jill scott reminded a generation how to love

April 26, 2019
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Jill Scott introduced herself to the public with a question: “Who is Jill Scott?” The exploration and finding the answer to the question, which also served as the name of her debut album, was a way to define herself; and in the process, define sensuality, power, and soul for my generation.

“So, this is making love. I can’t believe it,” Jill Scott sings on her song “Imagination/Crown Royal Suite”. The song quickly bleeds into the “Crown Royal,” a sultry piece of dynamite that oozes instead of explodes: “You’re getting so deep that I am breathing for you.” She resolves the erotic tension with “And you’re so thick and you are so crown royal on ice.” This is lovemaking on wax.

This has been Jill Scott’s discipline since she arrived. In my bedroom as a child, as I prepared myself to go to sleep. I listened to Jill Scott’s music without a clear intellectual or spiritual idea of what she was singing about, but already comprehending that I wanted to experience it — experience it all. This included the romantic buzz around her hit, “The Way.” I had not yet experienced a romantic relationship, but the eagerness in Jill Scott’s lyrics and voice made me want to desperately know what it was that she was so happy about, and if I could do something to deserve that sort of happiness.

The exquisite pain expressed on “Love Rain” also felt like something to be envied, not for the circumstances of a failed romantic relationship but because of the poeticism that made pain feel almost alluring. Jill Scott did not only make the heartbreak feel authentic, but crafted the beauty even in the struggle of lost love.

Tunes like “When I Wake Up”, “My Love”, and “Quick” saved me through my first real-life interactions with heartbreak. She mentored my heartstrings; and in lyrics like “when I wake up/everything will be beautiful” taught me how to have grace in the face of even the sharpest emotional turmoil.

Jill Scott articulated and taught love — its ups, its downs, its communal and romantic versions — to a generation. In the tradition of songstresses before her like Anita Baker, Sarah Vaughn, and Roberta Flack; Scott prioritized a tenderness and sensuality in her work that through recessions, wars, floods, and deaths, we could rely on. We could learn from. For two decades, Jill Scott has taken on the artistic responsibility of reminding people to love.

The most important love that Jill Scott centered and enforced in me is the love of self. “We spoke Swahili in the Seregenti. Don’t you remember me?” This song with its background coos and Scott’s bluesy voice used the neglect of a man to define and articulate her importance, her bigness, and her power. Is if to say that someone else’s misvalue of her does not then define her actual value: she remembers. She will always remember.

This type of self-definition was essential for me. I needed to witness someone in Black skin, with feminine performance, claim their autonomy and magic. Our Queen of Amore sings, “So many times I’ve defined my pride through somebody else’s eyes.” She punctuates the lyrics with a now-expected brand of sultry wisdom, “There’s just me. One is the magic number.”