Jazmine Sullivan Ponders Love and Materialism on ‘Heaux Tales’


Jazmine Sullivan never embellished romance. In their songs, love almost always leads to pain: rejection, infidelity, heartbreak, violence. She opened her 2008 debut album “Fearless” with “Bust Your Windows” to get revenge on a cheating friend, and a few songs later the singer ended the ongoing domestic abuse with murder. Their narrators do not spare anyone who does them injustice; They also do not forgive their own mistakes.

Sullivan’s music carries the ecclesiastical, high-profile emotionality and the down-to-earth detail of vintage southern soul into the everyday situations and electronic soundscapes of hip-hop. And in case no one has noticed, their fourth and most desolate album “Heaux Tales”, released five years after “Reality Show”, makes it clear that their stories were never meant to be just for them.

“Heaux Tales” is schematic, a sequel to didactic concept albums such as “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and the visual version of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”. Spoken “stories” by six women – confessions and hard-earned observations – are followed by songs that they elaborate as character studies. (Although the spoken word tracks are accompanied by electronic beats and gospel organs, the songs stand up to repeated listening far better on their own.)

“Heaux” is a French version of “ho” that places a longstanding insult at an analytical distance. In the songs on “Heaux Tales”, Sullivan looks behind dismissive stereotypes – party girl, avenger, sex addict, gold digger, cheater, cast – to reveal complicated human desires behind him.

Sullivan released “Pick Up Your Feelings” in November in two versions: as an audio track from the album and as a live version. It’s a cutting, irreconcilable goodbye to a deceitful lover, by no means the first in her catalog. “I make so much more than you gave me / now I’m saving myself,” she explains to someone she caught “double immersing”.

The live version with Sullivan, who is only accompanied by electric guitar and backup singers, combines virtuosity with vehemence when it switches between long falls, cascading runs, fast jazzy syllables and long jumps. The album track, with drums, retro-sounding strings, and confusing studio-inverted piano chords, is more dismissive and colder in its anger; Sullivan throws short sentences like a knife thrower.

But the righteous wrath of a breakup is one of the easier positions on the album. Other songs venture into trickier, more ambivalent areas. In the singer is the traitor in “Lost One”; It is an admission of sheer desperation that groans in Sullivan’s low register over a hollow echoing guitar as she sees the one who betrayed her have rebound affairs and begs, “Try not to love anyone.”

She also accepts female desire as a compulsion and challenge. In “Put It Down” Sullivan sings in crisp, almost rap cadences about lust overriding your better judgment, while in “On It” she and Ari Lennox coo over a slowly swaying groove as they coo a lover. tease”. prove why you deserve it ”by adding some technical hints.

And with a bit of spikes over the spoken word, Sullivan ponders how sex in “Pricetags”, “The Other Side” and “Girl Like Me” can become a material transaction – as “Heaux”. In “Pricetags” the singer’s simple greed is answered by Anderson .Paak with comical, escalating despair. “The Other Side” has a more sympathetic narrator. She’s broke and struggles, her voice longs and sails up as she sings, “I have dreams of buying expensive things”; Then she reveals her plan to “move to Atlanta” and “find me a rapper” who can afford all her imaginary luxuries over a brisk beat.

Sullivan combines the themes of the album in his “Girl Like Me” finale. Along with IHR, whose voices overlap over a handful of syncopated, descending guitar chords, the singer is wounded and driving. Her friend went on without explanation, leaving her unsure of her body and wondering what he wanted: “What you asked I would have given.” She’s sure that “it’s not right how these guys win” and then thinks, “That’s what you wanted, that’s what you get / A ho I’ll be.”

It’s not a happy ending, much less the advice of a role model. It’s just one way for a scarred character to hold out on an album full of it.

Jazmine Sullivan
“Heaux Tales”