’s gonna happen!
JS: —I’m sorry about it, but I’m-a get you back [laughs].
AB: [Laughs] Okay.
JS: So… but I’m not mean, it’s just a strong woman. And on top of that, being delicate and sensitive, and that part too.
AB: Yeah. I think people get caught up in the song so much they kind of ignore the fact that something caused you to write that song—
AB: —and to express those emotions.
JS: ‘Oh she’s so angry’—yeah I’m angry!
AB: Okay [laughs], you have a reason to be…
JS: You would be angry too [laughs]. The only difference is I’m not gonna go home and I’m not gonna just cry about it and be a victim, you know what I’m saying?
JS: I don’t understand… I mean, a lot of women do get it and they love it, but certain people think that it’s just anger and that’s all there is to it. I don’t understand it.
AB: Yeah, yeah, I definitely see that. And with the holiday coming up around the corner, what are you—
JS: On a lighter note [laughs].
AB: Exactly [laughs]. What are you—
JS: I just went off [laughs].
AB: No, I love it, I love it—that’s the passion; I love it. So with Thanksgiving coming up and everything, what are you most thankful for this year?
JS: I’m most thankful for my family and my friends and the new babies that are in my life: my girlfriend has two young babies. And I’m just happy for my family—the normal things. I’m thankful for where I’m at in my career and my gift and everything, but even if I didn’t have any of that, and all of that went away—which is possible in this industry…I would still have my family and my foundation.
AB: That’s cool, very cool. I think that’s the most important thing to have because that’s the only thing that’s going to remain constant through your life.
AB: And are you currently in love?
JS: Yes, I am. I’ve been in a relationship for about two years now, so…
JS: It’s not new anymore [laughs].
JS: You know; kind of settled in it. But yes, I am.
AB: How many—if you don’t mind me asking, how many times have you been in love before?
JS: One time before this.
AB: Okay, okay. And what is it—if you don’t mind me asking again [laughs]—what is it that makes this time different?
JS: I think it’s me, really. I think I’m just a lot more mature, and I know myself—and I’m still learning things about me, but I’m just a lot more comfortable in my skin. So this is me, really [laughs].
AB: Okay, okay. I’m sure he can appreciate that.
AB: And you’re going to be in a movie coming up where… okay, you can explain [laughs] the movie role that you have coming up.
JS: I play a jazz singer, and the movie’s called Red Tails. I don’t know when it comes out—sometime next year, supposedly. But the movie’s about the Tuskegee airmen, and I just play a jazz singer. They come into a club, probably every week or so, just to be entertained. And I’m a jazz singer. It wasn’t a difficult role, but it was very, very scary ’cause it was so out of my element. It was my first time in Prague, the place that it was filmed, and my first time acting, and knowing it was a movie that everybody was gonna be watching—
AB: Okay [laughs].
JS: —and it was hard. It was like, oh, my gosh…
JS: Really…[laughs]. So I had to get over that fear and kind of just do me. But the cast was really sweet, nice and accepting [laughs]—
JS: —of the fact that I was a singer trying to do this. But what was cool about it was that I got to write a song that I performed in the movie.
AB: Yes, that is great on the publishing, too [laughs].
JS: Yes [laughs].
AB: [laughs] All right, I think that’s the gamut of my questions today.
AB: How can… just to wrap up, how can your fans stay up to date on what’s going on with Jazmine and the music and just you, and everything?
JS: Well, my twitter is jsullivanmusic, so check out my twitter. I don’t write on it as often as I should, and I say this all the time, but I actually wrote on it this morning, so nah-nah-nah-nah.
JS: And [laughs] my website is jazminesullivanmusic.com, and that’ll keep you up to date on everything that’s going on.
AB: Thank you, Jazmine, so much—
JS: Thank you!
AB: It was a pleasure talking to you. Good luck with everything—the project, the album, the movie, all that stuff. Oh, I’m sorry, you know what? Let me squeeze in one more question regarding the movie thing: are you interested in doing more serious roles and really getting into acting as much as you’re into music?
JS: I don’t know. I mean, I enjoyed the challenge of it; I don’t know if I got the acting bug when I did it [laughs]—
JS: —and I definitely… if I do something I want to be in love with it, you know? I don’t just want to do it for whatever reasons—for money or for exposure, or whatever—I want to love it. So I’m not saying that one day I won’t, but I don’t feel as strongly about it as I do music. So music, right now, is my first love.
AB: Yes, and it definitely shines through in your music, and—
JS: Thank you.
AB: Yes, yes. And I appreciate that personally as well, too. I am a fan.
JS: Thank you.
AB: All right. Yeah, so that’s it for me.
JS: All right, thank you.
AB: All right. Thank you, guys.
AB: All right, bye-bye.
Transcription by Penelope Keith - You can e-mail Penelope here for transcription service info
Born and raised in Newark, N.J., Akim Bryant received his B.A. in Communication from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Akim is an entertainment/media professional with over 10 years of work experience as a music programmer (radio & video) for Music Choice and as a freelance writer. For further inquiries, he can be reached directly at email@example.com
About the Writer
With nearly a decade of experience in programming content for Music Choice (24/7 music channels, cable-on-demand shows, website and cell), Akim Bryant has just begun to scratch the surface of journalism having already written for GIANT and The Source magazines as well as a number of start-up publications. This self-professed R&B junkie also has a strong knack for the art of interviewing. Be on the lookout for his semi-autobiographical debut novel coming out in 2012.