06.21.11

Jill Scott’s Soul Searching

The Grammy-winning soul singer—whose new album, “The Light of the Sun,” is full of heartache and yearning to understand love—talks to Allison Samuels about the flap over rapper Common performing at the White House and her desire for meaty acting roles.

Neo-soul singer Jill Scott has little time for “foolishness.” In Scott’s opinion, foolishness constitutes many things, but lately she defines it as what happened last month after she was invited by first lady Michelle Obama to the White House’s annual Poetry Jam. Scott and socially conscious rapper Common were among a number of artists asked to do readings for the event, but within days of the announcement of their involvement—a firestorm of criticism was unleashed.

Fox News, Sarah Palin, and others on the right questioned Common’s invitation and condemned his allegedly controversial and racist lyrics. Scott was caught in the crossfire after comments she’d made regarding her own conflicting feelings on interracial relationships surfaced. The singer-actress admits the debate continues to offend and baffle her.

“I try not to pay attention to foolishness and that was just a mess with Common and myself. It was so silly, I didn’t know what to think at first,’’ says Scott with a dry laugh.  “At some point I thought, ‘Is this what the Republicans have to do to hurt the Obamas? Is this really all they have—us, Common and me?’ Now that’s very sad.’’

Though Scott says she ultimately enjoyed her evening at the White House—where she read poetry directly from her Mac computer at the podium—she didn’t have long to bask in the afterglow of the night. Instead, her mind and focus shifted quickly to the June 21 release of her fourth studio album,  The Light of the Sun.

Smooth, with a touch of edge in every lyric, Light of the Sun re-introduces audiences to Scott’s provocatively intense vocals, layered seamlessly around her signature notes of jazz, hip-hop, and rhythm and blues that ooze seamlessly from every track.

Since she emerged on the musical scene in 2000, Scott—and her "in-your-face voice"—has always been the true adult in a room full of immature wannabes. Now, with Light of the Sun, there’s really no denying that recent life experiences have moved the girl from Philly even closer to the head of the class.

“Heartache, heartbreak, and a lot other things that happened to most women have happened to me in the last few years, and that is always going to come through in my writing,’’ says Scott. “But honestly, I can’t say I wrote this album. I just stood in front of a microphone, had a few drinks, blacked out, and this was the result.’’

Given Scott’s last few years of relationships gone wrong, it’s not surprising that the mournful falsetto of legendary singer Billie Holiday now has new meaning for the singer.

“I always liked Billie’s work, but never got why people loved her so, so much,” Scott says. “Then I went through some things in the last few years and I was like, ‘OK Billie, I hear you. I understand you and your pain now, girl. I’m on board.’ ’’

“I can’t say I wrote this album. I just stood in front of a microphone, had a few drinks, blacked out, and this was the result.’’

With one divorce behind the 39-year-old, along with the abrupt end of a short relationship that produced her 3-year-old son, Scott’s lyrical prose understandably shows a yearning for a better understanding of love, and the end of her own emotional pain. In the track, “Hear My Call,’’ Scott coos, “Love has burned me raw/I need a healing.’’

Thankfully for her fans, Scott decided she didn’t want to heal from her wounds alone. She wanted others along for her life journey that boldly questions love, self-love, and sexuality without reservation or restraint. Many of the new album’s most vivid and raw lyrics sincerely address the need for women to understand the difference between love and lust in a relationship—an age-old issue Scott isn’t afraid to say she’s struggled with in the past. The recently slimmed-down singer even has a term for it—“dicktimized.”

“Oh I have been dicktimized a few times,’’ says Scott, without the slightest hint of humor. “I didn’t know what it was until a friend mentioned how she was and explained what it was. You know, where you’re overcome by the sex being real good—so good you think it’s love? I was like—‘yep, that’s what I’ve been and I’ve been confused because of it.’ And I paid the price.’’

Scott admits she takes some comfort in knowing she’s not alone in her quest to think more clearly about what real love really is outside of the bedroom.

“It’s a huge problem for us as women, because we want love so badly,’’ says Scott. “But you have to give yourself time to get to know someone or else you can end up in a world of pain. You can end up with kids you didn’t plan or diseases you can’t cure. I’m very clear now that I have to go out on a date five times or more with someone before we get to sex. I owe that to me.’’

As the proud mother of a toddler son, the singer adds that she also owes a better understanding of love and relationships to the boy, Jeffery, as he grows in adulthood.

“He watches everything I do, and that means he sees how I handle myself in all situations,’’ says Scott. “He’s taking it all in, so I need to make sure he’s getting the right lessons from me on how women should be treated and how he should treat himself. I will tell him to take it slow and protect his heart.’’

Though she acknowledges that it sometimes is a challenge to juggle a career and motherhood, the three-time Grammy winner quickly scoffs at the term “single motherhood” and says she rejects the notion that she’s raising her son alone.

“I truly have a village supporting me,’’ says Scott, who pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles from Philly in 2009. “My son has godmothers, godfathers, grandparents and so many others in his life who love him as much as I do. They’re there for both of us. I may not have a mate or husband, but I’m definitely not a single parent.’’

When asked specifically where the relationship stands now with her ex fiancé, a former member of her band, Scott firmly says “no comment.’’

In an homage to her beginnings as a spoken-word artist in Philly, Scott returns to her roots by lacing her new album with a few spoken-word tracks such as “Womanifesto,’’ a spicy number dedicated to the many facets of womanhood. In the selection, Scott regularly refers to herself as a “motherf-----g G.” The singer says she was moved to write the song after conducting a lifestyle survey of sorts with teenage girls.

“For my writing, and because I love talking to young women about life, I often asked them which would they rather have—a father in the house with them while growing up or a big butt?’’ says Scott. “I tell you 86 percent of the time, girls say a big butt because it gets them further. That stuck with me in terms of how we as women view our own bodies and what we feel we’re worth. It’s sad.’’

In between touring and promoting Light of the Sun, Scott continues to mull over television and movie scripts that she hopes will expand her acting ré sumé. Having had starring roles in films like Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Scott say she’s ready for a part that defines her career on the big or small screen.

“Of course, as a black woman the roles are few and that makes it hard,’’ says Scott. “I just lost out on a great role I wanted the other day and pouted for a good couple of weeks. I think all any artist or person wants to do is grow spiritually, emotionally, professionally and mentally. I just want the chance.’’