Jazmine Sullivan - Love Me Back

Posted January 18, 2011

Hundreds of artists across every genre and medium have threatened to retire, almost none have....

Love Me Back Album Review

Hundreds of artists across every genre and medium have threatened to retire, almost none have. In fact, Dave Chapelle’s “mental breakdown that eventually became a de facto retirement” aside, I can’t think of a single artist who’s actually followed through on their retirement claims. In the last few years alone Lupe, Jay-Z, The-Dream and Eminem have all proclaimed that they were exiting the game for good; precisely 0.0% actually have. Be it the money, fame, creative desire or some combination of all three, no one just walks away from this life. No one.

Expect, maybe, Jazmine Sullivan, and that’s a big maybe. Shortly after releasing her sophomore album Love Me Back, Jazmine tweeted "I promised myself that when it wasn't fun anymore i wouldn't do it. and here i am.” Whether that was actually a retirement announcement or not, the media treated it as such, and by the next day the post had been deleted from her Twitter. If the young Philadelphia crooner was indeed considering an exit, it’d be understandable. Having first signed to J Records as a teenager, Sullivan’s been dealing with industry politics and demands for her entire adult life. Even after a critically acclaimed debut album, even after pouring her soul into those tracks, she could be forgiven for feeling that the industry, and perhaps the fans, weren’t truly reciprocating her love and affections. And why continue a broken, one-way relationship?

If she is indeed contemplating the end, music will be worse off for her absence. At her best Jazmine isn’t simply good, she’s stunning, and Love Me Back offers plenty of evidence. Without hyperbole I can say that 10 Seconds was one of my favorite r&b songs of 2010 (for the record, my pick for the best was Alicia Keys Un-thinkable). Aided by a perfectly compact concept, 10 Seconds finds Jazmine delivering the kind of virtuoso performance that only an elite few are capable of, packing an extraordinary amount of emotion and soul into barely three minutes. Say what you will, but that woman can f**king sing. But she’s more than “just” a singer. More than any other song I’ve ever heard from her, Redemption is Jazmine as an artist as she delivers the kind of narrative, lyrical performance usually reserves for rappers. If I were to end this review now the fact that both 10 Seconds and Redemption are on the same album would be impressive enough, but from the retro Excuse Me to the pure ballad Stuttering, there’s plenty to love.

Where Jazmine struggles on Love Me Back is in navigating the line between radio hits and those more classically soul offerings mentioned above. Certainly she’s capable of melding her heavily gospel influenced voice to more mainstream tastes – previous singles Need U Bad and the defining Bust Your Windows were both hits – but I’m not sure if there’s anything here with the appeal of those breakthroughs. Hold You Down is an instantly engaging joint with her mentor Missy’s fingerprints all over it, it’s a perfect balance of rap and r&b influences, but unfortunately that’s about as good as it gets. Don’t Make Me Wait is yet another essential Prince remake (we’ve been getting a lot of those lately) that reduces her to a breathy popstress and while Jazmine’s much stronger on Love You Long Time, she feels vaguely uncomfortable on such marching, up-tempo production. Essentially, the failings of these songs is to confine her, and in doing so make her something closer to ordinary.

While the album will certainly lose the interest of casual fans for stretches, Love Me Back’s highlights, like the perfectly executed duet with Ne-Yo, U Got On My Nerves, are enough to draw the careful listener close. Still, that ultimately means that if this is indeed Jazmine Sullivan’s last album, she’ll have walked away still having only fulfilled a fraction of per promise. If she can’t truly figure out who she is as an artist, a journey that very few have completed (Mary J. Blige comes to mind), it’s not unreasonable to think she has a classic album in her. Will she actually follow through with her ultimatum? History tells us no, but no one could listen to one of Love Me Back’s closing tracks, Famous, a grippingly complex meditation on the pressures and desires that drive fame, and believe that she isn’t seriously considering whether all of this is actually worth it. It might not be. Only Jazmine Sullivan can decide.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted January 18, 2011
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