Was there been a bigger surprise in the world of Soul Music in the first decade of the twentieth century than Jill Scott? As the new Millennium began, when both the soul and self-respect of modern urban radio were in question, Scott, along with artists such as Alicia Keys and India.Arie, captured audiences with a style of music that recalled the hopefulness of early 70s Soul music but with a modern sensibility. While each was important in opening doors to a new generation of female Soul singers, Scott, with her insightful, positive lyrics put to retro grooves, was perhaps the most important in demonstrating that intelligent, gentle prose - rather than simply a strong beat - could serve as a viable underpinning for modern Soul Music.
Philadelphia native Scott is a poet who also happens to be a great singer, and her lyrics came to the attention of a number of artists in the late 90s, resulting in her work being recorded by the Roots and Eric Benet, among others. She was signed to the fledgling adult Soul label, Hidden Beach Records, in 2000. Her debut album, the aptly titled Words and Sounds Vol. 1, climbed the Soul and Pop album charts on the strength of the single, "A Long Walk." If the Neo-Soul movement had a rap against it, it was that it was perceived as largely "man-hating." Scott turned this stereotype on its ear, creating positive, intelligent songs that spoke sometimes candidly but often touchingly about love, with a element of appreciation and faith often absent from the material of many of her peers.
Following the success of Words, in 2001 Scott released The Experience: Jill Scott 826+, a live album that captured Scott's critically acclaimed live performances and also provided alternate versions of many songs from Words.
Scott then took a couple years off, basking in the glow of her new marriage to husband Lyzel (about whom she sang on Words and Sounds). In 2003 she began working in earnest on Beautifully Human, her second studio album, which was released in August, 2004.
Beautifully Human is perhaps even more personal than Words, and is again most interesting for Scott's lyrics. Other than the wonderful acid jazzy first single, "Golden," the disc is not about big hooks or particularly catchy melodies -- which makes Scott an acquired taste for many listeners. Instead, it is about extremely engaging prose, surrounded by tasty jazz, soul and hip-hop grooves and delivered in Scott's versatile fashion. The album's focus is again on love, broadly defined, including the sensual love of newlyweds, but also including the love of a community; love that is strong enough to overlook the weaknesses of each of its members. This is best illustrated in "Family Reunion," on which Scott lovingly talks about a gathering of imperfect family members, all struggling with personal issues but coming together due to and invisible yet powerful tie (and here finishing happily in a family dance to a Frankie Beverly record). Perhaps even stronger is "The Fact Is (I Need You)," a song that beautifully proclaims female independence while celebrating the mutual need of husband and wife for personal completeness. As honest a love song as you'll hear this year.
Beautifully Human won't have you humming all day long to easy-to-digest melodies (this isn't a Lionel Richie album). But you'll be listening closer than you do to most discs, as Scott provides the feel of an urban coffee house and a nice change of pace from much of the mindless, beat conscious music that currently dominates pop and urban radio.
In late 2006, Hidden Beach Records released a very good album of collaborations by Scott, but fans were really waiting for her next studio album. Long waiting fans can begin to breathe easier. Jill Scott returned in 2007 with the album The Real Thing on Hidden Beach Records. However, her relationship with Hidden Beach grew rocky as the label fought for survival and Scott looked to expand her career into acting and a bigger stage. In March, 2011, Scott signed with Warner Bros and later that Spring released The Light of the Sun. She followed it in August with From The Vault, Vol. 1, a solid collection of previously unreleased tracks from her Hidden Beach days.
by Chris Rizik