Release Date: Jan 13, 2015
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary R&B
Love Me Back wasn't quite two months old when Jazmine Sullivan, a singer's singer and songwriter's songwriter, tweeted that she was going to take an indefinite break from music. She noted that a lack of self-belief was a reason. Four years later, after she duetted with fellow under-recognized titan Bilal on Robert Glasper Experiment's Black Radio 2, took part in a documentary web series (in which Beyoncé gushed that Sullivan is "one of the best"), and issued three singles, she made her full return with Reality Show.
The Philadelphia singer Jazmine Sullivan is such a singular artist there's an easy temptation to contrast her latest album, Reality Show, with everything else—to define her work by its negatives, by the paths it avoids rather than those it follows. For example: No one will look to this album's sonic signatures to discover the texture of R&B's future. But if it's more difficult to speak to what Sullivan does, that's our failure, an inability to recognize R&B as a discrete, heterogeneous genre.
There’s always been something very special about Jazmine Sullivan. While mainstream R&B artists catered toward multiple variations of Hip Hop, Philadelphia’s own songstress remained rooted in the genre’s rich past despite being spearheaded then by Missy Elliott. This has lead to a very specific level of consistently great albums since making her debut through 2008’s remarkable Fearless.
Even after being missing in action for half a decade, in the space of 12 tracks, Jazmine Sullivan shows why she's a highly underrated artist in the scene. The Philly-born and -raised singer-songwriter had moderate success in the mid 2000s off the strength of singles like "Need U Bad," "Lions, Tigers and Bears" and "Holding You Down," before taking an indefinite hiatus citing unspecified personal and professional issues. Her return suggests she couldn't stay away, and we're glad to have her back; as a songwriter with a knack for pop-friendly yet unique melodies, and as a vocalist with seemingly unlimited range, her return with Reality Show is welcome.
As R&B's newest wave of starlets continues to fetishize wispy vocals atop icy grooves, it's hard to imagine how a singer as fiery as Jazmine Sullivan will regain footing after her unexpected half-decade hiatus. Emerging in the late aughts with a pair of hits that positioned her alternately as an earthy Lauryn Hill acolyte (“Need U Bad”) and a crowbar-toting avenger (“Bust Your Windows”), Sullivan proved adept at infusing an impressive array of styles with emotional rigor and youthful exuberance. At her core, though, she's always been a descendent of the deep-soul tradition, a breed of artist that has all but vanished from the charts.
When Jazmine Sullivan finally returned with new music via “Dumb,” featuring fellow Philadelphian Meek Mill, the moment sort of came and went. It’s not that people haven’t been yearning for her return since she took to Twitter exactly four years ago to say she was taking time away from music; but the track did not command attention the way previous offerings like “Need You Bad” and “Bust Your Windows” did. Recently, Sullivan was asked if “Elevatorgate” involving Solange, Jay Z, and Beyoncé had something to do with the single's lack of attention in an interview with Power 105’s “The Breakfast Club.” Sullivan answered: “I did feel like that situation kind of took away from it, but it’s cool.
That Jazmine Sullivan is a lover of "ratchet" reality TV is not entirely surprising; after all, the singer's second single was called Bust Your Windows. Much like the medium referred to in its title, the American singer/songwriter's third album airs a pile of dirty laundry accrued during a rocky relationship. This is a breakup album, but its overarching theme is not love, but respect.
Out with the old? Not quite yet. Before the year fully gears up, this Playlist lingers over some albums from 2014 that earned some belated notice — and welcomes some 2015 albums that defy the January doldrums. Jazmine Sullivan’s third studio album, “Reality Show” (RCA), to be released this ….