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. I got a lot more songs on the album that I personally think are doper.”
The Carters and Sister Knowles don’t have anything to do with it; it’s evident by the reaction to the “doper” songs.
Excitement was there for other offerings like “Forever Don’t Last,” which is simple in its production (just acoustic guitar and vocals) but far more of a statement because it’s Sullivan at her best: painting a picture with her lyrics, capturing the tone of breakup perfectly with her voice, and letting both carry the song. However, on the other release from her new album, Reality Show, “Mascara,” Sullivan sings with the immediacy and flair of a rapper.
“Yeah, my hair and my ass fake, but so what? I get my rent paid with it.”
Initially, I likened the track to Amy Winehouse’s “Fuck Me Pumps.” Yet, Sullivan is not bashing “those kind of girls” the way Winehouse once skewered. The point of Reality Show, and perhaps, Sullivan’s mission moving forward, is to lend voice to women who often find themselves the subject of conversation, but never with a microphone. In theory, that’s the purpose of reality TV, though as VH1, Oxygen, and Bravo have taught us, that isn’t always the case.
The point of Reality Show is to lend voice to women who often find themselves the subject of conversation, but never with a microphone.
Sullivan is more skilled than most producers given she knows a little something about feeling ostracized. In numerous interviews leading to the release of the album, Sullivan has revealed that part of her departure from music was the result of being in an abusive relationship. As a result, she sings for the girls who never leave the house without looking picture perfect; the women who do whatever they have to do to take care of their families (“Silver Lining”); the ladies still obsessed with the concept of hood love (“Hood Love”).
She also sings for herself. You get the sense that “Stupid Girl” was particularly personal for Sullivan as she sings about lost love with lines like, "A trainwreck headed for us/But we never think of running/So which one are you? Because I know who I am."
There is also new terrain such as the disco-numbered “Stanley” and upbeat, 1990s R&B-influenced “Let It Burn.” Sullivan also does tap her sensual side by way of “Veins,” though drug analogies increasingly feel dated. Even so, everything is sung well, and for that reason alone, makes everything listenable.
Sullivan’s previous album, Love Me Back, was a favorite, and I’ve never forgiven music listeners for snubbing it. Reality Show is neck-in-neck in terms of quality, but Sullivan’s latest feels a lot more current—which should make it easier for the public to relate to. Here’s hoping because while it may have taken her far too long to come back, Reality Show sounds right on time.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.