Soulful singer Jill Scott flew onto the scene as a protégée of Philly hip-hop icons DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Roots. She penned the hook for the Roots' Grammy-winning "You Got Me" in 1999 before even having a chance to drop her debut. From her aggressive "Be Ready" to the quietly political "My Petition," the substance of hip-hop has shaded her neo-soul beats from the jump.
Lyrically, Scott has been consistently introspective, yet three albums deep, she is still trying to answer the question she posed on her debut: Who Is Jill Scott? "My intention was to create a lifelong autobiography," she says in a recent phone interview. "I'm growing and learning and failing." Her 2007 divorce ended one chapter of that bio, and Scott has been prolific ever since, creating a new guise from the wreckage of her marriage.
The proudly monogamous woman portrayed on Scott's first two records was replaced on last September's The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 by a man-slaying divorcée who maintains a lively roster in her bedroom. Like Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, this is Jill Scott's divorce album. It's a grown-ass record, sad and nasty. Boiling over the slick production from Scott Storch, J.R. Hutson, and longtime collaborator Andre Harris, are poems of isolation, empowerment, and the all-important post-relationship rebound. "I feel more adult than I ever have in my life," she says. Adult may mean mature, but here it also means X-rated.
Sex has featured prominently in Scott's oeuvre, but no couplet has approached the level of detail divulged on The Real Thing. Sultry fan-favorite "Crown Royal" has Scott singing, "You grab my braids, arch my back high for you/Your diesel engine, I'm squirting my oil on/I'm down on the floor till my speakers start to boil." Elsewhere on the record, "Epiphany" reports, "Creamy lava landed on my skin and neck/Blended with my all-day Chanel scent"; and "How It Make You Feel" conceives of a world with "No more chocolate kisses/No more nappy dugout ever."
The Real Thing sounds downright randy on first listen, but much of the subject matter is imagined. Scott explains, "During the course of my separation and divorce, I had to keep it easy — and what I mean by that is celibacy." The resulting song, "Celibacy Blues," describes the practice: "Scratching it right/I get some new batteries almost every night." But she isn't planning lifelong abstinence: "Nah, I'm done," she says. So the vibrator is presumably taking a nap while Scott is "taking applications" for possible suitors.
Every facet of Scott's professional life mimics her music. Her NAACP Image Award–nominated role in Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? (2007) was that of a confused wife. And in accord with the sensual woman portrayed on The Real Thing, Scott announced a partnership with Ashley Stewart stores to launch a line of lingerie.
As Scott branches out, she finds new forums for exploring personal development and committing ink to that all-encompassing autobiography. So it may not be with your ear pressed to the wax, but with your eyes to the silver screen, that you finally figure out who Jill Scott is.