Heaux Tales by Jazmine Sullivan | Album Review
Jazmine Sullivan’s 2021 album expertly takes the power back in Heaux Tales.
I remember when Jazmine Sullivan hit the scene in the late 2000s. The first track I heard of her’s was “Bust the Windows”, which gave a little something new and refreshing to the scene at the time. It is rather unfortunate that I had been sleeping on her work really since her debut as she’s made some stellar R&B works since. The zenith is her 2021 release Heaux Tales. After a conversation with her label, the progress on her next conceptual project was started. Sullivan told NPR:
I just wanted to tell the untold stories of women. I feel like society makes it seem like we have to be perfect and present ourselves a certain way to be considered a good woman. We’re so very layered and multidimensional and we have stories to tell, and they’re all not great stories but that’s what makes us who we are.To be honest, I had a moment after a really bad breakup that had gotten physical. I’ve talked about it since it happened, but it was around the time Love Me Back, my second album, had came out. I had moved on from the situation and thought I healed from the trauma of it all, and as life went on, I realized that I didn’t. I was still kind of acting out a lot of the hurt and pain that I had experienced. After that time, I felt a little ashamed about the things that I did and I allowed myself to do… I feel like that’s everybody’s story, and I wanted to allow women to feel like it’s OK to go through the normal things we go through. As long as you learn from those things, you’re still good, sis. You’re still a good woman.
Jazmine would gather her closest friends together to speak their truths in rounds of candid and cleansing tales of sexuality.
“Bodies (Intro)” takes us to the haze of the club through the hum and flow of the backing synth and programming. Sullivan opens us by recalling her behavior at a party wishing she could have reeled herself in. She wishes she could go back and slap herself for leaving with someone she can’t even remember, “Bitch, get it together, bitch/ You don’t know who you went home with, who you went home with again/ Was it your friend? Or a friend of a friend? (Was he a?)/ Was he a four? Or was he a ten? (I know).” The party vibes, drinks, and drugs had her loosened up and willing to act on her carnal desires without prejudice. Jazmine kicks herself for letting her inhibitions and standards slip around the men she’s taking home, “Bitch, get it together, bitch/ You don’t know who you went home with, who you went home with again (I keep on)/ I keep on pilin’ up bodies on bodies on bodies/ Yeah, you gettin’ sloppy, girl (You’re gettin’ sloppy).” The album breaks us into mini vignettes on her friend’s sex lifes. “Antoinette’s Tale” is our first look. In the spoken piece, Antoinette calls out the hypocrisy of men shaming women for being sexual beings, “Like our society teaches them to be so wrapped up in themselves/ And their own conquests/ That they forget we’re sexual beings as well/ Plus, their egos are often way too fragile/ To ever handle a woman who owns and has any real agency over her body.” She even doubles this back on the women by letting them know that their worth.
From Antoinette’s tale, we shake ourselves free of a cheating man on “Pick Up Your Feelings”. Sullivan’s vocals are rich and confident selling each verse perfectly. The backing is rather stripped back allowing for Jazmine’s words to really shine. Sullivan is bolting the doors shut on this relationship. While he’s out double timing with other women, she’s clearing all strands of him from her life, “You’re off the lease/ Run me my keys/ No more poppin’ up to hit it, yeah/ I ain’t even got the miles to trip on you.” Jazmine constructs some expert rhymes to show her stance (I gotta love, “Look at my jeans, I’m too thick/ I ain’t got the room for extra baggage,” just wonderfully hits with confidence and disdain). The long and short of it, too bad you still have feels cuz I swept those out with your things.
“Ari’s Tale” breaks the sill on those sexual relationships you know are bad for you, but you keep going back because the sex is so good. Lennox is very candid on her foolishness, “I was damn near willing to just let him talk to me crazy/ Because that shit was out of this world, like/ Yes, daddy, yes, okay/ Like, I was literally willing to ruin my career.” This moment perfectly takes us into the themes of the next track.
We get a sexy club number on “Put It Down”. The trap beat set along side the nocturnal programming get you in the mood to bring the house down. Sullivan takes on these sexual relationships with scrubs. She’s willing to give him whatever he wants because he puts it down so good, “He live with his mama, but I treat him like a king/ Yeah, every time he come around, he got me actin’ like a fiend/ When he be askin’ me for money, I can never tell him no/ And when he say he wanna see me, I drop everything to go.” She knows she’s over inflating his ego and has her friends looking at her sideways for constantly going back to a man uses her in such a way. Her response to all this she’s fully enraptured by the way he can please her, “I can’t help it, it’s a shame what he do to me (Me)/ My girls ask me what it is, I say, “It’s the D” (D)/ I start going out my mind when he come around (‘Round, and he is)/ That’s why he gets all my time ’cause he put it down (Yeah).” We flip this back around on ourselves with “On It”. Both Ari and Jazmine bring a luscious neo-soul tone to their vocal delivery. The languorous guitars, slinky bass, and subtle beat sweat with passion. Jazmine and Ari put the ball in the man’s court. Even though they hunger for it, why should they let him hit it, “I want to sit on it/ So tell me why (Why) you deserve it/ Come on and prove (Prove, prove)/ Why I should move (Move, move).” They both take a stance on getting there’s. So many times a man is able to get off, Sullivan and Lennox need to know they can get their needs satisfied. “Donna’s Tale” brings up the duality of using sex (regardless or relational connect) to your advantage. She calls out use of sex to get what you want the next day, “Women think, ‘Oh no, I don’t trick, I don’t ho, I don’t do none of that shit’/ Bitch, every time you sleep with, even if you’re married/ You have tricked in your fuckin’ marriage/ You have sex because you know your husband is gonna give you what the fuck you want the next day.” Again, it’s a sense of self worth. You have to use the physical to your monetary needs met.
