Remember this Miguel? Before print decided to do something on her.
At Felissimo – a trendy shop in midtown Manhattan specializing in expensive housewares and furniture- a soon to be famous poet/singer out of Philadelphia attends her first press day. A cheerful and upbeat Jill Scott lingers in the sectioned-off area of the shop, looking around and chitchatting with her publicist. But despite her cool demeanor on this hot Thursday afternoon in July, there are a few things on the singer’s mind.
The rapidly approaching release date for her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1, should put butterflies in her stomach, but that’s not what nagging at her. Instead, more personal matters occupy her thoughts. For one, she’s thinking about her fiancé Lyzel (to whom she dedicated “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)”) – the same guy who she almost let get away until she “woke up [one day] and [discovered that she] was in love with him.” Second, she’s a little nervous about performing on her own tour.
But instead of drowning in her own problems, the down-to-earth, 28-year-old Philly native cracks little jokes while gawking at the some of the outlandish prices, only to become a substitute psychiatrist moments later to a brokenhearted young man who seeks her advice on love and relationships.
“Just because you’ve loved and lost, don’t stop loving,” Scott advises. “It’s so necessary as a human being to love and to feel it, to hurt, and to acknowledge it. Because that’s where you get these amazing lessons from. It’s okay to hurt. Even if you’re the one that’s getting played – that’s how you learn.”
Fast forward to November. Not much has changed about Scott, except that she’s excited that her album went gold. However, many things have changed around her. While she was virtually unknown a few months ago, the world now finds solace in Words & Sounds. As undoubtedly one of the year’s best albums, obviously she was right not to worry about where her album would place on the charts. However, “Jilly from Philly,” as Black Thought of The Roots affectionately calls her, scoffs at the idea of blowing up and becoming famous. “I just don’t think it’s gonna be like that,” she diverts. “Blowing up is overrated if you ask me.”
She then humbly adds: “I’d rather step up gradually and grow into people’s hearts like Muhammad Ali.”
And that’s just what she’s done. Scott, the former actress in the Broadway musical “Rent,” has scored a hit video and single with “Getting’ in the Way,” which is heavily in rotation at MTV and BET – not to mention winning over Washington D.C. with her go-go flavored hit, “It’s Love.” Deviating from the traditional R&B album, poetry, love, and music are intertwined entities on Words & Sounds. With influences ranging from poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Toni Morrison to musicians such as Gil Scott Heron, Sting, and Gladys Knight, she is as much a by-product of the musical universe as she is of the literary world. Although her album fills a neglected audience’s need for urban music that transcends beyond hip hop or R&B, Scott feels her role in creating the album’s warm, loving vibe was limited.
“Honestly, I’m gonna tell you, I didn’t really decide what I was going to do,” she admits. “What I’m doing chose me. I just followed the path that opened up for me. It wasn’t anything that I was trying to do. I write because I love it, and because it’s a necessity like breathing.”
“It’s music. It’s writing. It’s experiences. It’s vulnerability. It’s honesty. It’s being a woman – an African-American woman. Being a daughter and a sister, and a grandchild, and a godmother. It’s life. It’s deeper than what I know. It’s bigger than what I can see. I guess it’s a dive into the human spirit.”
Obviously, her dive into the human spirit has yielded fruitful rewards. She has been nominated for the Billboard Music Award for Best New Artist Clip of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the Philadelphia City Award. All of this through word of mouth.
Before Scott was labeled as one of the music industry’s most innovative new artists, she was an aspiring artist performing at such underground venues as New York’s “Black Lily.” But it wasn’t until she decided to fully purse her career in music that she would get in touch with the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff (formerly of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince) and his production company, A Touch of Jazz. “After six months of calling him [Jeff],” Jill explained, “I just met him on the street. I never asked about my calls.”
“I was fearful in the beginning, because I had just started a new career. But I figured if this is what it was and [wondered whether] it was going to be permanent. Certain things you just have to accept, and be grateful for what you have.”
Although Scott’s bout with S.D.S. was terrifying, one positive thing came out of it: she learned that her fans cared genuinely about her well being.
“[I’m] just really appreciative. Cause so many of those folks didn’t know me, never met me, but still they called, and wrote and emailed and faxed me. And it was a very big part of me feeling better and accepting what was going on.”
If what they say is true about people receiving the type of energy that they put out, then without a doubt, her fans have returned the love she gave to them through her music. People are already anticipating her next project, which she says doesn’t know when she’s going to start recording it because she’s still promoting her current album.
Jill Scott has definitely found her calling by spreading love through her music. Along the way, she’s made quite a name for herself. Returning to that press day in July, oblivious to the forthcoming impact she would have, Jill’s words are nothing short of being ironic. “I just can’t imagine. To treat me like something other than Jill from Philly, who dropped out of college in the third year, and didn’t get a degree. ..but just writes because she has to? Jill who has a dog… Jill who don’t comb her hair all the time? I’m just Jill Scott.” And that’s the only person the world expects her to be.