Jazmine Sullivan Builds Community With More Than Just Words: Interview
Jazmine Sullivan is no stranger to fostering transcendent connections. Hundreds of thousands of fans have flocked to her direct experiences since 2008. Yet, her latest project, Heaux Tales, intentionally transformed the dedicated faction into a close-knit group that felt the music on an exceptionally kindred level.sense of community is necessary to get through life. One can do things on their own but being surrounded by any level of support makes the journey much more gratifying.
“I’ve always made music that I feel like people could relate to, but now the conversation is more open to everybody sharing their story,” Sullivan tells Rated R&B.
“It was not just me sharing my story. I made a platform where I’m inviting women to come in and share their stories. It’s so lovely. We need each other to support each other.”
As a part of her mission in creating safe spaces for Black women, Sullivan was appointed as an advisor for Novartis’ breast cancer initiative, More Than Just Words.
“The initiative is about creating solutions to address the disparities in breast cancer, and getting Black women to get mammograms, checkups and take care of themselves,” Sullivan explains about the campaign, which launched in May. “I’m involved because I care about Black women. I want us to be on this earth living as long as we possibly can.”
For Sullivan, this initiative hits home. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.
“Going through and getting through that, I feel like it’s my duty to help anybody else who’s experiencing that,” she says. “I know how hard it is and how lonely it can feel. I want people to know that they’re not in this alone. There are people that care about them, love them and want them to beat this thing.”
Enduring this difficult time undoubtedly brought Sullivan and her mother closer together. Possessing a quiet strength her mother hadn’t always shown, Sullivan also realized that she had a tenacious fighting spirit that aided them both in this process. Currently, her mother is in remission, and while it has been an anxious period, the initiative has been a fulfilling opportunity for her to pay it forward.
More Than Just Words has become another component of the secured sphere Sullivan has cultivated over the years. Showing up for Black women in any way possible lends to how she aims to utilize her impact moving forward.
“I think that we [Black women] are the most awesome gifts on this earth,” she professes. “I want to create a community for us where we feel like we are precious and we’re loved. We can be vulnerable, talk to each other and not feel judged. I feel like it’s so much healing in that place. Everything that I’m doing is aiding towards that — my music and the conversations that I’m having with women about our lives and our health. That’s the space that I’m in, and I’m so proud of that.”
Sullivan had always channeled her encounters into her music that directly spoke to her fan base, but now, she’s allowed her music to amplify the narrative of others in a strikingly candid way.
Topics like romance, sex, self-love and respectability politics were discussed in a manner that only her counterparts seemed to be aware of. The impact of Heaux Tales surpassed Sullivan’s expectations, as the songs and tales became equally acclaimed among listeners.
The six-year hiatus left fans salivating for any inkling of music she could provide, so when she reclaimed her awaited position in the R&B space, it was unequivocally met with amassed excitement. Yet, for someone equipped with such an immaculate talent, Sullivan still feels reservations about her work.
“I’m always scared to put music out,” she admits. “I’m always thinking that nobody wants to hear it and that the work isn’t good enough. You just get self-doubts. I definitely understand people who deal with that and have to continually tell themselves that they’re supposed to be in certain spaces and that they deserve to be in it because I’m that person.
It was always hard for me to push through that, but I do and I want that for everybody. I want them to push past the places in themselves that tell them that they’re not good enough.”
Once she unleashed her most recent offering, a groundswell of support followed. The break between projects may have caused it and as her community always knew the powerful gifts she possessed, it seemed that many others began entranced in Sullivan’s melodic spell.
In this new era, she received her first number one (“Pick Up My Feelings”) on both R&B radio and Billboard’s Adult R&B chart, confirming what faithful supporters have always known about her. The recognition is sorely overdue, but even with the accolades, her outlook on success has adjusted.
“Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen,” Sullivan realizes. “I feel like this is a good time in my life for everything that’s happening. I’m able to handle it in a way that I might not have been able to handle before. I don’t have any regrets about life not going where I expected it to go earlier on. I feel happy and satisfied with the love [and] the attention that I’m getting.”
She adds, “My main concern at this point in my life is my mental health, my mother being healthy and continuing to be healthy. Also, the fact that I am creating a platform for women to be able to share their stories.
Those are the things that are more important to me now, so I feel like that’s probably why things are happening for me the way they are. My priorities have shifted and it’s more than just about, ‘Okay, you made it.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, what are you doing with it? Are you happy? Are you making other people happy?’”
Fans are beyond elated that Sullivan has returned, and even more so she kept their yearning at bay with new tunes throughout the first half of the year. In June, she released her single “Tragic,” an account of sexual frustration due to poor performance.
Vexed by the partner’s inadequacy, Sullivan voices her distress with a silken delivery that ups the ante with passionate dismay by the bridge. With a seemingly slight nod to Philadelphia soul group The Stylistics, the song modernizes the city’s recognizable sound while paying homage to her musical forefathers.
The redolent track, which she co-wrote with Leven Kali, follows suit with the stories told in Heaux Tales, but the theme of Sullivan’s upcoming project is still to be determined. Whether or not there will be a part two is up in the air, but it’s safe to say it won’t be too long before we get new music.
“I am in the studio,” Sullivan assures. “I’m working, creating more content, making more music. I’m doing features. Music will be coming out soon.”