Donna’s message gives way to the themes of “Price Tags”. We get a jazzy/soulful blend through the song’s backing Anderson .Paak’s verse works wonderfully against the story that Sullivan has cultivated. The lust for material things is the thesis ofthis track. Her man’s willingness to buy her anything makes her want to bring out her freak, “Fuck them pricetags I ain’t lookin’, I just pick that, pick that/ Turn me on when he say get that, get that/ Made me wanna pull the freak out, freak out/ He say, ‘Yo,’ I see it’s big now/ That’s right, reach down and pull the cash out.” It calls out the duality on both sides of needing to provide one thing for the other. Obviously, both sides see the other as some for of object (either sexually or monetarily) and uses the other for their needs. “Rashida’s Tale” is a story of acting out the very things that hurt you. She details how her and her girlfriend met up to the point Rashida cheated on her, “She proposed to me, gave me a ring/ She introduced me to her best friend/ We went out together one night and we ended up sleeping together/ And it crushed her/ And when it hurt her, it hurt mе.” She brings up how up to that point she was always the one being cheated on. It’s a tale of hurt people hurting people.
We steep in this tale of hurt on “Lost One”. Sullivan’s vocals are at their most emotive and full on this track. I love how hollow the guitar melody sounds. It’s almost like an old upright through the filtering. It’s a very emotive arc of owning up to your faults while still hoping the one you hurt still holds some reverence for you. It’s a mournful wish that Jazmine sings in the chorus, “Just don’t have too much fun without me/ Don’t have too much, don’t have too much fun/ Please don’t forget about me/ Try not to love no one.” The earnest hope through what she knows has left a bitter scar brings an important sentiment to the other side of the coin. “Precious’ Tale” is one of thirsting for a come up. She’s honest on how her childhood made her want for more, “And my childhood plays a big role on this/ Me not having stuff as a child…/ Growing up that just gave me ambitious/ Okay, I’ma get my own, and I’ma be able to stand on my own/ But I’m not gonna deal with anyone unless they can contribute to what I’m doing.” It’s flavored how she looks at men. She only wants a man that makes good. In her own word, “I feel like when I see a man thriving/ Out here hustling in many different ways that turns me on more than anything.” The dreams of becoming a sugar baby are told on “The Other Side”. I absolutely love how up front the bass is. Along side the glimmering guitars and synths, it’s an dream on the ears. Sullivan speaks on her dire monetary situation, “I sit alone in my room thinkin’ how I’ma get out/ I go to work at a job I don’t care nothin’ about/ My rent is due later, only got half to pay up/ I never can save up, think I’ve run out of favors.” She makes sure she’s putting out her A game to find her a rich man. The lust here is for money. Our pre-chorus dictates the many dreams she hopes to fulfill, “I’ma move to Atlanta/ I’ma find me a rapper/ He gon’ buy me a booty/ Let me star in the movie/ I’ma keep up my fitness/ I’ma start me a business/ And I’ll never be broke again.” Jazmine fantastically crafts this tale from start to end. “Amanda’s Tale” is a story of a diffident self outlook. All the women out there on Instagram and the like showing off have her feel low. The one thing she knows she can bring the to table is her sexual prowess, “And the sex has become my superpower/ It’s like sex is where I, I’m finding my worth/ You know it’s, that’s the one thing that I know/ I can make you keep coming back to me.” She knows its sad that doesn’t view other aspects of herself of alluring, but also takes this skill as a badge on honor.
We end out the album taking on this notion of low self esteem on “Girl Like Me”. The gentle acoustic guitar sample against the subtle vocal additions help to really amplify Jazmine and H.E.R.’s vocals. There is a lot of hurt being released on this track. Sullivan has a bitterness towards these women he is seeing now, “You must’vе wanted somethin’ different/ Still don’t know what I was missin’/ What you asked I would’ve given/ It ain’t right how these hoes be winnin’.” If what her man wants in a “hoe” then what she’ll become. The lines from H.E.R. only amplify this need to turn into the sexual being she feeling is necessary to keep a man, “Maybe I should look like a stripper/ Wearin’ Fashion Nova dresses/ All these dudes be so pressed and impressed with it/ You, leave me with no choice (Oh, oh)/ I can’t do this good girl shit no more.”
I am so happy I listened to this project from front to back. As a concept record, Sullivan knocked this one way out of the park. Each intermission gives us a little insight into the main topic of each coming song. Jazmine is able to riff off these ideas expertly to craft tales about sexuality, power, and empowerment that few women have explored in such a way. The album truly doesn’t have any skips. You may move past the intermission “tales” on a casual listen, but I think they add much more to the core story being told. Having listened to Heaux Tales, I look forward to listening to Sullivan’s back catalog. My favorites:
- “Bodies (Intro)”
- “Put It Down”
- “On It”
- “Price Tags”
- “Lost One”
- “The Other Side”
My overall rating: 10 out of 10.