So the music industry walks into a club. Dressed head to toe in Gucci, the music industry walks...
DJBooth Album Review
If the music industry’s growing tired of young women with flashy surface but no substance, there may be no stronger evidence of this shift than Jazmine Sullivan. Jazmine started off her vocal career in gospel, impressing the congregation with a voice strong enough to reach the heavens, but sadly the music industry has trouble figuring out what to do with a young woman whose musical vision matched her talent. Jazmine finally found a home at J Records and set out crafting her debut album Fearless, a boundary-less album that coupled with Janelle Monae’s recent release is threatening to turn 2008 into the year of the groundbreaking female artist.
It’d be hard to think of a better album title for Jazmine (Ms. Sullivan if you’re nasty) than Fearless. While most artists spend their debuts begging for acceptance, Jazmine has defiantly chosen to confront expectations head on. In fact, if Fearless teaches America one thing it’s that you do not f**k with Jazmine Sullivan, unless you want her to Bust Your Windows. For a song about smashing the windows of your cheating man’s car Bust Your Windows’ production is surprisingly subdued, centering around orchestral strings and horns that could have been the background for a love song. Instead, Bust relies entirely on Jazmine’s vocals to carry the intense emotionality of the song, a task her dramatically expressive voice is more than up for. That sense of drama (and I mean drama in the cinematic sense, not the baby mama drama sense) is pervasive throughout Fearless, nowhere more fiercely than on Call Me Guilty, a track that paints a bruised picture of a battered woman who kills her abuser in vivid detail. It’s a song that proves once again that the line between a great singer and a great actor is razor thin. Even more telling is Jazmine’s refusal to feel guilty about the murder, which in a strange way is an apt metaphor for the album as a whole: from the softly theatrical Lions, Tigers & Bears to the daringly honest Fear, Jazmine isn’t afraid to make the music she wants to, and if she has to kill some stereotypes in the process, she’s not going to apologize.
If the music industry is reading this review it’s undoubtedly thinking, “Sure, but can she sell?” In a word (or three), yes she can. Jazmine’s got a number one hit on her hands with I Need U Bad, a reggae-infused track that has Missy's production fingerprints all over it. I Need U Bad is almost impossibly catchy, hence it’s success on the radio, but at its core is Jazmine’s voice - a soaring thing that’s part desperation, part strength - that makes it special. Anyone who hears Need U inevitably compares Jazmine’s voice to Lauryn Hill, and while both women possess an intangible irresistibility, listeners hoping to hear the next Miseducation will be disappointed; Jazmine has a long way to go before she’s on Lauryn’s level. While Fearless never experiments simply for the sake of experimenting, it also lacks a coherent message. Just take her other Missy collaboration, Dream Big, the album’s most danceable number. There’s nothing wrong with a little party, but on Dream Big, Jazmine’s voice is over-produced, tied down and made to sound almost ordinary. Similarly, the Stargate produced After The Hurricane takes a more traditional ballad approach, their familiar piano-melody formula sounding dull next to the rest of album’s sense of adventure. In other words, Fearless is a hell of a ride, I’m just not sure where Jazmine’s trying to take us. Still, to even be legitimately included as the same sentence as Lauryn Hill is a testament to Jazmine’s potential. You can’t manufacture true talent and Jazmine has it. You can hear it. It’s fearless.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Oct 03, 2008
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