There’s a line on the Missy Elliott-produced, Daft Punk-sampling Dream Big that sums up the work ethic of rising US R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan. “I gotta dream big, ’cause when it happen it gon’ happen real quick… only get one chance”. So far, Sullivan has relished her opportunity, earning five Grammy nominations and selling over half a million copies of her debut album in the US alone.
Surprisingly for a new artist with an album featuring a host of current production talent (Stargate, Salaam Remi, Elliott), Sullivan hasn’t risen to fame via a TV talent show, or made the switch from acting to start a pop career. Instead, Sullivan was noticed at a young age singing in a choir, sang for Stevie Wonder at the tender age of 13 and has written songs for fellow R&B stars such as Christina Millian and Jennifer Hudson.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Fearless is how well it works as an album. Unlike the majority of modern R&B and pop albums, Fearless doesn’t simply feature a couple of big singles and a load of filler. Instead it’s a collection of songs that slowly bury themselves deep into your subconscious, Sullivan’s impassioned, almost frayed vocals carrying the melodies with expert precision.
Sullivan’s is a voice that grabs, with each track positioning it front and centre, be it pained and aggressive on the break-up anthem Bust Your Windows (“you broke my heart, so I broke your car”), or cracked and vulnerable on the ridiculously lovelorn After The Hurricane.
No stranger to harnessing a unique vocal talent, Amy Winehouse cohort Salaam Remi produces the majority of songs, utilizing plucked harp and swooping strings on Lions, Tigers & Bears and a deliciously old school beat on the highlight Live A Lie. Once again Sullivan rises to the occasion, delivering a vocal that’s reminiscent of Mary J Blige at her most soulful. Elsewhere, on the Elliott-produced Need U Bad, she sounds equally convincing tackling reggae, whilst Call Me Guilty deals with the results of domestic violence.
It’s not all soul-searching and painful break-ups (she is only 22 years old after all). The ’60s doo-wop swagger of One Night Stand shows that even when she lightens up, Sullivan is still a brilliantly engaging performer. She even manages to make a lyric about pancakes sound like the perfect representation of the games people play in relationships, which is deserving of a Grammy in itself.
Like a less worthy Alicia Keys, Sullivan has created a mature, engaging R&B album that doesn’t rely solely on the usual tropes of sexuality, money and posturing. Instead, Fearless deals with real emotions sung in a way that convinces the listener she means every single word. She may only be making small inroads in Europe (this iTunes only UK re-release comes a full year after the US launch), but with Fearless under her belt it should only be a matter of time before those dreams she had become a reality.