The most powerful stories are real. They’re the sagas that we grasp on to, learn from, and live with. JAZMINE SULLIVAN tells her story in all its unfiltered, unabridged, and unrestrained glory on her third full-length album, Reality Show (RCA Records, January 13, 2015).
In 2013, the 13-time Grammy nominee experienced a personal revelation that would spark the recording process. It also broke her creative silence after she had initiated a hiatus from music on Twitter only two years prior.
“I took a break, and I had some time to reflect on my life,” she admits. “I was trying to figure out what things were wrong and how to fix them. Instead of keeping that journey to myself, I decided to take the opportunity to make songs about it. I’m definitely being as honest as I can be. I’m growing up. When I was young, I was emotional, I was little crazy, and I used to bust windows out! I didn’t know how to handle things. Now, I do. I hope this process can help someone else.”
The Philly native retreated to a hometown studio and, for the first time in her career, assumed the role of executive producer. She also tapped the talents of iconic producer Salaam Remi, Key Wane, and others. Not only did Jazmine oversee the entire production, but she served as the primary writer on each of the album’s twelve tracks. As a result, Reality Show encompasses everything from R&B and soul to hip-hop, funk, and even a little disco.
“I love so many different styles and genres,” she says. “It wasn’t about following one muse, but rather embracing what spoke to me in the moment. Everything was scaled down to the basics. I feel like you can hear that in the album. There’s no glitz and glamour. It’s really raw and straight-to-the-point.”
That’s why the title, Reality Show fits, so perfectly. While making the album, Jazmine spent a lot of time watching Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta and VH1’s Mob Wives, Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta, and T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle. The exposed emotions of those programs definitely seeped in.
“I found that some of the songs and storylines had a bit of drama,” she smiles. “The language was affected by a lot of reality television. It’s grimy, but I wanted to write how people actually speak and feel. My story found its way into each of the songs.”
The first single, “Forever Don’t Last,” sees her inimitable vocals rise over bluesy acoustic guitar and production from Chuck Harmony [Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo]. “You can get to a point where a relationship isn’t good for you,” she says of the song. “That’s where it comes from. I’m really pouring out my heart on that one.”
Trumpets and piano augment a jazzy intro on the DJ Dahi-produced “Brand New,” just before her spirited cadence takes the spotlight. She goes on, “I was looking at a lot of famous rappers and thinking to myself, ‘It doesn’t seem like any of them are with the girls they started out with.’ Those are the women who helped and supported them when they didn’t have anything. I wanted to tell that story. People identify with feeling unappreciated. Once their significant other gets a bit of success, it’s like they’re forgotten. I don’t want to speak for the superstar ideal. I represent the normal woman.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the upbeat and undeniable “Stanley” slides forward on disco-infused production courtesy of Da Internz [Nas, Rihanna], calling out another “guy who doesn’t appreciate his woman.” At the same time, “If You Dare” dives into intoxicating haze tempered by confessional lyrics. Meanwhile, Reality Show’s conclusion, “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa),” begins with a chord progression Jazmine wrote on her keyboard, and then showcases her passionate, potent, powerhouse voice.
“I really want everyone to hear this one,” she exclaims. “In a way, it’s a reminder for me to love myself the way I am. I’m just a regular woman in an industry that expects perfection. This was how I assured myself that no matter what situation I’m in, I know I’m beautiful.”
Jazmine’s evolution shines throughout the album loud and clear. She has come a long way since her gold-certified 2008 full-length debut, Fearless. The record boasted the chart-topping singles “Need You Bad” and “Bust Your Windows” and earned seven Grammy nominations. Her sophomore effort, 2010’s Love Me Back garnered critical acclaim as well as her eighth Grammy nomination for “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles).” Along the way, Jazmine also received Billboard’s “Rising Star Award” and played to sold-out venues worldwide.
Ultimately, Reality Show sees Jazmine deliver a timeless true story – hers. “I don’t want to be put in a box,” she leaves off. “I wanted to make the album as eclectic as I could, include different styles, and open people’s minds. I needed to get real with the lyrics and not hold anything back. This is me.”