Interview: JILL SCOTT

Words: Richard “The Hobbit” Bamford


It seems a great deal less than four years ago that Philly soul queen Jill Scott and her debut (Who Is…? – Words and Sounds Vol. 1) breathed new life into a music that in her words (and sounds), “Is more than just soul, it’s about music you can relate to; from one human to another”. Jill Scott possesses a love emitting aura; the softness of her voice, the lazy blink of her beautiful, big, brown eyes and the boundless passion with which she speaks about every subject. She’s in love with life and she wants to share it with the world; and for one brief, rainy afternoon in a swanky, Park Lane hotel, with me. She sits casually in the corner of the room, looking slender, dressed in velvet, with a fluffy, cream beret, tilted to the right. Though welcoming, Jill seems somewhat shy and surprisingly humble for one gifted with such an amazing voice and the ability to reduce men to tears with her soul-stirring stage show. As with her song writing, her personality is both witty and poetic and questions of the love of her life are soon underway.

How’s married life?

It’s EXCELLENT! Loving it, loving it.

Has marriage changed your song-writing or is it all about love?

It’s changed my life and my life dictates the music. So I guess that’s a yeah.

Is two now the magic number?

[Laughs] No! One is still the magic number. If I feel like I’m not one hundred percent in myself then there’s no way I could have a successful marriage coz I’d then be looking to him to make me whole. He doesn’t make me whole he just adds a REALLY nice flavour to my tea.

Some may be critical of your four year (musical) interval; aside from getting hitched to Lyzel, you’ve initiated work on an album for children entitled, Brown Baby Lullabies and have a book about to drop called The Minutes, the Moments, the Hours – hardly a holiday?

Brown Baby Lullabies I’ve not done yet; I’m waiting until I’m pregnant.

Is it something you intend to release though?

Yeah! I’m waiting coz I really wanna know what it means to have a life inside and I don’t know about that feeling yet.

Is it something you expect to know about any time soon?

[Laughs] No! We gotta cat called Stacey. I figure we take it a little at a time. There’s something else in our house besides each other to love and that’s nice. I think that will lead the way for children.

When’s the book out?

The book is due out in April of 2005 and is a poetry book.

What sort of poetry?

It’s about stuff that happens between the minutes, the moments, the hours. For me it’s very human; taste, touch, smell, what you see and hear and that’s the kinda poetry that I write. I like people watching. I like to sit in the back of a place and become invisible and just watch people be people. I LOVE that.

On “Who Is Jill Scott” the songs seemed to be quite autobiographical – about you and your life and neighbourhood rather than made up stories; is the same true for the new album?

It’s the same core; I’m just in a different place. The rest of my music for the rest of my life will be the same core coz I like my core; it’s just the life experiences, whether old or new. As an entertainer you can sing somebody else’s stuff and do anything really but as an artist you have to be very genuine to yourself and that means being really honest and sharing what’s going on in your life. If you don’t then I think it translates and people can see it.

“I’m not afraid” is clearly an ode to your husband and Whatever lyrically is somewhat risque. Does Lyzel mind?

No! Not at all. It bigs him up SO much and makes him look really good. He is really good though [laughs]. I mean the difference between screwing and making love is SO dramatic. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a grand ole time just screwing the day away but there’s another level of freedom and another level of WILD passion that comes with having sex with someone that you love. I believe that the moment I said “I DO” and the moment the preacher announced us husband and wife, there was a next level of love; I loved him as a friend, I loved him as a boyfriend, I loved him as a fiance and now I’m loving him as a wife and all of that is compiled together into this with some new things I didn’t know about men and some new things I didn’t know about myself.

Such as what?

Well, I really like my role as queen. I LOVE being the woman of the household, I LOVE being the queen. Not to say I’m big on cooking dinner and washing clothes coz those are things that have to be done coz they have to be done and he does those things as well; I like having to say, “let me speak to my husband about that”, I like the fact that I can make decisions but now I have a king and I have to bring it to the king first before I make those kinda decisions and he does the same thing for his queen. He’s not above me in any way shape or form and I feel very comfortable in our roles as king and queen or husband and wife of the household. It suits me, it makes me feel more confident, more prepared for the world. I know that if I were to fall backwards, he would catch me and he would lift me in a way that wasn’t, “Well DAMM IT, why didn’t you stand up” but more “I understand that you needed to fall then, don’t worry, I have you”.

