'The Real Thing,' According to Jill Scott

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The soul singer's new album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3, is generating quite a buzz. The award-winning singer talks about the events of her seven-year, singing career, including a new film in the works.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Who is Jill Scott?

(Soundbite of song, "Jilltro")

Ms. JILL SCOTT (Singer): (Rapping) What's up, everybody? I'm glad to see you all here tonight. It's nice to get…

MARTIN: Well, she posed the question in her 2000 debut, "Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1."

(Soundbite of song, "Jilltro")

Ms. SCOTT: (Rapping) I love to write poetry, I love to read my poetry, but, basically, what I live for is…

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Love, love.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Inspiration.

MARTIN: Now, seven years and five albums later, she reveals the answer with the release of "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3."

Jill Scott joins us now from our New York bureau. I hope she'll also tell us a little bit about her new film. Welcome, Jill Scott.

Ms. SCOTT: Welcome. Such a nice way to introduce someone. Thanks a lot.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. There are a lot of ideas on this album, a lot of really strong thoughts. Let's just start - let's hear a little bit just from the very first track, "Let it Be."

(Soundbite of song, "Let It Be")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) Why do, do, do I, I, I, I, feel trapped inside of a box when I just don't fit into it. Maybe I've been scared knowing what's there in front of me. Maybe I been tryin' to be what they needed me to be, when I should have just been me.

MARTIN: What do you think were you going for here? I love the range. What were you going for?

Ms. SCOTT: I just wanted to be unexpected, one. I also wanted to make a statement. You know, whatever's going to happen in the process of this album as you listen to it, allow it to be without judging it or making or having preconceived notions of what I sound like or what I'm going to do next.

MARTIN: This album also has a lot of what I would call grown folks conversation.

Ms. SCOTT: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Some grown folks conversation. And for folks who don't know what I'm talking about, you know, there's conversations you want the little people to have or to hear, and there's some conversations that are not for them. And there are some very adult things being discussed in this piece. And I want to play a little bit of one, "Insomnia."

(Soundbite of song, "Insomnia")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) You have managed to turn me from a woman of substance into a brick flying, calling too damn much, crying and crying, spying, way down, down low - the flat zone.

MARTIN: Are you singing about anything in particular? Anybody we know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCOTT: No, nobody you know. It is just - years ago, I was in a relationship, and I was basically chased and then dismissed. And, you know, that feels terrible, and I went back to that experience and just shared it with everybody.

(Soundbite of song, "Insomnia")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) But you're gone now. You're just gone now. You don't even think about the way I feel 'cause you're gone now. You're just gone now. And I know you should be right here.

MARTIN: There are other things in this album that are quite personal, and some very erotic imagery, but also some tough questions that you're asking yourself about that sexuality and what that sexuality does and where you go with that and so forth. And I don't want to sort of reveal all the surprises of the album. But I do wonder what it's going to be like for you to sing those songs day after day.

Ms. SCOTT: Hmm. Well, every song that I sing, I have to live in the moment. So if there's, you know, a sad song then I need to be sad for the five minutes while I sing it. And it depends on the night. Some nights I'm desperate, just torn apart. And some nights it's a passionate sadness, you know? But whatever the case, I have to get into that mode, into that emotion, because it's more for me than just singing the song. It's, you know, having the soul of the song come through the voice. So when it's time to be sexual and sensual, then that's what I'll be.

(Soundbite of song, "Celibacy Blues")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) This here, celibacy thing. Lord, just got something over me. Like an addict, I could really use a thing. You know what I'm talking about, yeah.

It is exhausting. It is exhausting when you've gone through a range of emotions in the hour and a half to two hours that I'm performing. I mean, I've come off the stage blind. I've come off the stage and passed out a few times, just from feeling it and, you know, being in that place, being in that moment.

MARTIN: But speaking of a range of emotions, you've been very open about the fact that you're going through a divorce from your husband. You've been together 11 years. I think you've been married for five - Lyzel Williams. That cannot be easy. And then you're a public figure. And then you're singing about very personal things. I just wonder how that all works together sometimes. Do you feel that people think that you're being autobiographical in a way that you wish they did not? Or is this therapeutic for you to sing about these sort of deep and personal, painful things?

