In a musical landscape marked by inflated projects, well-executed albums are becoming a lost art. Artists conflate quantity with quality, creating full-length projects that rival the runtimes of films debuting at Cannes and an execution that mirrors Lifetime Christmas movies.
R&B veteran Jazmine Sullivan doesn’t deal with this. On her fourth studio album, Heaux Tales, she undertakes an emotional excavation that spans themes such as love, sexual freedom, heartbreak and loss, avoiding the pitfalls of brushing over them like a corporate diversity seminar. Through eight tracks tied together by spoken-word interludes delivered by six different women, Sullivan draws on a wide range of perspectives encapsulating failed relationships, moments of infidelity and exhibitions of sexual freedom by Black women. She charges these anecdotes with her heart-stopping voice, creating an emotional atomic bomb with every word uttered.
Combining minimalist production with precise mixing, the powerful voices that appear on Heaux Tales take centerstage as the sole vehicle for Sullivan’s messages. On the gripping single “Lost One,” she laments her lost love over nothing more than a finger-picked guitar and layered vocals, feeling akin to an intimate coffeehouse confessional. “Gotta stop gettin’ fucked up/What did I have in my cup?” she sings, letting luscious harmonies surround her regretful musings.
The standout moments occur when Sullivan grants her voice the space to dominate the track. On “Pick Up Your Feelings” and “Put It Down,” she sounds rousing and triumphant, making the track feel as though it belongs in a Baptist pulpit, even if the subject matter wouldn’t match. With “On It,” she slows it down alongside Ari Lennox, instead creating a track that feels like it belongs in a sultry jazz club.
The Philadelphia native takes incredible care to ensure the experiences of Black women are not framed as uniform. Their perspectives and desires aren’t monolithic, and Sullivan works hard to showcase numerous viewpoints on love and sex in the name of inclusivity. “Amanda’s Tale” features a soliloquy from Sullivan’s friend Amanda Henderson, where she confesses that her usage of sex as a form of power fills her with insecurity and dread. This runs in direct opposition with “Donna’s Tale,” where Donna Henderson (not related) preaches about the strength behind women using sexuality to fulfill material desires.
These contradictory interludes extend to the music “Price Tags” featuring Anderson .Paak posits sexuality as a weapon, wielded to reclaim one’s worth. The laidback, neo-soul sounds register like a Soulquarians deep cut, lulling the listener into a false sense of security as Sullivan’s voice to takes control of her target’s heart.
The H.E.R.-assisted “Girl Like Me” sits on the opposite end of the spectrum; the two talents vent their frustrations regarding the results of promiscuity. The serene guitar background provides an aggressive foil to Sullivan’s lyrics: “It ain’t right how these hoes be winnin’,” she sings full of scorn and spite.
Heaux Tales solidifies Sullivan’s standing among the upper echelon of R&B stars that wield emotionality and deal with the complications of modern love. Instead of trying to convince herself and her listeners of the correct way to own one’s sexuality and deal with heartbreak, she fills her brazen concept album with shared experiences to fully encompass what it means to be a Black woman dealing with love and relationships.
Every tale might not apply to every listener, but Sullivan guarantees no experience is left unrepresented.
Jazmine Sullivan really dropped the best project all year with “Heaux Tales.”
— Wanna (@WannasWorld) December 12, 2021
I wish we could’ve gotten a visual album for HEAUX TALES.
— 🗣 DAAMMMNNNN DAMON ‼️ (@AisleBeDAMEd) December 9, 2021
Heaux tales is boring to me. And please don’t tell me i don’t love r&b cuz i LOVE r&b.
— VHS EP OUT NOW❗️❤️🙌🏾 (@FaMeDeLaFleur) January 8, 2021