Jill Scott: The Billboard Cover Story
Jill Scott: The Billboard Cover Story

A word that captures Jill Scott's vibe of late? "Free."

"That's the word I've been using," Scott says with a laugh. She's calling in from Baltimore, one of the stopovers on a promotional tour in support of her new album, "The Light of the Sun." With its June 21 release, Scott -- singer, songwriter, actor, poet -- not only ends a four-year hiatus from new music, but her fourth studio album is the first project under a recently minted distribution partnership between her Blues Babe Records and Warner Bros.

"It's exciting, because it's on my own terms," Scott says. "I feel like my eyes are going to bulge out of my head. It's like starting all over again. Music shouldn't be a chore or feel like any kind of burden. It's free and alive. And that's where I am."

Jill Scott Aiming for first No. 1 Album on Billboard 200

You can also find her back on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with "So in Love," featuring Anthony Hamilton. Kelvin Wooten (Raphael Saadiq, Mary J. Blige) produced the breezy lead single, which gave Scott the highest debut of her career when it bowed at No. 43. Having since broken into the top 10 (No. 10) on the tally, the song also ascends to No. 1 on Adult R&B. Among the stations playing "So in Love" in power rotation is adult R&B WYLD New Orleans, whose PD notes that Scott's return adds another fortifying voice to the R&B scene.

Video: Jill Scott featuring Anthony Hamilton, "So in Love"

"R&B is thriving right now with good quality records from urban AC and urban mainstream acts like Charlie Wilson, R. Kelly, Trey Songz, Ledisi and now Jill," says Derrick Corbett, director of urban programming for WYLD parent Clear Channel. " 'So in Love' is vibrant, and the combination of Jill and Anthony gives you a Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway feel. It's feel-good music that sounds good on the radio."

Scott's re-emergence also signals a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Her long walk back to this point started nearly two years ago following a concerted focus on her acting career. Those acting highs during the last four years included such projects as HBO's critically acclaimed "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." Those were tempered, however, by her divorce from husband Lyzel Williams in 2007, after six years of marriage. A year later, Scott was engaged to her former drummer, Lil' John Roberts, and carrying her first child, Jett Hamilton Roberts. After her son's birth in 2009, Scott broke up with her fiancé.

Then another low point arrived in 2010 when irreconcilable differences arose between Scott and Hidden Beach Recordings, her home for 10 years. In the midst of recording songs for "The Light of the Sun," she was countersued by Hidden Beach, which claimed she had exited halfway through a six-album contract. The lawsuit was settled earlier this year, with Hidden Beach slated to release the first album in a series of previously unreleased Scott music, "Just Before Dawn," in August.

"That process wasn't fun for anyone involved," says Shawn Gee, her longtime business partner and president/CEO of Sports & Entertainment Financial Group, whose clients include Lil Wayne, Kanye West and Drake. "Now both sides are moving forward."