Jazmine Sullivan Talks Lauryn Hill, Long Island Iced Teas and Being a ‘Masterpiece': PopCrush Interview
For baseball players, a round of batting practice with Teddy Ballgame would amount to a dream come true; for many comedians, a conversation with Jerry Seinfeld would signal the same. Earlier this month, R&B standout Jazmine Sullivan shared a stage with her hero Lauryn Hill at New York's Apollo Theater, and told PopCrush it completely changed her life. But amid the release of Sullivan's latest album, she's dangerously close to becoming an idol of the genre, herself.
Reality Show, which was released in January after Sullivan's three-year, self-imposed respite from music, was critically acclaimed, and earned the raspy vocalist the renown of one of music's strongest voices by Pitchfork. She's been touring the country since, wowing crowds with the thumping "Dumb" and anthem of aplomb "Masterpiece." She'd be the first to admit that she's in love with love, but her odes to romance are few and far between—at a stop along her tour, you're more likely to hear tales of how quickly a heart can break.
Still, Sullivan told us she's holding out hope that the happy ending her married parents have managed awaits her. See what she had to say about staying out of the club, being featured on the upcoming Nina Simone tribute album and one upcoming performance that's got her shaken up below — and catch her at the BET Awards on June 28 at 8PM!
PopCrush: The BET awards are coming up and you're nominated for the Centric Award, which you've won before. What does that award signify and what it would mean to win again?
Jazmine Sullivan: For me, I think of it as being a bit eccentric and eclectic. It's kind of how I would describe my music, it's a mixture of a lot of things. It's not just one genre, because I love music and I love doing a lot of different styles of music. Mostly soulful, that's what ties it all in. I'm excited to be nominated again—I won for "Fearless," which is years and years ago now [laughs].
Another huge distinction: your performance with Lauryn Hill ahead of the Nina Simone documentary. How was that for you?
It was amazing...she requested for me to be on the soundtrack. She loved that song, so I got the call to do the song, did the song and then when it was time to do the premiere, she asked me to come on her set. To hear that someone you grew up listening to and you admired so much likes your rendition of something and likes your music, it's just amazing. I was just on cloud nine being in her presence, really, getting a chance to see her perform and be a part of it.
You're an outspoken, devoted fan: What is it about Lauryn that you love so much?
What don't you love about her? [laughs]. [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill] was a landmark of R&B albums. She's great—one of the greatest—and she had her way of speaking to people and speaking to the youth without sounding preachy and still getting a message across that we needed. I don't know, she just spoke to our hearts. We felt like she was a big sister. I love her writing most of all.
Nina Simone was known for her activism and her political outspokenness, especially on a track like "Baltimore." Did the experience of taking on that song inspire you to consider making a more politically-charged record in the future?
Possibly. Right now I try and stick to what I experience and what I know personally and what I'm going through. A lot of my life right now at 28 is based around [laughs] love, and trying to find love and trying to figure it out. I just try and be honest in my music and what means most to me. I know that as I grow older my subject matter will change. It'll evolve naturally, I think.
Speaking to that point, I watched an interview that said recording Reality Show was a completely different experience—super intimate with just you and an engineer, and no producer. Do you think you'll approach future projects the same way?
I don't know. Every album is its own thing—you never know how the next one is going to be. I enjoy being by myself and being set apart from everybody and focusing and doing everything myself. But you never know, it depends how you feel when you're doing the next one.
Well it seemed to work pretty well this time around.
Yeah, it did. Like I said, it has to be real, in the moment. I don't want to plan so much, like 'Oh, this worked last time...'
You touched on love briefly, and obviously that's a huge part of your creative—you talk a lot about how you love love, and you love relationships and you aspire to the connection your parents have. But there's also a spectrum you mention, where what goes up must come down. What are the mistakes you think you make about love mentioned in your music, and how do you try to change those?
I would say it's a period in my last relationship when I think I kind of lost myself. My thoughts and everything were just solely focused on the relationship and trying to make it work. I lost myself in that and I regret that. I wish that I had kept some focus on myself and my own life. I feel like if you do that and the relationship doesn't work, you're not as down afterwards. If you put everything into a relationship and it doesn't work out, you have to rebuild so much because you put so much into it. It was a life lesson. I try not to do it, but you know, love just takes over you [laughs] you fall in love. You can't help it.
