photo by Myesha Evon Gardner
“You hear this project and—what I wanted to do is to make you think about why you do certain things, and then attack that, look at that part. Why am I doing this? If you love it and it makes you feel good? Then rock out, keep doing it,” Jazmine Sullivan said, discussing Heaux Tales ahead of its release in a Breakfast Club interview last month. “But if you look at it and you say, ‘You what what? That’s not right, that started somewhere else, the place that it started is what I need to address,’ then you address that. So it’s just about self-reflection.”
As could be expected from the title alone, Heaux Tales is, of course, about stories of carnal pleasure —and thank god for that. But it’s also about the definition(s) of it, the ownership of it, the reclamation of it, the dynamic contexts in which it plays out, and the constant awareness that serves the best version of it. In her 13-year career, Sullivan’s never been one to sugar coat anything, but her fourth album, and first in nearly six years, roots deeply and comfortably into self-honesty, using the candid outlooks and insights of others to shape its framework.
A multifaceted and sagacious concept album, the “tales” of six different women thematically guide listeners from beginning to end in the form of short, conversational spoken interludes over hypnotizing beats or gospel organs, each followed by more conventional tracks exploring the concepts laid out in the previous interlude.
Take the no-apologies, I-said-what-I-said lead single, “Pick Up Your Feelings.” It follows “Antoinette’s Tale,” in which Antoinette bluntly states “Our society teaches [men] to be so wrapped up in themselves and their own conquests that they forget we’re sexual beings as well...We’re out here telling them, that the pussy is theirs, when in actuality, it’s ours.” On the tale’s accompanying follow-up, Sullivan matches that outright ownership in both vocal prowess and lyricism; “Boy please, I don't need it (I don't need it) / Memories, all that shit, you can keep it,” she wipes her hands—composed, unbothered, and in control.
While the album thematically embraces imperfections, that fluid control remains throughout, even during more painful or vulnerable moments, like the bitter-taste ballad “Girl Like Me (feat. H.E.R.)” or the viscerally heartbroken “Lost One.” Sullivan, and narrators that accompany her, stay in their power through it all, in a constant state of self-honesty and reflection.