At the age of 19, Philly-bred musical prodigy and accomplished singer/songwriter Jazmine Sullivan already has six years of music industry experience under her belt. From singing with musical legend Stevie Wonder to writing some of radios hottest new songs, Sullivan is slowly but surely making a name for her self.
Jazmine attended the Philadelphia Performing Arts High School, and performed in the highly-touted Black Lily showcases alongside the likes of The Roots, Floetry, Kindred, Bilal and others. Barely in her teens, she was signed to Jive Records and worked on her debut album, which was laced with production from Missy Elliott. Unfortunately the album wasn’t released, and her deal with Jive ended after three years. But that didnt stop Jazmine from penning hits for other artists, most recently the chart-topper Say I for Christina Milian.
Since parting ways with Jive, Sullivan has been thinking of new ways to showcase her unique love of everything R&B and soul, while still identifying with her younger audience that has supported her from the start. We recently talked with Jazmine about her accomplishments as a singer and songwriter, her love of dirty south music, and maturing in the music industry.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: To be so young, you idolize some very classic soul artists, such as Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. What is it about that era that draws you in?
Jazmine Sullivan: I dont know. The sincerity and realness. It really felt like they meant what they were singing talking about. In that time it just seemed more real. They were truer to them selves and you could feel it in their music
AHHA: Do you feel as though your musical style is similar to that of some of the older, classic R&B artists?
Jazmine: I hope so. I hope people can relate to me like that. But I cross genres in my music. I try to appeal to a lot of different people in my music. I feel capable of making people dance, think and cry.
AHHA: As a pre-teen, you were asked to perform with Stevie Wonder. What was that experience like for you?
Jazmine: When I was younger, I didnt get how big and important it was to get to sing with Stevie Wonder. I didnt understand didnt know a lot about him. Now that I look back, I was honored beyond words that I was able to experience that. Stevie Wonder hes a genius.
AHHA: You also cite John Legend as someone who has made it easier for your music to be appreciated. Explain.
Jazmine: John Legend is such a true artist, in his performances. I saw him live when I performed with him – before he became John Legend. Like even the single he put out to portray himself was real. It was him and a piano, and I think people got that. He was just singing about relationships, life, etcetera. And I think people got that. It was so real and different that you just had to finish listening.
AHHA: Aside from being an artist yourself, you also write. What are some of the songs youve penned?
Jazmine: I wrote for Tara Lyn Ramseys first project. She didnt do very well, but the song was her first single. Christina Milian- I did the first and second single off her new album, with Cool and Dre.
AHHA: What made you want to start writing?
Jazmine: Well I never really had aspirations to be a writer because my life was singing. Thats what Ive been doing. I started to grow as a person and artist, and I realized thats how you make your money in this industry. I said I could still do what I want to do and be successful in different ways, and that was one of the ways. I wasnt that good in the beginning, but I got better.
AHHA: Having so much talent and being recognized by so many legends in the music industry, it seems that still isnt enough to give your career the push that it has needed. Why do you think that is?
Jazmine: I mean, no matter what anyone says about you, its still your life, its you in the industry and just you. These people cant make you, no matter how good they thin you are. I was used to it. I was singing for stars, Diddy and all of them, since I was 11. They would say, “Oh, shes wonderful. She’s great. But at the end of the day, no one could give me anything, and they shouldnt feel obligated to. This is my journey.
AHHA: There are a million aspiring artists out there who dont have the access you have, or the success that you have. What advice would you give those trying to break into the business?
Jazmine: To stay true to themselves and keep doing it always. Keep doing what you feel like you want to do to achieve what you want. Take the criticism, but dont let it hinder you to a point where you feel like, I cant do this.
AHHA: Were living in the microwave generation, where people are always looking for a quick fix. Do you think record labels sacrifice good talent for the sake of that quick fix?
Jazmine: Its a business first and foremost. They gonna do what they have to, so you cant fault them for that. I mean, no one wants to be broke. I def feel that way and I think it should change, but if it will change I dont know. So you gotta compromise. For me [it was] difficult, because I was bigger – so I wasnt standards for industry standards. I realized I have to do what I have to do to get where I have to go, so if that means losing 15 or 20 pounds, thats what I am going to do to achieve what I want to achieve.
AHHA: You are fortunate to have the unique perspective of someone in the industry, but still an outsider looking in. As an outsider, what musical trends have you noticed doing really well right now?
Jazmine: The down south thing is in. What I think it is about that is the feeling you get when you hear it. You just let go and party and have fun. A lot of the lyrics are very silly, but that intrigues people. I love it.
AHHA: Is the dirty south vibe something youd incorporate into your album?
Jazmine: Oh sure! You know Im young so you throw something hot at me and I’m going to do it, but I tend to be more on an R&B style.
AHHA: Whats your focus right now, in terms of your career?
Jazmine: Right now focusing a lot on writing, building myself up as a writer and get my name out there on many records so when I finally do put my self out there Ill be more credible as an artist. So when I come out that will add to what I am and what Im about.
AHHA: Over the past several years, Philly has produced some of the most unique and compelling soul artists weve seen – Jill Scott, The Roots, and Floetry, many of which you shared the stage with before they made it big. How does it feel to see them go on and do so well in the music industry?
Jazmine: Im very proud and happy for them. It kind of gives me, even though I wouldnt put myself in same category; hope that with us coming from pretty much same background, that if they can do it so can I.
AHHA: Anything else you want to share with me, that otherwise people might not get the opportunity to know about you?
Jazmine: Yeah. I just happen to be varying as an artist, and people didnt realize that I didnt know who I was. I was just singing because I loved to do it. But as Im getting older, Im learning what I like and who I like to work with. So just be prepared for me to grow, and grow with me.