You sound very happy?

Oh I am [she bashfully reveals]

My grandmother tells me that as wife, as queen, there is a certain level of manipulation that must be done that isn’t harmful or hurtful but at times a king can be very stubborn and in nature we ARE different; xx does not equal xy. So at times for him I need to put things in a different light, though still truthful but in a way in which he will eventually not only say yes but think it is his idea and then it will be done. I don’t want to rule and he doesn’t rule but together we rule.

Ok! So with gentle persuasion?

That’s exactly it, GENTLE persuasion from time to time, yes!

Why is the new album called Beautifully Human?

Because I put a lot of humanity in the album; I put what it means to be queen of a household, the angst that can be had with a government that you cannot trust but in a loving way coz I love to love my country and I love to have faith in it but at this point, most people in the United States feel very uncomfortable with the way things are going. There’s a bit of a story about someone understanding that it takes more than finances and things to woo me or court me, to win me; so I guess I talk about dating to a certain degree. I talk about family.

On Family reunion right?

Right! It’s just some little things about how flawed we are and how funny we be but nonetheless it’s still family. The song Golden is about my freedom but more about having strength enough to know that there are certain things that your spirit just WILL NOT TAKE or tolerate. Everybody needs to make money, I’m clear on that because we need to live but on saying that we tend to miss out on life so much and those quiet, inexpensive, free things. I talk about where I am and how I live my life now in comparison to how I was living my life before. The first album was of my past experiences going into my current experiences and this album is my absolute current experiences. It’s been the last two years of my life I’ve put into this album and taking my freedom is SO dam important for me coz I lived as an artist which is fine because I love that but the level of work that is asked for is unfair to the human spirit; “turn on right now!” It’s unfair, you have to regenerate. You give a lot on stage and if you’re like a robot that can just do a show and go to bed as if it’s nothing then bravo to you but I give SO much on stage I can’t do that. The album for me is a tool for people to learn the words so they can sing along and when we get in person I do a whole other spin on the music and the vocals and it is very much a spiritual experience and it’s funny and it’s smart. Everything I put into the music turns a thousand percent up when I do my live thing. My live performances I’ve had men who cry and they HAVE IT! I think that’s so good coz why shouldn’t you feel too? Everybody! Let’s have it, everybody needs it.

And I guess you have a Maze thing going on as you mention Frankie Beverly on Family Reunion too?

Absolutely! Frankie’s lyrics are so poignant. Every time I went to one of his show’s and he burst into Golden Time of Day, I would burst into tears and it made me feel so blessed to be alive; [recites song] “There are times in your life, when you know who you are and that’s the golden time of day”. During my time off I listened to three albums, two of them Anthology’s; Frankie Beverly and Maze, a Minnie album and a rapper name[d] T.I… I’m sure a lot of those things came through in my new album.

This album has quite a range of production talents.

It does.

Though still blessed with A Touch of Jazz, I didn’t notice Jazzy Jeff on the credits. How come?

Jeff doesn’t really produce. He has a production company; PNutt and Anthony Bell produced Golden and both of them are in the Touch of Jazz camp and they both work with him. So those are the two from Touch of Jazz and other guys that were in Touch of Jazz that have now branched on. So there’s Andre Harris and Vidal Davis, there’s Ivan and Carvin, there’s Keith Pelzer and Darren Henson; those were all in A Touch of Jazz but have now branched out into those particular groups and I worked with them because they give me what I’m looking for, which is a complete story. I don’t care for producers that give me snippets, I want the whole thought, I want everything.

So it’s like, theirs as much as yours?


Is there a difference between, RnB, neo soul, Philly soul?

No not really. RnB has pop elements but I like pop music. Soul? There’s no such thing as neo soul or whatever; it’s either young or old.

