Music

Jazmine Sullivan’s ‘Heaux Tales’ Is A Classic Work Of Black Feminism

Upon posing on the daring album cover for Heaux Tales -– with a statuesque Jazmine Sullivan in her translucent biker shorts glory -– the Philly-bred singer-songwriter put longtime fans on notice that they were in for a new era. On Heaux Tales, Sullivan’s first effort in six years that comes in 5th in the 2021 Uproxx Music Critics Poll, she unlocks personal terrain through unflinching narratives of insecurities, sexual conquests, and materialism. Leading a fellowship of close friends who share spoken vignettes of their most esteemed and regrettable experiences as women, Heaux Tales finds Sullivan becoming a new vanguard of feminism in music, giving voice to Black women who are still in search of themselves.

On previous albums Fearless, Love Me Back, and Reality Show, Sullivan had all the makings of a rising soul icon, with ambitious songwriting, genre-bending production, and belty vocals. In comparison to Heaux Tales, her content was bereft of intimate portraits that she sought for Black women listeners, an intention that she aimed to reach during her post-Reality Show hiatus. Taking a breather from music to shake the aftereffects of leaving an abusive relationship, Sullivan returned with profound strength, seeking to interview her friends about their own trials in love and loss. With her sister circle willing to record their innermost thoughts and conversations as interludes on Heaux Tales, their words give an intrinsic, meditative texture to the EP.

In an Essence interview with Issa Rae, Sullivan spoke about the collaborative purpose behind Heaux Tales:

“For this project, it was important for me to share the stories of the women I love and hold dear to my heart. I feel like they are just as banging and dynamic as me. And I want to give space and opportunity to women, period. I feel like we get caught up in thinking there’s “only one” of us.”

Rapt with harrowing interludes that center one woman at a time — with gospel-tinged “Donna’s Tale” practically being a sermon on ‘tricking’ in relationships –- Heaux Tales is an R&B canon of solidarity. Mirroring spoken interludes in piercing, soul-baring song form, Sullivan honors the resilience of Black women, with respect for their most vulnerable musings. On album opener “Bodies,” she acts as a guilt-ridden conscience following a drunken night out and sobering morning where Sullivan doesn’t recognize who she’s woken up beside. While triggering, “Bodies” resonates with Black women who endure their own personal misogynoir about “pilin’ up bodies on bodies on bodies.”

Sullivan’s vocals act as a sinew for the expressive, conversational therapy of Heaux Tales, where listeners are invited to relate to honest monologues without shame. Raised by a playwright mother and poet grandmother, Sullivan closely followed her matriarch’s teachings, scripting emblematic ballads that trace each tale. Instead of Sullivan titling her friends’ ruminations as interludes, she lauds them as ‘tales,’ preserving their messages and putting them center stage.

In the introductory interlude, “Antoinette’s Tale,” Sullivan’s friend and podcaster Antoinette Henry tackles the patriarchy by revering women’s ownership over their sexuality. The interlude shifts into lead-single “Pick Up Your Feelings” a searing call to men to let go of control and broken relationship ties. Like the beatnik production on “Pick Up Your Feelings,” during the Heaux Tales performance round-up earlier this year, Sullivan was occasionally seen donning ’60s-esque mod attire and hairstyles, which can be interpreted as an homage to the legacy of Black women in R&B and soul.

Segueing into “Ari’s Tale,” narrated by Shea Butter Baby delight Ari Lennox, the singer recalls being mesmerized under the sexual dominance of a former partner, praising various deities and hypnotically repeating “this is just my truth.” Before joining Lennox on the salacious, sex-amped anthem “On It,” Sullivan grapples with sexual infatuation over haunting a Key Wane production on “Put It Down.” While controversial for its message of sponsoring undeserving men, “Put It Down” rings true with women who’ve been disoriented in the throes of lust.

Following “Donna’s Tale,” where Sullivan’s godmother Donna Anderson reveals lessons in ‘tricking,’ Heaux Tales lands into its sole collaboration with a male artist. Featuring Anderson .Paak, one-half of Silk Sonic, “Price Tags” is a raspy, harmonic ode to women getting their money up by taking advantage of naïve men.

“Price Tags” is trailed by “Rashida’s Tale” where Sullivan’s friend Rashida Northington describes a moment of infidelity where she cheated on her former fiancée with a friend of the couple. Sullivan’s vocals softly cascade in the background of Northington’s account, arriving at “Lost Ones” where the singer reveals that “sometimes it’s too late to make amends.” On Heaux Tales, there’s no room for judgment, just women coming face-to-face with deep-rooted taboos. There’s power in acceptance.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Sullivan spoke about women taking accountability for their mistakes in order to give themselves grace:

“In order to move on and heal and enjoy the life that you’re still living, you have to forgive yourself. I was going through that process while making the project, and I want other women who I know are feeling the same way to know that it’s okay. Learn from your mistakes and move the eff on.”

Heaux Tales takes those mistakes and turns them into passages of healing. With Sullivan’s robust vocals being an anomaly in the current age of R&B. the album is an embodiment of #ProtectBlackWomen, venturing through unguarded stories that transform into empowering wisdom.

As Sullivan’s strongest effort yet, Heaux Tales instantly garnered widespread critical acclaim for its truth, the singer nabbing two 2021 Soul Train Awards for Album of the Year and Best R&B/Soul Female Artist. At the 2021 BET Awards, Sullivan won Album of the Year, and in the 63rd Grammy Awards in 2022, the vocalist will be up for Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance, and Best R&B Song, the latter two nominations for “Pick Up Your Feelings.”

With minimalist soundscapes, Jazmine Sullivan’s evocative impact shines through. Leading a crusade of Black women through their plights, Heaux Tales is a stirring gaze into the unapologetic future of feminism.

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