It’s been almost 6 years since Jazmine Sullivan dropped her last album and she has a lot to live up to when it comes to a follow-up. Reality Show was an amazing body of work that has only gotten better with time thanks to her expressive songwriting and amazing voice. Thankfully she may have at least reached parity thanks to the concept of her new project.
Heaux Tales is an album that explores the different sides and thoughts when it comes to how women move through sexuality and how it affects their lives. The songs are segmented thanks to the inclusion of interludes that have various women either explaining how they felt about a particular man or how they navigate the confluence of sex and their aspirations for themselves. There is no judgement placed on these women or the way they think, just a statement that this is how some people feel and the songs that follow are going to be based around that idea. It’s an ambitious undertaking that could either be done too seriously and leave the listener feeling down or too frivolously and leave them
The first thing you notice is just how Sullivan has managed to switch up her style without switching up her core. What do we mean by that? Simply that there is continuity between Reality Show and Heaux Tales in terms of the production and vocal performance, but the project manages to avoid feeling stagnant like she hasn’t evolved in the time between major projects. The mix of styles in terms of delivery is similar to the last album, but there is a lot more emphasis on her flow than the overall melody giving certain songs a more trap/hip-hop feel than some may be expecting. Her beautiful harmonies are still very much a stable of this album, but they come in and drop out in interesting places, putting emphasis on certain verses and creating some moments of build in places where you might think that the production would maybe lead things to be somewhat flat. The production, which can seems a little samey between tracks until you hit Lost One thanks to the mid-tempo aspect of all the songs, does flow very well and gives a since of atmosphere to many of the songs that gives unspoken subtext to a few tracks.
The next thing you may notice is just how fast you are speeding through the tracks. With the absence of one of the intros in the version we had, the entire project clocks in at just over 31 minutes, making it more an EP than an album. It does keep the album and subject matter from overstaying its welcome, but the pace does feel incredibly fast in some places where you want to linger and enjoy the sonic goodness. Two of the songs are so criminally short to the point that they almost feel incomplete. It doesn’t lessen the experience, but it is something that you can’t help but notice.
The third thing you notice is that Sullivan has mastered her ability to show out vocally without overdoing it in a way that makes it FEEL like she’ showing out. Nearly every song contains an incredible set of runs and exceptional vocals, but none of it feels forced or unnatural to the atmosphere that the song is trying to create. There is never a moment when it feels like she’s singing at you; you are there with her in the moment and the emotions of the songs always manage to ring through.
Some of the highlights of the album are the deliciously raunchy On It, which have Sullivan and Ari Lennox declaring their desires openly but letting the man in question know that they aren’t so horny that he won’t have to try. The sumptuous vocals and luscious vocals are an interesting add some major class to a song that could have come across crass thanks to lyrics being so straight forward. Pricetags has the songstress matching bars with Anderson .Paak to pretty good effect even if the overall song has a weird sense of length compared to other tracks on the album. The single Lost One could be an interesting companion piece to Forever Don’t Last thanks to the confluence of Sullivan’s beautiful smokey vocals and the simple instrumental in the background despite the fact that the song is incredibly short. The Other Side, thanks to the trinity that is her vocals, the production, and the lyrics, comes across as much as a moment of soul searching as it does a statement of intention and goals.
All in all, Jazimne Sullivan has, at the very least, given us some good musical food for thought that will keep us focused on her over upcoming flashes in the pan with similar themes. We’ll have to see if this album can allow Sullivan to go another five-plus years between projects (please don’t) as time wears on, but we do know that many of these songs will be traveling with us throughout the rest of 2021. There are definitely worse ways to start off a new year.
Note: Depending on the platform you are listening on, Ari’s Tale (the fourth track and second interlude) may not be available.
Favorite songs: Pick Up Your Feelings, On It, Lost One, The Other Side
Most skippable: Girl Like Me