Jazmine Sullivan: 'I definitely don’t want to be known as the angry chick'
The 23-year-old released her debut album, “Fearless,” in 2008, and it ended up being one of the the biggest R&B albums that year. It garnered seven Grammy nominations, including best new artist, and has since sold 517,000 copies in the U.S.
She was quickly heralded as her generation's answer to Mary J. Blige, thanks to her heartbreaking tales of love gone wrong –- and her penchant for sweet revenge as evidenced on the album’s breakout hit, “Bust Your Windows.”
But going into the studio for the record’s follow up, “Love Me Back,” was a nerve-wracking experience for the Philadelphia native, who was worried about a sophomore slump.
“I didn’t know if [the album] was hot, or if people were going to like it or what they were going to think,” Sullivan said. "It was stressing me a little bit.”
The new disc's first single, “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles)," just earned Sullivan her eighth Grammy nomination and has gotten raves from critics, including The Times’ Margaret Wappler, who wrote that “with a lived-in voice that's scratched and ragged at the edges … Sullivan pours herself into the songs yet keeps her ground, no matter the style or tone.”
“Love Me Back” debuted at No. 17 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 57,000 copies. Sullivan hopes listeners take notice of her growth as an artist, something she is quite proud of.
“I think people will see a different side of me on this album, and that was really important because I don’t want to be put into a box or any category,” she said. “And I definitely don’t want to be known as the angry chick.”
Sullivan explains the dark moments of “Fearless,” whether she is busting up an ex's valuables or busting an ex in the act of cheating ("Live a Lie," a song she says was so difficult to listen she rarely sang it at shows) were reflective of a bitter relationship she had just gotten out of. "Love Me Back" is more vulnerable with tracks such as "Excuse Me" and "Stuttering" showing her swoon over a guy.
“I had gotten into another relationship, so [with] the love songs I just wanted to express how I was feeling. I’m actually a really private person. But when it comes to my music, I’m not at all,” she says, laughing. “I put almost too much information in it.”
With a voice as big as Sullivan's, it's shocking when she brings up feelings of self-doubt, especially as accolades pour in. She was covered in an early episode of “Glee,” catapulting “Bust Your Windows” into pop culture glory; she was the recipient of this year’s Billboard rising star award, an honor that Lady Gaga snagged the year before; and she just completed a stint supporting her idol Blige on her Music Saved My Life tour. Plus there are those eight Grammy noms.
She sees it only as evidence that she’s on the path of getting everything she’s ever dreamed of –- something she sings of on both albums.
“I think I’ll always be 11 and in pursuit of getting what I dream of,” she sighs, seeming to drift away. “No matter how far I get, I don’t think I’ll ever be there. It keeps me humble and grounded. It keeps me always trying to get higher.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Jazmine Sullivan. Credit: J Records