As Told By Jazmine — ‘Heaux Tales’ Was Written For Black Women, Period
In October of 2000, a tween-focused dramedy called ‘As Told By Ginger’ premiered on Nickelodeon’s network depicting the trials of pubescence told by a 12-year-old girl named Ginger. What’s most memorable about the show outside of its content is the theme song itself, sung by none other than R&B and soul singer Macy Gray. As I recall over an uptempo-funky beat, a raspy-voiced Gray would softly sing in a hoarse tone, “Someone once told me the grass is much greener… on the other side.” Just before the short song reached its final stretch, Gray would emphasize a phrase that wouldn’t hit home for me until adulthood — “From where I’m standing, my grass is green.”
At the time that the show was airing, I was but a mere child who couldn’t possibly understand the woes of being a teenager, much less digest what the show was actually speaking to. However, years down the line when I would watch reruns of old episodes, I’d gravitate to Ginger’s character. Mainly because I grew to identify with her independent spirit to freely express herself and live in the moment of her missteps. I envied that feeling and tried my damndest to model after her. That fictional guide surprisingly sufficed in teaching me about the realities of being a young woman coming into her own. It’s that same familiar feeling I got from watching ‘As Told By Ginger’ as an adolescent that resurfaces every time I loop Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, over and over again. The way I was able to mirror my journey as a teenage girl finding her way to womanhood with the help of that TV show, is the same way I find myself reflecting on my years as a 20-something-year-old still figuring life out — this time to the tune of a project seemingly made just for me.
The Grammy-nominated singer’s latest EP couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The project — rooted in women empowerment, sexuality, love, infidelity, and relationships — was more than a reflection of Jazmine’s vocal range as an artist. It was a provocative return to the public eye after a nearly six-year hiatus that bet on vulnerable risks to set her free from the shackles of judgment. Her bold approach this time around shocked the world with a realistic look at romance, which aimed to shut down the common misconceptions and social norms women in love are expected to abide by. Heaux Tales was honest, audacious, and downright chilling in the ways it spoke directly to its number one audience. The by woman, for women product encouraged us all to embrace our heauxness because it’s a natural part of womanhood. No longer did we feel shame in topics deemed far too taboo and revealing to the naked ear. No, women were once again empowered to bond over heaux stories because we realized we had another ally — an ally with a bigger voice. This brief 32-minute EP proved to have a groundbreaking impact from the listeners’ side, documenting everything most women are too afraid to speak truth to. The five-year build up to releasing this project wasn’t just about Sullivan telling her truth, it was for all of us to identify with. For the first time in a long time, we felt seen again. Black women all felt seen again.
“I wrote Heaux Tales to give voice to every woman. We’re deserving of respect whether we work as a CEO of a company or if we strippin’. It’s about unity, it’s about boldness, it’s about ownership and confidence, and also vulnerability and reflection. It’s about a woman deciding how she wants to present herself to the world, and not being told or influenced by anyone but her gotdamn self. It’s about women writing their own imperfect stories unashamed.”
Heaux Tales gave Sullivan the opportunity to showcase her natural gift for vivid storytelling, a concept we rarely get to see in music nowadays. Stitching together a thread of narratives with a seamless hook from top to bottom, Sullivan relied on her own personal experiences to craft a perfectly-balanced theory on Heaux Tales about what it means to be a woman today. The foundation for the melodic songs on the multitudinous project are built upon the framework of “tales” — described as spoken word interludes — that each peels away at the layers that these fearless women are revealing about their versions of what love and relationships look like for them. These strategically-placed confessionals are what makes Heaux Tales so captivating. We get every point-of-view needed to drive home the message of freewill and self-expression — from “Antoinette’s Tale” which rawly embraces the idea of women owning themselves as sexual beings, to “Amanda’s Tale” that honestly delves into how we weaponize sex to shield our insecurities. Sullivan purposely used ordinary women in her life to narrate these universal stories simply because they stem from real-life conversations — conversations other women have been having for years behind closed doors. This sense of unpacking our baggage and airing out our dirty laundry was just the ammunition us women needed to reclaim our power.