Having given this a lot of thought, what do you think makes the perfect love song, or is there such a thing of the perfect love song?
You know, I don't really write a lot of love songs. I realized that, I was like "Oh, my God, you're always hurting and down and out." So, I don't know what makes a perfect love song. [laughs] I do have "Let it Burn," which is a love song. It's the only one, I think. The others are hurting from love. So I don't know what makes the perfect love song. When I get them I'm happy I can get one out.
Another theme that's pretty prevalent, especially on a track like "Masterpiece," is self-acceptance. I remember you singing it in New York and the crowd going nuts. Why do you think people have responded so intensely?
I mean, I think people can look at me and my life and they see themselves in me. They see somebody who's not perfect and somebody who is kind of the outsider in this industry, really. We all have insecurities...but we are who are are and we have to accept it. No, I'm not a size two, I don't have blonde hair and my voice isn't high. I am who I am and that's good enough, that's beautiful.
You've said in a bunch of interviews that you're a homebody for the most part—you don't really enjoy going out to clubs. How do you manage that in an industry that encourages partying so much?
I'm still trying to figure that out! [laughs] I see people at parties at stuff and I'm like "That's not realistic that they're out at this party." It's just not me. I'd rather be respected more than anything. If I go out, I want a reason to go out. I want it to be because I'm singing or something, I don't want to be so available where people will just expect me at some place. That doesn't matter so much to me, as much as the rest of my life. My music, really.
Does that inform the people you work with or the type of people that are around you all the time? Do you consciously say you can't have people on your team that are very much into the scene?
Well, my team consists of different people, and I like that. You have to have somebody who is all the way business-minded and you have to have somebody who is ghetto [laughs]. A spectrum of people that make up a good team. Everybody can't think the same.
If you were to go out, what would be your drink of choice?
I always get Long Islands because they get to me the quickest [laughs].
Yeah, you don't want to put too much effort into it—turns into a chore. Anyway, I was going through some of your webisodes you did in conjunction with the release of Reality Show. You mentioned you once got bored on tour and decided to dress up as a pirate just to get a rise out of everyone. [laughs] Is that typical?
I can't think of anything else right now, but it is. My last tour, we had so much time. We did everything—dancing in the street—but that particular tour [laughs], I think that was the [Mary J. Blige Music Saved My Life] tour. It's different when you're the main act versus the opening act. The opening act, sometimes you kind of get looked over, and you're not doing as much. I was like, "I don't have s--- to do. Let me go to the store, and get a pirate costume!" and I wore it around all day. [laughs]
Did you go up to Mary in that costume?
I think so! It was either Mary or Kendu [Isaacs]. I know Kendu saw me. I think Mary might have saw me, she was like "Lord! What!?" [laughs] But I'm silly like that. I don't take a lot of things too seriously.
Still, you really command the stage as a performer, but there's a softness even just speaking to you—do you see yourself as two different people? Is there a persona that you try to assume when you go on stage?
No, not really. I am all those things. I am soft at times, strong at times when I have to be and when I go on stage that's the time when I do have to command it and be a strong person—be assertive and say what it is that I mean. But at the same time, if I feel in the moment, I will break down and I'll find myself. At the Philly show, I had just lost my aunt and doing the song "Masterpiece" reminded me of her and I kind of broke down. Being on stage, for me, is really about being in the moment and being honest about where you are.
What do you have planned for the Essence Festival?
It's going to be fun, I think. I'm going to to a tribute to my vocal idol, Kim Burrell, who I grew up listening to my whole life. I'm excited and nervous! I've never been as nervous as I am. Then, there's a surprise that I can't really say having to do with the main stage show. It will be a good time. But I am nervous about the Kim Burrell thing.
Is that typical for you?
No, it's not typical! It's just that I grew up listening to her and I love Kim Burrell. She's meant so much to me as a vocalist to just go and sing for her—sing one of her songs—is a big deal. I'll be crying and singing at the same time [laughs].
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