Jill Scott is an oxymoron. She's a low-maintenance diva with a breathtaking smile that commands the stage more than any pyrotechnics or scantily-clad dancers ever could. Scott's allure lies in her distinct ability to convey life's common experiences and simple pleasures. Her platinum debut, 2000's Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 introduced a woman unafraid of life. With a unique brand of hip hop/neo-soul, Jilly from Philly flirted with infatuation, confronted a scheming chickenhead, declared love for her then-boyfriend, now husband, and even questioned the government's possible voyeur-like activities. Whew.
Now, Scott returns with Beautifully Human, Words and Sounds Vol. 2, which is sonically more refined, but still rooted in what has become essential Jill: love and happiness millennium style. Invoking Minnie Riperton and Phyllis Hyman, among others, Scott avoids the typical sequel. Beautiful is more reinvention than rehash. She is figuratively basking in the afterglow of true love and, more importantly, in the ultimate acceptance of herself. Beautiful is a testament to the weight and necessity of love.
Jill talked with Africana recently about escaping fame, finding spirituality (at 12 years old!) and what true freedom is.
Everyone has been waiting with bated breath for a new Jill Scott album.
That's definitely good to hear!
What have you been doing?
I have been living my life. I painted my house. I bought a cat. I directed a video for Jeff Bradshaw. I started a foundation called Blues Babes. We keep community centers open and help kids go to college. It's going very well.
You sent out a mass e-mail to your fans saying that you had to take some time away to just be your mother's daughter. What brought this on?
I had a show and I was truly exhausted afterwards. Normally, I am just tired. I could not find the energy. I realized that at that point, when the positive well is empty, you begin to pull from the negative well. Everybody has a yin and a yang. I started to pull from the negative and I knew it was time to go home to replenish.
Despite your celebrity, you seem abnormally grounded. I liken you to Sade. She releases her talent to the world and then retreats back to her life.
Well, I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness. I was never baptized, but one of the truest things that I remember is being humble. I know that every breath is a blessing and every wiggle of the toe is a miracle. I know that I am gifted, but I also know that it's not me. Let's say that there are four steps to get to the stage. By the third, someone else takes over. I never remember the shows and have to ask, 'How was it?'
So, this is your alter ego?
Yes. I am very much a homebody. "Jill Scott" is a lot more powerful than I am. But, I like her a lot!
Are you still a practicing Jehovah's Witness?
When I was 12, I decided that I wanted to see what else was out there. I believe that all of the religions have merit and that it's man that messes it up. I am more spiritual than religious. Sometimes I feel like a Buddhist and I need to chant; sometimes a Baptist and I need to holler and shout and sometimes I need to be a Catholic and need to purge my sins and confess. It just depends on where I am. But, I know I need to get there.
Your mother gave you freedom at 12 years old to explore your spirituality?
Not necessarily. I took it on my own. It was my grandmother who wanted me to remain a Witness.
What do you think of religion?
I remember one preacher who was wearing this beautiful silk suit who left the church in a driven car. There was a family and the children were begging for some hot dogs because they were hungry. I think preachers should make sure that everyone is on the same playing field.
Your new album, Beautifully Human, is gorgeous. What took you so long?
I held out until I couldn't stand it anymore. The songs started waking me up and came to me during dinner or while I was in the tub or on walks. They weren't just one lyric here and there. They were complete songs. My hope was to make an album that was equally as good, but in a different way.
What inspires you to write?
It's a process. I don't listen to anything. Then I will listen to one piece of music and this time it was Minnie Riperton's Anthology, and then it was Frankie Beverly and Maze. Then I waited for the spirit to move, and then its life experiences. This is why I have to take time, in order to see life.
Your album is romance-heavy. I assume this is personally inspired?
Yes! I know genuine love when I see it because I have it. I don't feel alone in love, there is a whole congregation of people out there who feel it, want it, have it and are honored by having it in their lives.
How long have you been with your husband, Lyzel?
We started dating when I was 23 and I am 32 now. We got married when I was 29. We separated for a little bit to make sure that we were making the right decision. I dated other people and found out that they weren't funny, not as smart is he is. He is my match.
When a female celebrity marries a non-famous male, it seems to add certain pressures to the relationship. Have you experienced this?
The only time we feel any pressure is when we are out. We choose very well where we go together so we can just be. Sometimes the responses do bother him, especially if they are inappropriate. For instance, being in the doctor's office and the nurse telling everyone in the building that I am there. It only bothers him when he feels like it infringes on my private self. Other than that, he gets it.
Well, society prescribes that the man should be the head of the household, especially when it comes to finances. Is this ever a problem?
I don't think that making more money [dictates who leads]. However, I am a firm believer that the man is the head of the household and it works for us. He is very manly and I love and respect that. He knows that I am the queen up in here. And in the back of my mind, I know that he is the king.
Your current single, "Golden," speaks on taking control of your freedom and living life. What is true freedom to you?
When you are not held down by anything. Freedom is being able to leave a situation that doesn't help you at any given time, because you are free. My mother was a dental technician for about five years, and she just decided to quit. I was scared because I was in high school, I had my prom and my class ring to get. I was like, "We already broke. Are you we about to be broke, broke?" She refurbished antiques. Then she decided [to cater], and when she was tired of that, she decided to redecorate the basement and make an affordable childcare center in our home. She has always lived her life the way that she chooses. Freedom is scary and it's worth it.
When you debuted, you did not bow down to industry expectations. What advice would you give new artists about being themselves?
We can all see the effects of being false. We see our president. When somebody is just living for money, it becomes a detriment and that they may not be honoring the artist for fear. Fear stops your growth. You have to do this out of love, not out of fear of being broke. If that means paying to get into a venue so that you can perform, or performing for free. Do it because it's in you, not just because it looks good on you.
I had a conversation with Maya Angelou a few years ago, and I asked her what was her motivation to live the nine lives she's had so far, and she told me that she realized that she is going to die one day. What is your motivation?
I really like to smile. I want to do things in my life that make my pores smile, and my nose and teeth smile. And when I feel that glow, I feel so much closer to God.
Isoul H. Harris