“We’re so very layered and multidimensional and we have stories to tell, and they’re all not great stories but that’s what makes us who we are.” — Jazmine Sullivan, NPR
Heaux Tales touched on so much that we tend to gloss over in music and real life. From feminism, classism, and materialism to body-shaming and intimacy, Heaux Tales left no stone unturned in its daring material. The “Bodies (Intro)” set the tone for how the remainder of the EP would follow suit, diving right into the sometimes shameful recollection of those late night rendezvous. The first line of the initial verse gathered us all with “B*tch, get it together, b*tch,” Sullivan tauntingly sang going on to conclude with “I keep on pilin’ up bodies on bodies on bodies, yeah, you gettin’ sloppy, girl.” From here she puts things into perspective, but lightens up a bit to let us women bask in the fun of recklessness for a bit. Following a frank declaration of the power of the D on “Ari’s Tale,” the project segues into an amusing and catchy song where Sullivan finds her stride between her almost auto-tune-like, rap-sing delivery. Opposite of the intro, “Put It Down” — in what seems to be a trap-inspired tune playing off the previous interlude — shamelessly brags about gratifying-pleasure and satisfaction, almost reenacting the infamous group chat chatter us women indulge in following those heaux activities. The first-half of the EP then concludes with the fan-favorite duo of Sullivan and Ari Lennox teaming up for the soulful ballad, “On It.” The two vocally-dominate the X-rated double entendre, complementing its predecessors well in terms of its nuanced approach and served as the perfect harmonious ode to sex. Though the song is open in what it’s alluding to, both Sullivan and Lennox disguised its risque contents well with their angelic singing voices. What’s crucial to note here is that the same way men are free to flaunt their sex lives uncensored with no one batting an eye, is exactly how Jazmine felt emancipated enough to unapologetically expose her deepest desires for the world to hear.
“On the one hand, there’s a lot of validation for women being very sexual. On the other hand, as you notice, there’s a lot of judgment for women being very sexual. And I think women are just starting to talk about that in music.” — Jazmine Sullivan, NPR
While a portion of the EP dedicates itself to shedding light on women’s sexuality, it also does its due diligence to explore the structure of romantic relationships and how those manifest into broken bonds. Take “Pricetags” for instance, set up perfectly by “Donna’s Tale” preaching to the choir about the respective roles within marriage. The Anderson .Paak-assisted track is every bit of shallow as it is satirical, exaggerating that money is the root of everything — sometimes even love. That shattered theme functions as the undertone of the EP as it outlines two of the biggest singles that got fans riled up to begin with. “Lost One” and “Pick Up Your Feelings” respectively describe two ends of the spectrum when it comes to love. On one hand you have the bitter sentiments of a scorned lover in “Pick Up Your Feelings,” pained and ready to leave their toxic companion because they’re fed up — “I deserve so much more than you gave to me, so now I’m savin’ me. And I made my peace, so you can run them streets.” Then on the other hand, you have second thoughts on “Lost One” when you’re stuck still holding onto the past in the wake of a breakup aftermath. “And if it’s too late, I understand, sometimes it’s too late, to make amends… just don’t have too much fun without me.” Both of those tracks carry with them loaded experiences that clearly define how women sacrifice so much in their relationships, to the point where we’re only left with extreme choices — leave or stay. Either way, both songs are evidence as to how we have to sometimes contemplate our pain and stand on our decisions because they can make or break us.
“You must’ve wanted somethin’ different, still don’t know what I was missin’. What you asked I would’ve given, it ain’t right how these hoes be winnin’” — “Girl Like Me”
Last but not least, we come to the finale portion of the EP that addresses the issues of insecurities. Inadequacy is a common thing women often experience, whether or not they’re in relationships. It’s never an easy topic to be vulnerable about, much less sing about to millions of listeners. “Girl Like Me,” a duet assisted by renaissance woman H.E.R., is a swoonful, acoustic track that’s the culmination of what happens when you keep striking out in the game of love and question your worth. The coordinated-chemistry between the two as they dodge in and out of the track is effortless as they croon over pulling a hail mary to obtain what they truly crave. “No hope for a girl like me, how come they be winnin’?… And I ain’t wanna be, but you gon’ make a hoe out of me,” they sing together. As sensitive as these songs are, they aren’t meant to vilify women at all. In fact, speaking to truth is a freeing act that initiates the healing process for many. To me, “The Other Side” does just that by offering a sense of relief on the EP as a whole, in an uplifting song that urges women to dust themselves off and go after what truly matters — following our dreams. “Can’t wait to be rich, want a better life,” Sullivan victoriously declares. “Diamonds, cars and trips, all monеy can buy. (I just wanna) I just wanna live on the other sidе.” Sullivan is clear about her intentions through every stage of Heaux Tales, no matter how deep she dives or how much she confesses. We got the ups and downs, the good and the bad, but considering how well fans received the project, it’s evident that it came along just in time to fill a very empty void.
As an EP, Heaux Tales did more than create a moment for itself, it shifted the narrative for Black women and gave us a louder voice for once. “You don’t know a lot about Black women and the many sides there are to Black women,” Sullivan said in a recent ABC News interview. “I just wanted to share our personal stories” — and that she did. The R&B powerhouse exhausted every outlet in her electrifying return to mainstream music. Her presence was sorely missed, but moreover, her realness was something we yearned to have in R&B once again. The purpose behind the project was served in its entirety, giving a reenergized voice to the voiceless. Sullivan doesn’t just represent as a woman in R&B, she stands for the women that look just like her too. Us Black women rooted just a little bit louder for her because we were seeing ourselves, shining, winning, and back on top. Despite all the trials and tribulations us women go through, Sullivan is proof that sometimes the struggle is worth it. In the end, at least we know that sometimes from where we stand the grass is always greener.