Published Jan 16, 2015After taking a break for nearly five years, Jazmine Sullivan's return with new album Reality Show is a personal and professional triumph, to hear her tell it. The Philadelphia singer-songwriter tells Exclaim! that being back — after dealing with a past physical and emotionally abusive relationship, body image struggles and being frustrated with the level of industry support — has been "therapeutic."
Her 2008 debut Fearless spawned successful singles such as the Missy Elliott collaboration "Need U Bad," "Bust Your Windows" and the "Lions, Tigers & Bears" slow jam that earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and a nomination for Best R&B Song. The 2010 album Love Me Back wasn't nearly as successful, ultimately prompting her, in 2011, to post a Twitter message explaining her disillusionment with the industry, saying: "I promised myself when it wasn't fun anymore I wouldn't do it. And, here I am. I'm not saying I won't ever sing again in my life because I don't believe that. But in this moment… right now… [I] got some things to figure out."
The combination of personal and professional issues had her in an admitted low and dark point in her life, where she's revealed in the media that she contemplated drug use. But that's all in the past and life is great these days, she tells Exclaim!, explaining that she couldn't stay away from making music.
"I was just living for a while. Just getting my life back together," Sullivan says. "I've put a lot of energy into the new album drawing from my life experience. Once I started working on the album it was very therapeutic for me. I felt like I needed to start back again. It was the right time to come back."
Reality Show is the result of her growing as a person. "It came from the time when I wasn't doing music, I did become addicted to watching reality television," she says with a laugh.
Sullivan plays with the idea to explore themes of authenticity from many angles: love, life, pain and all points in between. "Watching all the drama and it became part of my life. I was affected by the shows that I was watching."
Coming back involved a bit of fear as well, she says. "I was scared to sing live. Musically, I don't know if I fit in or if I want to fit in. I just do my thing. If people like it, that's great. If they don't that's cool too."
Although the 12-track album features veteran producers such as Anthony Bell, Salaam Remi and Key Wane (whose current work with Beyoncé, Arianna Grande and Jhene Aiko makes him a hot commodity), Sullivan notes that a lot of the album was just her and an engineer working out tracks in the studio. Singles such "Dumb" featuring Meek Mill, the Key Wane-produced "Mascara," and the emotional "letting go" slow burner "Forever Don't Last" reveal a mature and layered R&B/soul sound.
"I initially did a lot of the album myself, working with an engineer. It wasn't that I had to work with certain producers. It just so happened that I was thinking a lot of Key Wane songs (without even realizing who he was prior to working with him). I think I've grown and gotten a bit better with telling stories. That's always been my thing I think."
The next single will be up to the people to decide, she says, adding for right now, just being out with a new album feels good.
"I think I definitely get respect from my peers. I'm able to record and do what I love. Some people would say that's just. There are a lot of people that don't get those opportunities. I get what I want and I want respect," she says. "Success is getting to do what I want musically. I don't have people telling me what I should do or this is how I should sound. I feel successful because I am free."