Ms. SCOTT: Well, I'm a storyteller. So I tell stories. Some of them are mine. Far as how he may feel, I'm not him, clearly. But I would say to anyone who will date me in the future or possibly marry me, I'm an artist first. So the light and the dark is all going to show in the project. It's all going to come in every album, you know, whether ridiculously happy or miserable. It doesn't really make a difference. It's all going to come out in the wash. So whoever, you know, is next in line or whatever the case, they're going to have to understand that. And not a lot of people can deal with that.

MARTIN: But don't you have some process of thinking about why you chose this person to begin with that needs to be thought through?

Ms. SCOTT: I - yeah, went through all that. I did all that already. And then I gave it up. You know, there's no need for me to hold on to those things, except for the lessons. And that's it for me. You know, I know why I chose him. And I can't say that if I was in the same position that I wouldn't choose him again. He's a beautiful person. And I love him dearly, and will always love him. But I've grown and I've moved and I guess I'm reshaped, and we don't fit anymore. Our puzzle pieces don't fit. They don't fit for me. And that's life.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with singer-songwriter Jill Scott. Her latest CD is "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Volume 3."

When did you first realize you had this in you? When did you first realize you are an artist?

Ms. SCOTT: I don't know. That came with age. That came with maturity, I suppose. But when I had my first heartbreak, I wrote a poem because I couldn't sleep and I couldn't eat and I couldn't think. And it drove me crazy, but I needed to get all of it out. And once I wrote it and started to express it on stage - small stage, you know, no big deal to me at the time. It's, you know, it's poetry, really. So I'm just standing there, and it felt better. It just felt better. I was in Philadelphia, at a place called the October Gallery. And every other Friday, they would have poetry night. So you'd pay to get in and you read, you know, your work. And maybe some people like it, some don't. You just don't know. But it was more about creating the craft and understanding the craft.

MARTIN: Speaking about Philadelphia, there's so much talent that has come out of Philadelphia - The Roots, John Legend. Is there something in the water?

Ms. SCOTT: Pink, Belau(ph)…

MARTIN: Pink. That's right.

Ms. SCOTT: Jaguar Wright, Carol Riddick, (unintelligible)…

MARTIN: Is there something in the water there, in the cheese? Something? Something?

Ms. SCOTT: …and Patti LaBelle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What's going on?

Ms. SCOTT: Teddy Pendergrass. There's a certain level of realness in Philly. You know, just - people are people. You know, it doesn't matter who you are or who you think you are, you're just a person in Philly.

MARTIN: I remember back in 2000, though, when Erykah Badu and The Roots won the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or a group for "You Got Me." And I'm not sure many people know that you actually co-wrote that song with The Roots and originally sang the hook. Let's play a little bit.

Ms. SCOTT: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "You Got Me")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) If you were worried 'bout where I been or who I saw or what club I went to with my homies.

THE ROOTS: (Rapping) Check it now. Baby, don't worry you know right. Somebody told me that this planet was small. We used to live in the same building on the same floor.

Ms. SCOTT: Oh, My God. That's so long ago. Another…

MARTIN: Does it take you back?

Ms. SCOTT: It does take me back. And I remember how bad the sound was that night. And we were all struggling. And the only reason why I was on stage - I had no intentions of being there, but Erykah got caught in traffic. And it was time for that song, and they said, okay, Jill. You got to go. You got to sing it. So I did, but - even now, I listen to it and I just remember all the sound issues that we had.

MARTIN: Was is it hard, though, when they went on to win the Grammy for this song and you weren't on it?

Ms. SCOTT: Please. Girl, look, I was at home with my family and my friends and I fried fish and I made collard greens and corn bread and black-eyed peas and we sat around and we watched the Grammies. And when they won, my apartment shook. We were jumping up and down and going crazy because it felt good to be a part of something like that, you know, to see people that I respect so much doing their thing and me being, you know, having, you know, my hand in it. You know, it was incredible. It was so incredible.

(Soundbite of song, "You Got Me")

THE ROOTS: (Rapping) Show your love, ladies and gentlemen. Show your love, what they still got. Represent, Philadelphia, you know what I'm saying? Roots true.

MARTIN: Of course, there's no shame in your game, because you've gone on to do incredible things. But there's one song on that CD I wanted to ask you about -"Hate On Me."

Ms. SCOTT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Hate On Me")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) If I could give you the world on a silver platter, would it even matter? You'd still be mad at me. If I could find in all this a dozen roses, which I would give to you, you'd still be miserable.

MARTIN: Let's just set aside the kind of - there's a slamming beat.

