First Listen #55: Jazmine Sullivan’s ‘Heaux Tales’

Like JPEGMAFIA from last week, Jazmine Sullivan is someone I have a deep appreciation for but little musical experience with. Luckily, my best friend in middle school was obsessed with her music, so I was introduced to a few more tracks than “Lions, Tigers & Bears” and “Bust Your Windows,” and throughout the years, I’ve heard her guest star on a few songs like Goldlink’s “Meditation” and Anderson .Paak’s “Good Heels.” She’s an amazing singer and songwriter and deserves all the praise! Through my Tiktok obsession, I was introduced to “Pick Up Your Feelings” from Heaux Tales (2021) and figured that it was time to listen to Miss Jazmine in full. 

Photo Credit:

2021: Heaux Tales

(via Genius)

I really enjoyed this project. It’s super short – with actual songs only making up about half of the EP’s 32-minute runtime – but it accomplishes what it seems like it hopes to do: give women space and music to exist in completely. This vocalization of agency isn’t something new for Jazmine though, and although I’ve only heard a handful of her songs before now, all of them have focused on self-determination and self-fulfillment.

I wrote Heaux Tales to give a voice to every woman. We’re deserving of respect whether we work as a CEO of a company or we stripping. It’s about unity. It’s about boldness. It’s about ownership and confidence and also about vulnerability and self reflection. It’s about a woman deciding how she wants to present herself to the world and not being told or influenced by anyone but her gotdamn self. It’s about women writing their own imperfect stories. Unashamed.

Jazmine sullivan

There are a lot of musical spaces (on songs and albums) that women create that are centered almost exclusively on internalized male gaze (or viewing the self through what men would perceive). And that’s not entirely a bad thing! Music is reflective of our lives, and internalizing the way others see us isn’t something that anyone is immune to (though, if you are….send notes!), so it’s not hard to understand why we’d get lyrics and songs that offer the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with people continuing to make them, so I have something to cry to at night. BUT it’s also nice to have a song or a project that feels more centered on women being able to live lives that aren’t focused on external perceptions, and that’s what Jazmine gives us on Heaux Tales. She and her collaborators (sans Anderson .Paak) focus a lot of that energy on uplifting women talking loudly and openly about sex and sexuality. And I love that! Sex isn’t just sex on this project; just as in real life, it’s a means to an end, a way for women to explore their bodies, and a moment for women to feel good, and love is made just as dynamic on here. I think Heaux Tales owes a lot of that nuance to the project’s spoken tracks, where women like Ari Lennox, Amanda Henderson, and Donna Anderson offer stories – or “tales” – of their personal experiences with love, sex, and relationships. And while I’m typically not a big fan of skit-heavy projects, these tracks on Heaux Tales are purposeful and are just as important as the songs are to the narrative that this project builds. I’m not sure the EP would be the same without them. 

Sonically, Jazmine’s as good as she’s ever been on this project. Like I said, I’ve never listened to a Jazmine Sullivan project before this one, but I’ve heard enough songs from her to know how talented she is. Her control over her vocals is chef’s kiss, and the three song-features on here (from Andy .Paak, Ari, and H.E.R.), back her very well. Jazmine and Andy might as well just give us an entire collab project because they’re a musical match made in HEAVEN; the two of them on “Price Tags” and “Good Heels” do A LOT for me. I loved Ari and Jazmine together on “On It” as well; this song felt like it could have been one with a male feature instead of Ari, but I’m so glad that wasn’t the case; their harmonies on here were perfection. And H.E.R. and Jazmine match either well on “Girl Like Me.” There’s not a bad track on this project, but I do feel like “Lost One” and “The Other Side” felt a little phoned in. Regardless though, every song on here offered a lot of vulnerability and self-contemplation that were really amazing to hear.

I remember listening to FKA Twigs’s MAGDALENE (2019) last year and loving ho she offers such a vivid and wide-reaching view of womanness. From the music videos to the tracks themselves, MAGDALENE doesn’t shy away from being open about the beautiful and ugly moments that come with life and love. Lianne La Havas does something similar on her self-titled project in 2020. And I think Jazmine gives us her take on those same themes on Heaux Tales. While it’s a project primarily dedicated to the celebration and empowerment of women’s sexuality, it’s also a moment of community around the vastness of women’s lives – the good and not so good. While listening to the project, I started thinking about a conversation I had with one of the students I talked with while visiting a class last week. We talked briefly about a line from Ghetto Sage’s “Häägen Dazs” where Noname says “I’m sucking dick ’cause black lives matter” and how masterful that line is partly because it acknowledges that women (specifically female musicians) aren’t just one thing. There are always these very black or white boxes that folks try to place female artists in that dismiss the complexities of their experiences and musical abilities. And what Heaux Tales shows is that every part of women – every part of all of us – deserves attention. 

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image via RCA Records

(listen to Heaux Tales on Spotify by clicking the image below)

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