"I like to tell stories. And I like to emote."
That's Jill Scott describing the common thread her music career, a brief but luminous seven-year stretch during which she's lit the cracks between spoken-word, R&B, hip-hop, and jazz. With the release today of her third studio album, "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3," the Grammy-winning singer and songwriter can add rock 'n' roll to the list.
A heavy electric guitar riff that would please Jimmy Page is the centerpiece of the album's title track, and the first single, "Hate on Me," bristles with uncorked fury far more typical of rockers than soul singers. "Hate on Me" is in part Scott's response to a rash of vitriolic comments posted about her on an Internet message board, and also to the disturbing reaction of some of her family and friends to her good fortune.
"There's this mentality in America where once you've had any modicum of success there are people who will find reasons to try to minimize you," Scott says. "We're all meant to shine, and to be angry or jealous because someone else's light is glowing - it's enough to make me write a song."
The songs on "The Real Thing" are loosely connected around a theme of freedom. Scott is going through a divorce from her husband of three years, and she probes the break in subtle ways on the album. On the surface, "All I" sounds like a sexy slow jam, but it's actually about trying to find a cure for a lifeless marriage. Deceptively swinging "Whenever You're Around" is an ode to the worst type of loneliness - the kind you feel in your partner's presence.
"I think that this album is very brave, musically, lyrically, and vocally, and that's how I feel now," Scott says. "I feel like I'm coming up from underwater, refreshed and revived, like my mojo is back. I feel completely free."
Scott explores erotic freedom in a pair of back-to-back tracks that are remarkable both for their graphic nature and their sheer poetry - qualities not often found in the same song. "Crown Royal," Scott's favorite piece of writing on the album, is a languid, stream-of-consciousness sketch of a sexual encounter. Heavily percussive "Epiphany" covers the same territory in even more charged, explicit detail, but with a plot twist. "So why do I feel so empty?" is Scott's startling last line.
The 15 tracks on "The Real Thing" feature a slew of styles and producers - among them Scott Storch (DMX, 50 Cent), Adam Blackstone (the Roots), Om'Mas Keith (Jay-Z), and Shafiq Husayn (Jurassic 5) - all gathered in pursuit of a mission outlined on the album's gorgeous, abstract opener, a meditation on open-mindedness.
" 'Let It Be' is for anyone," Scott says, "who thinks they know what or who I am."