When rolling out publisher Munson Steed hosted a conversation with singer Jazmine Sullivan in the company’s Star Studio, an intimate setting in front of some of her most fervent fans, things got very interesting. Read on to find out what motivates her, why she took a break from music, and what Beyoncé said about her that made her swoon.
When we bring up your name people really love you. How does that make you feel?
I’m grateful. I’ve been away for a few years so to come back and get this much love it just feels so good and I’m so grateful.
How do you feel about being famous?
I don’t really consider myself to be famous first of all, but I thought it was interesting. Like I said, most of all, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be able to do what I love more than anything. Not a lot of people can do what they love, and I’m able to make music and the side effect of it is it happens to touch people, so that’s the best part of it.
Some people believe with a voice like yours, it’s easy to find fame. Would you like to set the record straight?
Easy to find fame — no, no, this was a long journey. I started very, very young and with somebody particularly like me who doesn’t sound like the typical artist, who doesn’t look like the typical artist, it’s definitely been hard kind of breaking in and getting people to see past the physical, because that’s what everybody thinks of. That’s what you think of when you think of a star having all of those different qualities. So that’s been the most difficult thing, but I’m just trying to be true to myself; and I think that I’m representing a lot of people out here being who I am, being the way that I am. I’m representing a lot of people who may not look like the typical artist or sound like the typical artist, but we still have a voice and we still need to be able to do what we want to do.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was strange. I grew up in a historic mansion called Strawberry Mansion. My dad was the caretaker so they let us live there. So I basically grew up in the woods. It wasn’t a lot of anything going on back there so feel like I had a lot of time to just be to myself and sing and make up stuff. I had a lot of time to be creative and I had really supportive parents with that. I remember thinking as a child wanting to like, you know, I wanted to run the streets with my friends and I could not. My parents were strict and I didn’t understand it then but when I got older I was like, if they weren’t strict I don’t know where my life would have been at this point.
How do you draw on that now that you’re an adult?
Well, my mom is always with me, so I don’t really have to think too much because she’s saying it. She’s like “no, Jaz don’t do that.” I’m close to my parents and we had a close relationship growing up so it’s easy to hear them kind of telling me the rights and wrongs. I still make my own mistakes and I have I’ve made mistakes but I don’t get too far out [there].
You’ve made some bold choices like pressing pause — I wouldn’t use a word like retire — but pressing pause.
It was a break.
Tell us about that.
That break three years ago, which by the way I never thought it would be that long. When I said I was taking a break, I thought tops three or four months, and then I’m going to get back to it but life takes you in its own direction. I was in a relationship that was very consuming. It was bad and it was very consuming. It took all of my everything, all of my energy, my everything. So I really didn’t have anything left for anything else and even the thing that I cared about the most and I had been working for the most which was my music, I didn’t have any energy to give to it, so I decided that I needed to take a break. And stupidly, I decided to try to put that energy into a relationship but when it ended — as they usually do — I started to focus on myself, and that’s always what I was supposed to be doing.
I just want to say that it’s so easy to lose yourself in a relationship with somebody; you give them all of yourself — and that’s kind of what happened — I gave it all and that ain’t right. A relationship is supposed to make you better, build you up and take you to the next level. It’s not supposed to detract from what you have in your life and what you’re doing. It took me some time to realize that, but I’ve got it now.
The fans had mixed ideas of the real purpose.
Yes. A lot of people thought that I stopped because I was mad at the industry. I’m not saying that I can’t get a little frustrated with the industry, but I don’t really put that much energy into that kind of stuff — what people think about me or album sales, like I really don’t focus on that. It really wasn’t that. When I’m focusing, I focus on my music. That’s what I care about most.
So what made you come back?
I dropped a lot of dead weight when I got rid of that relationship and focused on me. I started to focus on God, really. He just put me back on my path, redirected me and let me know that I needed to be doing this. That’s what my album was. It was kind of just me getting a move on with my life getting back to where I needed to be.
Everyone is enchanted with your voice and Beyoncé says that you’re one of the best. How does that make you feel?
I don’t know if y’all saw that but I died, y’all. I was like; I became a sparkle on her catsuit. I was like Lord, Beyoncé spoke to me. I was so stuck. I was shocked because she has this big performance she’s doing this million-dollar performance and I did not think she would take the time out to [acknowledge me]. That just goes to show you how beautiful of a person she is that she would take the time out to even acknowledge me, so it felt wonderful and it feels wonderful when any of my peers do that. With this album I’m so grateful because I’ve been seeing more than anything so many of the female vocalists are like all supportive, and I love that because I feel like people don’t think that we can be that way and that we can support each other and it’s obvious. I think that’s important.
Jazmine Sullivan’s third studio album, Reality Show, is in stores now.
Story by Munson Steed
Images by DeWayne Rogers