When Jill Scott steps on a stage, she doesn’t give a show, she gives a ministry.
The Philly-native’s music—battle cries of self-love, love loss, found again, and that one time she made an entire song about Crown Royal—has a way of confronting listeners.
For the artist’s legions of female fans, her offering is beyond a confrontation, it’s a smeared mirror, soiled with dried tears, lipstick stains and years of unmovable dust.
When you’re a brown girl in America at a Jill Scott show, you’re not merely in the number for another music event, you’ve officially approached the alter.
Jill is no Jesus. But if D’Angelo can name his comeback album Black Messiah, surely Jill, is something like an Orisha deity.
A roaring and unstoppable Yemaya, who washes our souls with the near two decades of sonic honesty she’s offered us since her debut album in 1999.
But Jill doesn’t need all of that.
Her humility is a mix of Claire Huxtable and your bestie who picks up your calls at 2AM. She named her latest effort Woman. It’s her first studio album in four years.
Jawbreaker was at that alter Tuesday night in Harlem. Scott filmed a live performance for what’s expected to be a TV special in support of Woman’s release, due July 24.
When the 43-year-old artist hit the stage causally wearing denim, a plum fitted blouse and a colorful shawl, all topped by her naturally curly tendrils, the audience gave that kind of soulful, loving applause you give to a friend at her engagement party, or baby shower. We were all so pleased Jill was making her return back to the stage for laborious birthing of her fifth album.
Fifth albums have a tendency of being special for artists. They no longer have anything to prove, they have more creative control and they tend to become more brave, more introspective.
Lenny Kravitz’s fifth studio album, aptly titled 5, gave us the brilliance of “Fly Away,” “I Belong to You,” and “Thinking of You.” It was expected then in 1999, the songs were yet another longing for the woman who’s arguably the love of his life, Lisa Bonet. Whatever or whoever the inspiration was, the CD was certified Platinum, twice over, and Kravitz won two Grammy Awards. 5 is cemented in pop culture’s landscape and the first listen of “I Belong to You” even now, is like…I don’t even have words. It’s still everything.
Erykah Badu, who’s something like Jill’s music twin—although the artists have loads of differences, it could be debated Jill is more commercial successful, considering her fruitful transition into acting—but that’s not what this is about.
When Badu released her fifth and what is still her latest album, New Amerykah Part Two, it was admittedly for the heart—a presentation of love in all of its undisguised rawness and beauty. Or a return to the Ankh as she called it.
Even the album’s cover art was filled with flowers and loaded with feminine and spiritual symbolism. Songs like “20 Feet Tall,” “Window Seat,” and its controversially bold visual, “Out My Mind, Just in Time,” regarded by some as a follow-up to Mama Gun’s “Green Eyes” were all virtuously candid offerings and we ate it up because it did that thing I’m trying to describe here.
Like Kravitz’s songs on 5, like Badu’s New Amerykah, Scott’s Woman, is in a word: brave. It’s also emotional work, and when you approach that alter and open your ears to the album’s content, be prepared to deal with your own stuff. The content will bring you to it, whether you like or not, the thought, the one, the sex, and all the other shit you’ve been trying to avoid.
I don’t predict, sadly, Woman will be a commercial hit. Kravitz’s 5 was in another time for music, pre-streaming music services, Napster had only began to kick up steam and people actually enjoyed the exercise of purchasing physical albums. Radio was also into soulful honesty, at least the kind Kravitz tends to offer.
Badu’s New Amerykah debuted at number two on the Billboard’s R&B charts. But still it was 2010 and things weren’t as bad as they are now for soul music.
During her set, while promising us she had more magic to share, Scott launched into new single “Fool’s Gold,” released May 4. It was as if the song had been out for years. People got all hype, quoting the lyrics as she sang.
“Put Me Back Together” though, did everyone in. Dedicated to her six-year-old son, who looks to be about 10 on the height-front, Scott called out to him in the audience “ooop,” he responded from the back, “ooop.”
The mother-son love continued as Scott transitioned into the song, giving everyone a portrait of a woman, messed up, floating aimlessly in the world, until she became a mother. Scott said her son put her back together again. It was night’s most moving moments, next to when Scott erupted into “You Don’t Know.”
While Woman won’t shatter charts or radio outside of Adult Contemporary, it will give Scott’s fans the audible accompaniment we need when life gets a little tough.
Those times we can’t shake love or what we thought was love, and that moment when we need to hear something good while we sway our hips in the kitchen making smothered chicken and potato salad.
Jill Scott can always count on us for that.