Categorizing Jazmine Sullivan’s “Heaux Tales” is complicated in a number of different ways. Her own PR for this release can’t decide if it’s an EP (it’s under a half hour), a “concept album” (punctuated by spoken word interludes about femininity and sexuality) or “the spiritual successor to ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill‘” (hmm). Here’s what we do know. Sullivan tends to release albums infrequently at best, averaging one every 5-6 years at her current pace. That makes ANY new album no matter what it is or how it’s described noteworthy, and this one was kicked off in 2020 with a song that certainly has a Lauryn-esque title in “Lost One.”
“You know when you lost one/girl you know when you lost one/go out and fuck different people to cope and ignore all precautions/You drink and you drink and get fed up, you feel like that’s your only options.” The frank language is certainly indicative of Sullivan’s stated desire to reclaim the conversation about sexuality. As indicated in one of the aforementioned interludes, Sullivan is tired of men having all the agency or being shocked when women state an equal or greater level of sexual desire to men. With “Lost One” she also seems to want that reclaimed agency to have purpose and not be frivolously squandered on depression or insecurity. That sense of power can be heard in “Pick Up Your Feelings.” In a very Missy Elliott style rap croon combo, Sullivan mocks her partner for being butt hurt: “You said that I’ve been acting different yeah/Funny how I finally flipped the script on ya/When you the one who’s double dipping yea/you so sloppy how I caught you slipping up.” Go on Jazmine. Tell ’em about themselves.
The DZL (Michael Holmes) produced track carries her message well, but the JMO produced “Pricetags” featuring Anderson .Paak is even more of a head nodder. It’s possible that listeners might misunderstand her point on the song though or even find it contradictory to her other messages of female empowerment. “That money keeps that pussy wet.” .Paak seems to be playing counterpoint by saying “She don’t wanna work, she taking the week off/Shit I’m starting to think you don’t even have a job/Looking at your exes, all of ’em ball players.” It takes one of the accompanying interludes to unpack what it’s really all about. Having come from a background of poverty, Sullivan (or her album persona) finds “hustlers” sexually exciting because they represent all the things she was denied growing up.
“Heaux Tales” is like that. If you try to listen to it superficially or just focus on the singles that have been released, you miss the context of the narrative that Jazmine Sullivan builds up throughout the presentation. In that sense I’d say it is fair to call it a “concept album,” because anything with a story that requires you to invest in it and follow it from start to end like a film or a novel breaks from the music industry standard. Sullivan herself is certainly an artist that doesn’t follow the rules, which is why it’s mildly disappointing to hear her sound like Post Malone or Juice WRLD on tracks. For a woman with as much power and agency as she clearly has, she let too much of this release be shaped by what other people sound like in terms of the production of her vocals and her instrumentals. It doesn’t make “Heaux Tales” a bad album, but it certainly doesn’t make it comparable to Lauryn Hill, and if I’m being honest she’s not the singer Lauryn is/was either. It’s an interesting and provocative album but it’s not what it could have been.