Heaux Tales (released January 8, 2021)
What separates a great album from a bad one? It’s pretty simple – all great bodies of work have one key element in common: storytelling.
A bloated, random collection of songs is not a good album – in fact, it’s not an album at all. That’s a Spotify playlist, homie.
Great albums are so much more. Each track stands as a short story that connects to one greater narrative. That cohesive, interconnecting listening experience are how classic albums are made. It’s sonic storytelling at its finest.
And, quietly, Jazmine Sullivan has become one of the greater storytellers of her generation.
From the vengeful fury of “Bust Your Windows” to aching regret of “In Love with Another Man” to the blunt realities of keeping a man’s attention on “Mascara,” Jazmine constantly reminds listeners than the path to love and happiness is far from a crystal stair. In terms of narratives, Heaux Tales might be Jazmine’s most compelling story to date.
Serving as a concept album (… or EP, … or mixtape – who can really tell these days?) on modern relationships, Jazmine is joined by friends and fellow stars to honestly reflect on love, life and sexuality. The confessionals are some of the most poignant moments of the album and adding diverse voices was a wise move – it proves that this just isn’t Jazmine’s story, it’s the story of all women.
“My mama wouldn’t like it if she knew about all my rendezvous, all my whereabouts … you getting sloppy, girl,” she slurs to herself on “Bodies,” admitting she can’t even remember if her last hookup was a four or a 10. Jazmine’s always been as hard on herself as she is to the men who do her wrong.
Oh, and speaking of, she blisters her latest beau in true Jazmine fashion on “Pick Up Your Feelings,” serving as a declaration of freedom while slandering her dude on his way out of the door. As always, her soaring rasp is her calling card.
As mentioned earlier, Heaux Tales is all about the sharing of experiences, so it’s no surprise that several guests join the party. Jazmine’s voice melds wonderfully next to Ari Lennox on “On It” and HER on “Girl Like Me.” While many modern-day duets feel slapped together with scotch tape, there’s actual chemistry here, especially on the heart-wrenching “Girl Like Me.” Both HER and Jazmine are overwhelmed with the frustration of finding true love: “Maybe I should look like a stripper … All these dudes be so pressed and impressed with it/You, leave me with no choice/I can’t do this good girl s*** no more.”
Vocally, Jazmine and Ari blend seamlessly on “On It,” but the overt innuendo really doesn’t bring much new to the table. And that’s where Heaux Tales stumbles a bit. While there’s nothing wrong with Jazmine flaunting her sexuality – being as intentionally brash as every male rapper currently littering radio – it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. “Pricetag,” while featuring a great verse from Anderson.Paak, is also a little monotonous in delivery and concept – the whole “you gotta pay to play” thing isn’t new ground.
In a similar vein, while “Put It Down” is sure to be divisive, with the dreaded use of Autobot-sounding autotune and that overused rap-sung delivery, it’s not a bad song at all (thanks to Jazmine actually utilizing her vocals to craft a catchy hook). It just sounds like every other trap track that has flooded airwaves for half a decade.
Instead, I wish there were more deep dives like “The Other Side,” which flips the gold-digger concept on its head. “I sit alone in my room thinkin’ how I’ma get out/I go to work at a job I don’t care nothin’ about.” Her solution? Hit the club, bag a rapper and pray her Prince Charming rescues her from a life of mediocrity.
As a storytelling device, Heaux Tales excels like few others in recent years. But in terms of musicality, either due to the short run time or some of the more by-the-numbers tracks, there’s room for improvement. Heaux Tales is far from perfect but that’s pretty much Jazmine’s story throughout this journey.
She’s flawed but always remains real – the real moral of this story.
Best tracks: “The Other Side,” “Girl Like Me,” “Pick Up Your Feelings”
3.5 stars out of 5