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— by Wilson Chapman

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Jazmine Sullivan’s “Heaux Tales” is 2021’s first great album

n “Lost One,” the excellent lead single from her recently released EP “Heaux Tales,” Jazmine Sullivan pulls off a clever bait-and-switch. As the music swells during the pre-chorus, the R&B singer pleads to a lover she hurt, “Just hear me out, before you let it go/There is one thing, I need, for you to know.” Mentally, you prepare yourself for a grand romantic statement. Instead, she follows it up with this: “Don’t have too much fun without me.” It’s a messy sentiment, so bald-faced in its selfishness that I laughed out loud the first time I heard it. But that’s what makes it so relatable. And as Sullivan belts the song out, the meaning behind her words seeps in. Sullivan has spent her entire career as an artist exploring love and heartbreak, and the messiness that comes with them, via song. “Bust Your Windows,” the first track off her debut album and one of her first big hits, is a campy revenge song in the “Before He Cheats” vein that still manages to tap into real emotional rawness. She’s a great vocalist, up there with the best working in her genre, but she distinguishes herself from her peers with her sharp writing and her talent at creating songs about love that feel truthful. And she really flexes that ability on “Heaux Tales,” a project that is as much a creative writing exercise as it is a collection of killer R&B tunes. At an economical 32 minutes, “Heaux Tales” is short, but it’s the most ambitious project Sullivan has put her name on. The eight songs on the EP are complimented by a series of interludes in which various women, ranging from friends and family of Sullivan to R&B singer Ari Lennox, discuss their personal

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and complex relationships with their own The practicality of “The Other Side” contrasts sexualities. Sullivan uses these interviews as heavily with the euphoric bliss of “Put It a prompt for her songwriting, exploring the Down,” a song about falling hard and crazy in sentiment and situations described from love with a man who doesn’t deserve it. Many the perspective of her subject. “Lost One,” of the songs, such as the Anderson .Paak feature for example, directly follows the interlude “Price Tags,” look at sex and hookups from a “Rashida’s Tale,” where the titular woman position of confidence. Conversely, the last describes how she cheated monologue “Amanda’s Tale,” and and hurt both her girlfriend the gorgeous H.E.R. and herself. duet “Girl Like Me” One of the effects of the that accompanies tales’ conceit is, aside from it, explores how the the opener “Bodies” and modern dating world the Lennox collab “On It,” and the conflation there’s inherently a slight of sex with power distance to the songs, can easily breed an acknowledgement insecurity. Sullivan that Sullivan is singing doesn’t judge any from the perspective of of the women; she, others rather than from and her album, Photo courtesy of a personal place. What’s understands that there RCA Records remarkable about the are multiple ways to album, however, is how empathetic her be a woman and a sexual being, and all of writing is, and how she manages to embody them are valid. the voices of vastly different women with vastly Whereas Sullivan’s previous work was big different perspectives. One of the monologues, and theatrical, “Heaux Tales” is comparatively “Precious’ Tale,” sees its subject discuss how more downbeat and contemplative, aided by a she only gives attention and time to men who production that certainly has a few flourishes have money; it’s easy to imagine an artist but mostly serves to highlight Sullivan and her playing a song from her point of view with an collaborators’ vocal ability. And while Sullivan ironic, mocking edge, dismissing her as a gold has plenty of opportunity to showcase her big digger. Instead, Sullivan’s song from Precious’ voice (the way she belts out the chorus of icy perspective, “The Other Side,” is warm and break-up song “Pick Up Your Feelings” gives kind, understanding her preference as a me goosebumps), she’s slightly more restrained personal choice informed by lived experience than she was on her previous albums. For the rather than a moral failing. most part, she lets her writing and the lives The various songs on “Heaux Tales” embody of the women who serve as her muses do the very different and oftentimes contradictory talking, and that’s more than enough to make approaches to navigating modern sexuality. the album soar. ◊

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The Monthly: January 2021  

The Monthly: January 2021  

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