Jazmine Sullivan • Reality Show • RCA • US Release Date: January 13. 2015
Things don’t feel right when there’s a void do they? Throughout R&B music, voids are felt quite frequently. How about the extended hiatuses that both Maxwell and D’Angelo partook of between albums? When both artists reasserted themselves, they fulfilled something that had been absent. A similar effect occurs with the return of Jazmine Sullivan, one of the most soulful, complete musicians of present times. One taste of her voice and it’s difficult to resist being hypnotized and mesmerized by her effortless, immense skill. After five years off, Jazmine Sullivan returns strong with third album, Reality Show.
Reality Show opens with a bang with “Dumb,” featuring Philly rapper Meek Mill. Sullivan just calls him like she sees him – “I know you know you ain’t right” – later finding security in her own intellect and read on her man’s dumbness. Maybe it sounds simple, but the soap opera – reality show – that Sullivan delivers is spot-on and brilliant opener.
Keeping the ferociousness afire, “Mascara” opens with quite the salvo: “Yeah my hair and my ass fake, but so what?” Keeping things ‘all the way real,’ Sullivan sings on the chorus, “So I never leave the house without makeup on / I keep mascara in my pocket if I’m running to the market / cause you never know who’s watching you / so I got to stay on!” Much like “Dumb,” maybe the literalness of “Mascara” seems simplistic, but the bigger message is one of women’s insecurities with physical appearance. Therefore, “mascara” – both literally and figuratively – make her feel better or atone for insecurities.
It’s clear on the unapologetic “Brand New” that Sullivan has added more ‘bite’ to her approach. Still maintaining the soulfulness of her previous work, “Brand New” indeed looks to the present – hip-hop infused contemporary R&B – as its stylistic base. Still even as “Brand New” has Sullivan expanding her scope, it’s the sharp songwriting and feistiness that truly captivates the listener, as Sullivan writes off people with newfound fame who forget from whence they came. There’s no better way to say it than Jazmine does: “Well baby f*ck you and then the new crew that you’re rollin’ with.”
On “Silver Lining,” Jazmine is looking up, despite the misfortunes and burdens that life can bring. Over vintage sounding production, Sullivan explores different facets of her voice, sometimes residing in her lower register, while also striking gold with her powerful upper register. If much of Reality Show felt like ‘new’ Sullivan up until this point, “Silver Lining” is a throwback to Fearless or Love Me Back.
“I’mma rock this b*tch till the wheels fall off…” Whoa! “#HoodLove” may sport a hash tag as well as liberal uses of the n- and b-words, but the high-flying diva is clearly ‘on’ to the nth degree. Both soulful and resolute, Sullivan continues to deliver her point without question. She’s gentler in her language on “Let It Burn,” but she continues to assert herself via the combination of strong lyrics and gut-wrenching vocals. “You feel that fire, just let it burn,” she sings on the memorable, prudent refrain, “There’s no runnin’ when it’s your turn.”
“Veins” sports one of the most unique ‘vibes’ of Reality Show. There is a hypnotic quality about it, which is supported by the messaging – one of the ‘addiction’ to love. Likened to drug addiction, it’s not a new concept, but its well executed, particularly with the modern, somewhat off-kilter R&B production. If “Veins” is arguably ‘untraditional,’ “Forever Don’t Last” is a return to traditional fare. Not a reinvention of the wheel or the soul script, “Forever Don’t Last” is like Sullivan flexing her guns (biceps of course!).
Going further back in the musical timeline – think 1950s – “Stupid Girls” is unlike anything in Jazmine Sullivan’s discography. Given her boldness throughout Reality Show, this marriage between ultra vintage and über feistiness (isn’t that even a thing?) unleashes a brilliant union. Then to further thrill or off-put listeners, she switches gears completely on “Stanley,” a neo-disco song that is equally edgy. Like “Stupid Girls,” this resembles nothing else from Sullivan’s past.
On “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa),” Sullivan has embraced her beauty and found her confidence and swagger. “Every part of me is a vision of a portrait of Mona, Mona Lisa,” she sings on the chorus, “Every part of me is beautiful / and I finally see I’m a work of art / a masterpiece.” “Masterpiece” isn’t necessarily the preeminent song from Reality Show, but it truly ranks among the most thoughtful. Smartly, Sullivan concludes Reality Show up-tempo, courtesy of the groovy, feel-good “If You Dare.”
Three albums in – specifically five years between album two and album three – Jazmine Sullivan is the model of consistency. Rarely do you find an R&B artist in particular that continues to set her apart from the pack. As different as Reality Show is in comparison to Fearless or Love Me Back, it arrives as equals to those splendid affairs. Home run – by all means.
Favorites: “Dumb,” “Mascara,” “Forever Don’t Last,” and “Stupid Girls”