Ms. SCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: But who would hate on you? You would hate on you?

Ms. SCOTT: Look. Somebody's hating on the pope right now. You know, it is what it is. People is, I think, it's their nature - some people's nature, in a way, to be angry or jealous or just spiteful about somebody else's blessings. And the song came from me experiencing that with my own family - some members of my family, friends that - I had to cut off a lot of friends or who I thought were friends in the course of these last seven years. It just - some people are just angry. And that was my declaration, saying it doesn't really matter. There's a destiny for everybody, and there's nothing you can do or say to diminish that.

(Soundbite of song, "Hate On Me")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) No matter where I live, despite the things I give, you'll always be this way. So go ahead and hate. Hate on me hater. Either now or later. 'Cause I'm gonna do me. I'm gonna do me. You'll be mad baby. Go head and hate. Go head and hate…

MARTIN: Do you think there's something about being a woman, a successful woman, a successful African-American person or woman that inspires some particular resentment on the part of some?

Ms. SCOTT: Well, I would say for every successful black woman in America or in the world, really, it's difficult to be the head of the household, financially. It is for the man in your life. It can be very hard for them. And there's a delicate balance. I'm not quite sure I know what that balance is just yet. Or maybe I haven't found the man to understand my position. But, you know, being a successful woman in general can bring you some hardships, you know, based on, you know, as far as relationships are concerned.

MARTIN: Would you like to get married again?

Ms. SCOTT: I would love to get married again, yes. Yes, I would.

MARTIN: What about kids?

Ms. SCOTT: Love to have children. I dream about it all the time. But I have to wait. I have to wait. I don't want a baby daddy. I just don't. I want whoever I have a child with, I hope and pray that that will be my husband. But for now, I'm just taking applications.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCOTT: And, you know, I'm just taking applications at the moment.

MARTIN: All right. And I just - I want to spend just a final minute or two talking about your new film, a Tyler Perry film. It's called "Why Did I Get Married?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't know if that's an ouch or a painful irony there. But tell me about the film. Tell me about the character you play.

Ms. SCOTT: Well, my character's name is Sheila. And Sheila suffers from low self-esteem, which drives me crazy. She's not somebody that I would want to spend my time with. I'll put it to you like that. Her other issue is that she is excessively overweight. She's about 300 pounds. And she's in a marriage -not that that's the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. However, when your mate doesn't see the beauty in you and tries to diminish you every possible chance, that makes it very trying and hurtful. And that's where Sheila lives. She lives in a place where she's just not loved.

MARTIN: Why were you drawn to this film?

Ms. SCOTT: I thought the writing was really good. I thought that it showed marriage in a real way, not in, you know, the fantasy world. It showed a real depiction of what marriage can be like for many people. You know, and then it's beautiful black people. I love that. You know, to have a story where we're not killing each other and it's not a whole bunch of negative words and, you know, it's a real, genuine story with heart and emotion and thought and - it's the large and the small that made me choose this film.

And I think that Sheila's so different from me. There's no way - I've been a range of weights. I've had a range of emotions, just like everybody else. And I cannot imagine being so low on myself that I would let somebody hurt me. You know, if it's hurting, then I got to keep it moving.

MARTIN: All right. Well, speaking of keeping it moving, you've been very generous with your time…

Ms. SCOTT: Thank you.

MARTIN: …and your spirit, and I appreciate it. What song shall we play as we go on?

Ms. SCOTT: I think you should play number nine, "How It Make You Feel."

MARTIN: Okay. Tell me about it.

Ms. SCOTT: It's a song that I wrote, created by Stokley from Mint Condition. And I'm saying what if every black female in the world disappeared? You know, not just the girlfriend or the wife, but your mother and your sister and your daughter and niece and all of us? We just disappeared, like the flash. How would it make you feel, you know? Would you respect us more then?

MARTIN: It's a thought. Let's ponder that…

Ms. SCOTT: Check it out.

MARTIN: …as we say goodbye. Jill Scott is an acclaimed singer and writer. Her album, "The Real Thing," comes out today. Her new movie, "Why Did I Get Married?" will be released in early October. She joined us from our bureau in New York.

Jill Scott, thanks you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. SCOTT: Thank you, too.

(Soundbite of song, "How It Make You Feel")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) Every time you feel if I was, if I was gone. Every time you feel…

MARTIN: For more of what you just heard from Jill Scott, please check out our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore. That's our program for today.

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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