The Complexities of a Woman
By Erin Ashley Lowers | @ellhah
There aren’t many things in life that are consistent, but there are a few things that tend to get most people through the day: a favourite song, a new Netflix series and, of course, the group chat.
Somewhere in-between the chaos of life, the group chat is the essential place to air out frustrations, celebrate wins and share the memes that bring us to tears, but it’s also the place that, for many women, transforms itself into a safe space to share the complexities that frame womanhood.
Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales brings those private conversations to the forefront by channelling the women that inspire her, like Ari Lennox and H.E.R., both of whom are features on the EP, her best friends Antoinette and Amanda with whom she grew up with, and of course, herself.
Photos by Myesha Evon Gardner
"I feel like you are a better woman if you have a group of strong women around you, and they [Antoinette and Amanda] have been my anchors. I felt a little scared at first to ask them to put themselves out there in that way, but I was so glad that I did. I’m so glad that they shared their stories because I feel like they helped some people heal by sharing [them],” she says.
Noting that the proudest moment of recording this project was seeing these tales come together, Sullivan reveals that she "almost had to fight to keep all of them” because of the stigma attached to having multiple interludes. But, contrary to the naysayers, those same interludes are what have made Heaux Tales such a success.
"I was nervous every second of the way because I didn't know how people were going to respond to all the interludes that were on there. I never felt super confident like 'this project is gonna change people’s lives' or 'everything’s gonna pop after this' so I was definitely surprised,” Sullivan shares. "I was really just looking for some of my fans be able to vibe out to it and appreciate what I do, but it’s so much bigger than what I ever imagined."
As the self-described "homegirl" of the group, Sullivan has spent the past five years of her life living in Philly, falling in love and growing into a 33-year old woman who is ready for this new chapter in her career.
“I’m grown, I’m a lot older, and I’ve experienced different things, one being my mom going through cancer, one being in a wonderful stable relationship during this process. [It] has definitely helped just being able to create and not having to go through fighting and breakups and all that kind of stuff that usually happens. I feel like I’m more settled with myself, and I feel like the older you get, the more comfortable you get with yourself," she remarks.
Becoming comfortable with yourself also includes the ability to learn how to forgive yourself, a lesson that has come to Sullivan over the past few years being out of the spotlight.
"It’s been so important to just free myself from the bondage of feeling like I was a disappointment — that I disappointed myself, that I disappointed family, all those things that happen when you don’t forgive yourself," Sullivan states. "It allowed me to really just be me, and I believe when you allow yourself to be yourself, you allow other people to be themselves and free other people, so I think that’s what’s happening with the project: telling the honest to God truth no matter how ugly it gets. It’s allowing people to feel seen firstly, and feel like they’re not alone in this and that they don’t have to be so hard on themselves and give them the freedom to just live life."
The concept of telling the truth "no matter how ugly it gets" is a life lesson that many people learn when faced with uncontrollable situations. For Sullivan, her mother’s cancer diagnosis, which she announced in early 2020, was a reminder of that. Fortunately, on the day of this interview, before speaking about the intersections of vulnerability and strength on Heaux Tales, Sullivan shared that she received the news that her family has been waiting for: her mother's cancer is gone.
“She is doing absolutely well and just got test results back today that said the cancer is not in her body anymore, so we celebrated today. As soon as I get off this interview, I’m going to call her back again and cry and relish in the moment of everything that we’ve been through and finally getting out of it," Sullivan expresses.
At that moment, the weight of the world seemingly lifts from her shoulders.
While Sullivan is starting to embark on a new journey in her personal life, she has already cemented her place in the music industry to her peers, including Solange, who called her 'one of the best songwriters and voices of our time' shortly after the release of the EP.
“Oh, my God, I love Solange [and] I love the Knowles sisters with all my heart, so that felt like I was the third Knowles and that they finally accepted me into the family,” she laughs. "I don’t know if I’m focused on being the best of anything, I’m just trying to do my thing and express myself, and that’s all I’ve ever been doing — using my music as a way to get my feelings and thoughts out, and cleanse myself of what I’m going through."
As for a new album, Sullivan isn't there just yet. Instead, she wants to give Heaux Tales a visual that features Black actresses playing out the tales and revealing the layers behind the EP.
"I feel like there are so many different avenues I could take with Heaux Tales, and so many opportunities are opening up for this project — I really want to focus on doing things that are different than I normally do. I have reached out to Issa Rae on Instagram and talked to her about doing a short film or something where we include visuals, and I’m super interested in seeing what I could do and have a part in that field. There are just other little things I want to try first before I start working on the album."