Drawing inspiration from the kind of complex and raw feminine energy that modernity set off as an antithesis to the masculinity and overt sexualism that has shaped mainstream hip-hop, Jazmine Sullivan gives an exclusive peek into the realities of modern woman on Heaux Tales. Though Sullivan is no stranger to themes of love and infidelity, the project is so poignant and thought-provoking that it almost plays like a late-night, wine-infused discussion amongst girlfriends. And it serves as a real-life story that sheds away everything surface level and gets down to the harsh reality of life.
On Heaux Tales, Sullivan’s signature confrontational and intrusive lyricism once again takes the spotlight. But rather than taking a self-righteous or preachy approach, Sullivan personifies every women from a place of solidarity, gives a validating voice to their thoughts and emotions, and translates these anecdotes into musical pieces—each with its own agenda and message holding a mirror up to the regrets and lessons from the past. It is a familiar emotional cocktail, but one that Sullivan tackles with grace and wisdom, embracing the good, bad, and ugly we all feel at some point in our lives.
It is particularly remarkable that Heaux Tales’ stronger aspect comes from a non-musical place. Interwoven monologues setup throughout the EP, from Sullivan’s friends to some of modern R&B’s most elusive yet prominently outspoken names, detailing a spectrum of real past experiences lie backbone to the entire project itself. The relationship between a song itself and its accompanying intermission tale is more than exposed, but put on exhibition here, and it’s impossible to pull one from another. But even if we take each and every strictly musical offering on the project for its own weight, the music of Heaux Tales is still vibrantly unique and worthy of acclaim for its stylistic fluidity, even amongst so many creatives that accompanied Sullivan on the record. From a vulgar, comedic, and empowering baby-making anthem with Ari Lennox that reconsiders society’s unwritten rules of how women should behave; to an expectedly genre fluid hip-hop track with Anderson .Paak that reflects a male perspective with a transactional take on love and lust; to a guitar-striven neo-soul breakup duet with H.E.R. that questions whether chasing the fast life is ultimately the way to get ahead; Heaux Tales is a unique look into the mind and experiences of people in Sullivan’s circle and how those experiences pave the crossroads of life and art in their most honest and vulnerable projections. Another notable attribute of Heaux Tales is Jazmine Sullivan herself and her marvelous vocal range. Pair Sullivan’s incredible set of runs and harmonies with the narrative flow, and you have a very three-dimensional story that serves as a teaching moment, in which Sullivan reflects upon all that she has gained and lost, and reminds listeners that we can all benefit from female fronted conversations that are bold, flawed, but important to have.
However, where the story of excels, some of the other aspects falter. For starters, this project is not necessarily as long as it seems. Take the interludes away from the tracklist and you only have 8 full songs. As a result, Heaux Tales only lasts just over 30 mins. It does not lessen the experience, but it is something that you cannot help but notice. And as far as uniqueness goes, the production seems to play it safe structurally probably due to the mid-tempo aspect of all the songs. But for listeners who have been following Sullivan longer than I have, I am sure this is a more than welcome feature.
From its tongue-in-cheek title to its eye-opening spoken-word testimonies, Heaux Tales is a daring while simultaneously entertaining record that stakes a claim to its own pasture with Jazmine’s perfectionist streak balanced against occasionally raw, intimate use of sonics. And it is certainly a wonderfully precise and soulful experience divinely contoured for everyone looking to reclaim their power in sexuality and self-acknowledgement, while looking to not find themselves in a pit of grief and self-doubt. Kudos to Jazmine Sullivan for being able to do that in such an insightful yet relatable way.