Jazmine Sullivan's Empowering 'Heaux Tales' is About More than just her Return to Music
Evan Dale // Jan 10, 2021
'An album is coming…,'
writes Jazmine Sullivan whose Reality Show – her last album – came out in 2015. But the world has changed in the half-decade since that release, and for all intents and purposes, her new EP, Heaux Tales is a more complete conceptual, storytelling, and artistic banner than most artists today are capable of creating underneath. Nonetheless, with a promise of an album on the way, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales breathes, too, of the kind of complexities, rawness, and brash feminine energy that modernity is coming to expect more and more as counterpoint to the masculinity and overt sexualism that has defined mainstream hip-hop and R&B albums for years. And though Sullivan is no stranger to relatable tales of relationships, heartbreak, sex, and prevailing trauma, this project is particularly poignant, relatable, and thought-provoking. Heaux Tales – from its name to its music to its eye-opening intermissionary monologues detailing tales of women, from Jazmine’s friends to some of the most powerful women in music today – is a celebration of sexuality, self-love, body positivity, and ultimately overcoming the memories, the mistakes, and the mishaps everyone finds in ghosts of relationships past. It is a musically genius thesis on the realities of the modern woman, from one of modern R&B’s most elusive yet prominently outspoken queens. And ultimately, it is a concept album – though not being called an album by its creator – that speaks to both the idea of conceptual constructs, and to the idea that they continue to speak vibrantly to creative nonrealities and social realities in one fell swoop.
It is remarkable and rare that a musical project’s strongest moments can come from a non-musical place, but for Heaux Tales, interwoven monologues detailing real past experiences lie backbone to the entire project itself. Don’t get it twisted, track to track, Jazmine Sullivan proves as she always does, to be an unparalleled force of soulful prowess, but there is something even more fervent born in the amalgamate between a Heaux Tales intermission and its subsequent soulful anthem. The relationship between a song’s real-world roots and the song itself is more than exposed, but put on exhibition here, and genially so. As result, Heaux Tales is a unique look into the mind and experiences of people in Sullivan’s circle – as they relate to people everywhere – and how those relatable, everyday experiences with love, lust, heartbreak, and occasionally hate, pave the crossroads of life and art in both of their most honest projections.
It’s impossible to pull the music from its roots – impossible to pull a single from its birth in the womb of its accompanying intermissionary Tale – but even taking each and every strictly musical offering on the project for its own weight, the music of Heaux Tales is, as is the case with all of Jazmine Sullivan’s work, still vibrantly unique and worthy of acclaim for its stylistic fluidity and simply damn groovy aesthetics. Not tight roping hip-hop and R&B, but altogether defying the line between the two, Jazmine Sullivan flexes her gray area maneuvering with each musical moment of Heaux Tales. And the proof is in the project’s collaborations. From an overtly sexualized baby-making anthem with Dreamville’s premiere soulstress, Ari Lennox (On It); to an expectedly genre fluid hip-hop anthem with King of stylistic transcendentalism, Anderson .Paak (Pricetags); to a guitar-striven Neo-Soul breakup duet putting both her and H.E.R.’s undeniably powerful vocalism on display (Girl Like Me); Jazmine Sullivan’s ability to transcend the many stylistic fields she boasts preference for, remains unparalleled, even amongst so many creatives whose relatively young careers were at least partly born from Jazmine’s breaking of barriers more than a decade ago.
When it’s all said and done, Heaux Tales remains without its album moniker if only for its length. But for its brilliant focus on such a spectrum of dynamic feminine energies, driven by real-world stories that inspire the blendalline stylistic explorations of it all, Heaux Tales is perhaps something more than Jazmine Sullivan’s first project in half-a-decade. Instead, perhaps, it’s a blueprint of conceptual project genius and a divine woman point of view in a musical scene that too often prioritizes focus in a hyper-masculine direction.
With more modern artists from Ari Lennox and H.E.R. to Megan Thee Stallion and Raveena in constant pursuit of building out an inferno where the feminine energies of hip-hop, R&B, and Neo-Soul don’t only match, but ultimately exceed those of their male counterparts, it has always been the genius and courage of artists like Jazmine Sullivan who struck the match in the first place. So, her unexpected return to the flame is more than worthy of burning down the hotel; Heaux Tales is the first sentence of the next chapter in both a changing of the guard and the return of the queen.