There’s always been something very special about Jazmine Sullivan. While mainstream R&B artists catered toward multiple variations of Hip Hop, Philadelphia’s own songstress remained rooted in the genre’s rich past despite being spearheaded then by Missy Elliott. This has lead to a very specific level of consistently great albums since making her debut through 2008’s remarkable Fearless. Unfortunately, changing trends really pushed her and those with similar levels of traditionalism to the background. That could be one reason Sullivan’s five year hiatus following the release of her critically loved sophomore follow-up Love Me Back went unnoticed. Five years later, R&B faces a third divider through its emerging alternative sect. One would think the “Need U Bad” singer would fall further into oblivion by now as a result. Instead, Sullivan openly embraces every modern angle of the genre while remaining rooted in her orthodox skill-set in striking comeback Reality Show.
Off the bat, Sullivan’s songwriting ability is noticeably stronger this time around. Reality Show’s concept blends the soap opera ridiculousness of popular docu-dramas with deep truths about society at large. That blunt honesty displayed on scorned woman anthem “Bust Your Windows” is amplified significantly. Those looking for realistic context into the vainglorious lives of female reality television stars may find comfort in “Mascara.” There’s a level of depth that doesn’t judge subjects that also extends to following track “Brand New,” which wouldn’t find itself too out of place within a plotline of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop. Sullivan smoothly exhibits multiple emotions that are often crass but always sincere.
Thankfully, that level of lyrical detail extends to more grounded situations including album highlight “Silver Lining.” A narrative revolving a robbery and the conditions surrounding the failed attempt, there’s a blending of everything that makes Reality Show 2015’s first great R&B album. Most notably, Key Wane’s melodic production equally knocks with more contemporary drum patterns and therein lies the album’s second successful pillar: its stellar production. Reality Show features a ton of different sounds from the more Southern Hip Hop influenced intro and lead single, “Dumb” featuring fellow Philly native Meek Mill, 70s funk tuned “Stanley” and 80s R&B track “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)” to indie-rock closer “If You Dare.” Sullivan holds several sounds together tight, insuring all twelve cuts purposely transitions well into the next.
Then again, there’s one last presence that keeps the entire project synchronized sonically; Sullivan’s dynamic vocal ability. It’s no secret, her singing ability was always earth shattering, but this time it’s damn near miles ahead of her R&B peers. As Sullivan delivers 2015’s soulful equivalent of Yo-Yo and Ice Cube’s “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme” in “#HoodLove,” themes of what a “real bitch do” are made more powerful by those unshaken pipes. Control becomes the center aspect of Reality Show’s tonal performance. Sullivan completely knows when to hold back and to let loose with all she has.
Sullivan’s long time away from music has given her a new outlook on life and Reality Show is all the better because of it. Her excellence bleeds into songwriting and production while her crooning is as good as ever.