Published Jan 09, 2015Even after being missing in action for half a decade, in the space of 12 tracks, Jazmine Sullivan shows why she's a highly underrated artist in the scene. The Philly-born and -raised singer-songwriter had moderate success in the mid 2000s off the strength of singles like "Need U Bad," "Lions, Tigers and Bears" and "Holding You Down," before taking an indefinite hiatus citing unspecified personal and professional issues. Her return suggests she couldn't stay away, and we're glad to have her back; as a songwriter with a knack for pop-friendly yet unique melodies, and as a vocalist with seemingly unlimited range, her return with Reality Show is welcome.
The project speaks to her love for the trashy, soapy "unscripted drama" medium and the meaning of love, fidelity and fame (though not necessarily in that order). The hip-hop stomp of "Dumb," featuring Meek Mill, mines themes of disloyalty while demonstrating her songwriting skills. "Brand New" borrows the swag to Nicki Minaj-esque hip-hop and "Silver Lining" rides a swing beat with introspective, aspirational lyrics, while the grimy vibe of "#HoodLove" feels fresh even given its oft-used ride-or-die theme: "That HoodLove is that good love."
"Let It Burn" leverages the After 7/Babyface late '80s slow-burner "Ready or Not" and updates it to showcase Sullivan's vocal versatility and modern sensibilities; "Veins" features her songwriting prowess and ability to deliver an ethereal, moody the Weekend-esque sound as she explores the addictive qualities of insatiable love: "The writing's on the wall/ But I can't see the word." The clear album standouts are "Mascara" and "Forever Don't Last," the latter of which is a jazzy torch song simmering with vibrant acoustics and transcendent vocals.
The overall proceedings carry a multilayered aura of forceful restraint — production is handled by vets Anthony Bell, Salaam Remi and Key Wane — as Sullivan plays with the Reality Show theme to explore themes of authenticity from many angles: love, life, pain and all points in between. With Reality Show, Sullivan delivers an R&B album that feels like how R&B used to sound circa late 90's/early 2000 while still coming off as forward-looking. (Sony)