Seven-time Grammy nominee and Missy Elliott protégé Jazmine Sullivan has worked with the likes of Ne-Yo and Mary J Blige, who recently invited her on tour. Anna Nathanson caught up with the 23-year-old Philadelphia native as she releases her latest album Love Me Back.
How would you describe your image?
I’m not the type of women who shows off my body; I’m a vocalist and I’m a writer, and I think people see that more so than they see anything else. That’s just who I am. I put my emotions in my music and I want people to relate to that.
Missy Elliott is your mentor, what’s your relationship like with her?
She’s like a big sister to me; I’ve known her since I was about 13. I sang to her then and when I was 16 I got signed to Jive Records. She’s definitely someone I look up to, as one of the only female producers out; she’s very inspiring to me. When I first met her, out of all the people I sang for, she was one of the most receptive; she really loved my voice, and she was very excited about me. And when I got signed she was the person they called and she really took a hold of the project. It was amazing for such a huge star to see something in me that was special.
To what extent is Missy involved in your career and day-to-day life?
We don’t hang out as much as we used to but I know that if I need any advice I can call her. I know that when we work together we’ll both come up with something good as we both have a common goal in terms of putting great music out. Missy can come out whenever she wants; she always does something different.
What was it like touring with Mary J Blige?
It was wonderful to get the opportunity to open up for her, and to share the stage with an icon and somebody who I personally look up to. I hope we do it again.
Do you think that Mary sees a bit of herself in you when she was your age?
Definitely. One thing that we share is the passion and emotion that we put into our music. I remember when I was younger and I saw her live and one thing that impressed me was how open and honest she was on stage. I admired her for being able to let go and be that honest; I took that and wanted to incorporate that into what I do.
To what degree have you experienced the fame that comes with being a performer?
So far it hasn’t been as bad as someone like Beyonce would have it, I haven’t gotten to that status yet! I’m getting recognised a lot more than I used to, but it also depends on my look that day.
What was it like having your song Bust Your Windows featured in the hit TV show Glee?
That was incredible! I think it was one of the first songs that they did. My friend sent it to me on Youtube and I hadn’t really heard of the program, but if I’d known then that it would be such a huge show, I probably would have been way more excited! It was an honour that they picked my song to perform, and those kids can sing! Hopefully I can be on it one day.
Your album is called Love Me Back and you recently explained that you put so much into the industry and that you just want the industry and the fans to love you back. With the emphasis on pop and dance records in the charts at the moment, is this something that you have found to be a challenge?
I feel that the music that I do is somewhat of a lost art and it’s not as popular as dance or pop music and people are not as interested in it. But it’s something that I believe in and I feel that it’s needed so that’s why I do it and I will keep doing it until everybody hears it and gets it.
Why do you think that the music you make is not as commercially successful as what’s in the charts?
I think that there’s a time for everything. There was a time when Soul music was the only music people listened to and there was a time when pop and then rap music was the only thing people listened to; everything has a time and one day people will want to hear more R&B, more soulful music.
How do you see the future?
In a few years time I want to have performed all around the world, in sold out stadiums, and have won one or two Grammies.
Jazmine Sullivan’s new album Love Me Back is out this week. Stay up to date with her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jsullivanmusic
Words: Anna Nathanson