Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales
by Isaiah Shaw
Despite the instability of the world, artists continue to create — expressing their experiences and declaring the meaning of life in unique ways. Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan released a versatile album on January 8 2021. Heaux Tales follows the untold stories of empowerment among Black women while laying waste to the patriarchal definitions of female sexuality.1
Hailing from North Philadelphia, Sullivan’s musical upbringing began in gospel choirs. As a songwriter, she rose to fame in her late teens with Christina Milian’s Say I in 2006, which topped the U.S. Billboard 40 list. Sullivan was subsequently signed by J. Records. In 2008, she released her debut album, Fearless. The Philadelphia native ranked 6th on the Billboard 200 and received four Grammy nominations for her debut project. She received additional Grammy nominations and top Billboard acclaims for her later projects Love Me Back (2010) and Reality Show (2015)2, proving to be a vulnerable and influential voice in the R&B industry.
After a six-year hiatus, the artist released Heaux Tales on Sony’s RCA Records. In previous projects, the themes are generally centered around Sullivan’s own experiences with love, relationships, and self-identity. Her sound combines neo-soul, reggae, popular music, and hip hop. Heaux Tales is similar in style, but it unpacks an expansive narrative from Jazmine’s group of friends. In other words, the album is somewhat of an homage to “hoes,” both those that benefit from the label and those that are harmed by it.
Bodies, starts the album off with what one might consider a guilty pleasure. The song captures Sullivan’s (or anyone’s) inner thoughts during the moments after a drunken hookup. Here she alludes to a search for accountability:
“I keep on piling on bodies on bodies on bodies, yeah, you getting sloppy girl, I gotta stop getting fu**ed up.”
Throughout the album, the theme of accountability and acceptance reemerge toward a different end as short spoken interludes connect the narrative. Ari’s Tale features singer-songwriter Ari Lennox talking about her life-changing, abusive sexual relationship with a man from her past. The track that follows her testimony, On It, is a powerhouse duet with Lennox and Sullivan that boasts sexual confidence. The three-minute ballad-like song is a graphic telling of what they would do if they were to be “on it” with someone in bed.
With the same artistic prowess, Sullivan reverses that sentiment in another duet, Girl Like Me. Collaborating with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter H.E.R., she replaces sexual confidence with the message: “it ain’t right how these hoes be winning.” The singing is phenomenal, with breathtaking emotional expression. Sullivan continues that on the melancholy lead single, Lost One, an artistic representation of Rashida’s Tale — telling the story of Rashida’s lost loved one due to her own infidelity.
On the flip side of that coin, Pick Up Your Feelings shares an unapologetic breakup with a man who kept taking advantage of Jazmine:
“ Boy please, I don’t need ya, All that sh*t, you can keep, I don’t need it
Don’t forget to come and pick up your feelings, Don’t leave no pieces.”
The patriarchal ego is dismantled with Put It Down and Price Tags (featuring Anderson .Paak), by offering the notion that men ought to be praised only for their usefulness in the bedroom or the bank.
Heaux Tales not only highlights the multitudes of different women, it proposes the multiple complexities that can exist within one woman alone. The project paints a composite portrait of a woman doing her best to protect and love herself in a world that would prefer she did neither. Jazmine Sullivan’s artistry explains how a woman’s good morals and vulnerability can coexist with esurient desire and strong-willed determination.3