AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
All year, our friends at NPR Music spend an enviable amount of time sifting through new releases, looking for the best of the best. Now it’s time to look back. Which albums spoke to this moment, this year, with the most clarity and understanding? Well, one stands out above the rest. NPR Music’s album of the year is “Heaux Tales” from the Philadelphia-based singer Jazmine Sullivan.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PICK UP YOUR FEELINGS”)
JAZMINE SULLIVAN: (Singing) You say that I’ve been acting different, yeah. Funny how I finally flipped the script on you when you the one who’s double dipping, yeah. You so sloppy, how I caught you slipping up. You’re off the lease, run me my keys. No more popping up to hit it, yeah. I ain’t even got the miles to trip on you.
CORNISH: It’s an album that, as NPR’s Sidney Madden writes, breathes life into themes of love, sex and loss, granting grace to those who are usually stereotyped and disrespected. And Sidney is here to talk more. Welcome back, Sid.
SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hey, Audie. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: I don’t even know if we need to do the rest of the interview after that line. That is a great review of this album. For listeners who aren’t familiar with Sullivan’s past work, tell us a little bit about her.
MADDEN: So Jazmine Sullivan, she’s a contemporary R&B powerhouse – and I cannot state that enough – powerhouse hailing from Philly. She’s been in the game for a long time, and people who are even not big fans of her probably know her single “Bust Your Windows” from her 2008 debut album, “Fearless.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BUST YOUR WINDOWS”)
SULLIVAN: (Singing) I bust the windows out your car. And no, it didn’t mend my broken heart.
MADDEN: And that was kind of the song that solidified her as an amazing, incisive songwriter and vocalist, and it earned her her first Grammy nominations all the way back in 2008. And she’s definitely an R&B mainstay, and she’s influenced so many other artists in the R&B space since coming out in the early 2000s. But she’s also known as a recluse. She takes many years off in between albums. And in fact, “Heaux Tales” is her first album in six years.
CORNISH: So this is her first album in some years. And looking at the track listing, it’s a lot of women’s names, and I gather that there’s kind of a storytelling element to it. Can you talk about this album?
MADDEN: Yeah, absolutely. What makes “Heaux Tales” so unique in Jazmine’s discography and arguably her magnum opus, even after the six years off, is it has such a maternal and communal element to it. This project includes six spoken-word interludes that are recorded from her friends, her sister friends, Jazmine’s godmothers, her aunts – basically the Black women in her life who make Jazmine Jazmine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ANTOINETTE’S TALE”)