You were crowned the queen of neo soul though?

It seems a lot of people want to be crowned with that but I’m not looking for that; I have heard about it but I can’t worry about it. I’m the queen of Jill Scott and my house and my music and my life.

What is it about Philadelphia and this unique sound?

Philly music, I think generally is human, it’s very passionate and there’s a lot of story telling which I like very much.

I guess as you’re a poet your song lyrics are very important to you? You literally sing about loose bowls on Love Rain (after eating collard greens) and make it sound like a beautiful thing.

[Laughs loud] The bowls part wasn’t really the point; the point was being wide open and loose and I just loved that metaphor. It again is about things that people can relate to that IS human. My music is always just human music you know with your soul and your flaws, your perfections, your stupidity and your genius all rolled up in one thing which is good stuff.

When did you write your first poem?

I’d written stuff from about nine but I kept it to myself and my cousin read my diary and it made me stop writing out of defiance and spite.

Had the cousin teased you?

YES! It was embarrassing coz they were my private feelings and I didn’t particularly care for her very much; she found my diary, broke the lock and read it and not only that, but shared it with other people in my neighbourhood. I was like, nine years old and that was horrible.

Thankfully you put that behind you?

Yes! I love poetry. It’s like one of those check list things; like one day, I want to climb Mount Everest. I’m literally going down my list to check off things that I’ve ever wanted to do.

What’s on your list?

On my list I want to have a child, two if possible, I would like to become a chef which means taking time out from music to go to school. I wanted to write a book of poetry, which I did. I wanted to direct a video, which I did. I wanted to be in a movie, which I did. I wanted to be in a Broadway play, which I did. I wanted to sing with George Benson, which I did. I wanted to get married, which I did. [Laughs] So far so good uh?

What was bigger for you, sharing the stage with Aretha or walking down Sesame Street with Grover?

Oh my! Sesame Street. Yes! Yes! YES! It was… IN-CRED-IBLE! It was INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE. Walking on the set, I felt like I was four years old. I saw Big Bird and I started running and screaming. Big Bird is like seven feet tall.

Did you meet Kermit?

Kermit wasn’t there but Snuffalupacous was, Elmo was, Oscar was there. I didn’t get to meet Maria.

Or Bob?

Oh Baaaaaaab [she passionately wails]. I liked them all so much. I didn’t get a chance to meet Ernie and Burt coz that woulda been cool. What’s interesting is I’m talking to THE MAN and we’re getting ready to go do the show and when he puts Elmo on his hand, I kid you not, I completely forgot about the man and I was TOTALLY talking to Elmo. It was like he just disappeared. I got so drawn in, Elmo had to tell me that Kevin (Elmo’s operator) wanted to speak to me. [Laughs] It’s SO WONDERFUL! Ahhh! I sat on the steps, I took pictures of the store, and I got a picture of Oscar in the trash can. I LO-V-ED IT!

Is Elmo your favourite?

Oh I like them all. Even the ones we don’t know. I talked to a lion and a giraffe and hung out with The Bird. What’s funny is the people are under this set with their hands working and I know they’re there but I don’t CARE about them. It’s THAT believable. I look at this thing that I know is made out of fabric but it blinks and it looks at me and it has eye-lashes and I just want to kiss everything. I kissed EVERY animal. It was one of the BEST experiences I have EVER had. ABSOLUTELY!

How many words and sounds do you think you have left in you?

I don’t know. It depends on how long I live. There will be projects in between the Words and Sounds, like the experience album in between these two and then Brown Baby Lullabies whenever we’re blessed to have children and other things too. I’ll end up doing some house music, some garage and whole albums too. I definitely hear an opera album for myself. I’m taking it one day at a time and I’m not trying to prove myself. I’m just gonna live so I have stuff to talk about.

Well it’s been fantastic to meet you and talk to you.

Oh no thank YOU! And thank you SO much for a very, very, very good and thought out interview.

Assignment: Richard ‘The Hobbit’ Bamford
Evidence: Courtesy of label