In 2008 and 2009, Jazmine Sullivan was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including best new artist and best R&B song for not one, but two tracks off her highly touted 2008 debut album, "Fearless" (J Records). The set debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and has sold more than 500,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"I actually started writing it, I did," the singer/songwriter says with a chuckle about her planned discourse. "I don't know yet exactly what I'll say, but it'll be my first speech, so it'll be special."
Born in Philadelphia, the 23-year-old artist says she found out about the tribute in early November while attending the Soul Train Music Awards in Atlanta, and "completely freaked out."
"It's Billboard, which has to do with your actual records that you put out and where they are placed amongst your peers," she says. "To be considered somebody who is going places and recognized for my music is an honor."
Going places indeed. Lady Gaga was last year's recipient. "It's all you had to say about that award for me to be completely geeked," Sullivan says. "I absolutely love her."
But this award isn't about those who have come before her. It will be a celebration of Sullivan's own triumphs and where her bright future will surely lead her. "Jazmine Sullivan is more than just her excellent and ever-growing catalog of R&B hits," Billboard editorial director Bill Werde says. "She brings incredible soul and feeling to her music. She came out of the gate with a debut album that merited critical acclaim and mass appeal, and her second album shows her range and her staying power. We can expect to hear a lot more from this rising star."
A 'FEARLESS' INTRODUCTION
Sullivan debuted in September 2008 with "Fearless" and has continued to build her fan base since. The album spawned four top 40 hits on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally, led by the chart-topping first single "Need U Bad," which reigned for four weeks.
"Need U Bad" was followed by "Bust Your Windows," which peaked at No. 4; "Lions, Tigers & Bears," which reached No. 10; and "In Love With Another Man," which topped off at No. 37. Now, slightly more than two years later, Sullivan is back with her follow-up album, "Love Me Back" (Nov. 30), which she describes as a natural progression since her debut. The set features production from collaborators Missy Elliott and Salaam Remi, as well as No I.D., Bei Maejor and Ne-Yo.
Jazmine Sullivan, "Holding You Down (Goin' in Cirlces)"
"The first album was very much based off a relationship that I had just gotten out of, and it was not healthy at all, which is where songs like 'Bust Your Windows,' among others, came from," she says of the album. "There was a lot of hurt and anger on that set, and a lot of songs reflected that. But this album shows a much softer side of me. I wanted to show a different, more positive side of relationships, especially since I'm in one that's a little healthier than the previous one."
Still, first single "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)," which reached No. 3 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, describes a female reflecting on her choice to remain in an unhealthy relationship. Sullivan says the reason for it is that although she's much happier now, "there is struggle in every relationship, and I take a very realistic approach to my music."
It's this down-to-earth, relatable attitude that makes Sullivan so likable to her fans and peers. "One of the things that makes her so special is that people can relate to her music and the words in her songwriting," J Records senior VP of marketing/product manager Carolyn Williams says. "That's why I'm so excited about this album -- it's her best work to date because she's grown so much as a singer and a songwriter. She continues to touch her core fan base, which is females."
Other songs on the album include second single "10 Seconds," which finds Sullivan giving a cheating boyfriend exactly 10 seconds to leave before she loses her cool. The video recently debuted and Sullivan says she's more excited about her visual creativity this time around because she's more involved with the process.
"I put a lot of hard work into the videos in comparison to the first album because I have a clearer vision of what I want them to be," she says. And much like the overall vibe of the set, Sullivan says, the clip for "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)" is "younger, more fun, because that's who I am. I wanted to capture that so I made sure to make a few suggestions."
Other tracks include "Famous," which Sullivan describes as not just about being a star but "wanting to feel special and important to somebody."
There's also the love song "Excuse Me," which Sullivan says is in contention to be the album's third single. "It's a great, feel-good, classic love song that you're going to love forever," she says. "It's going to be one of those that's going to be here for a while."
What's next for the artist? Fresh off Mary J. Blige's Music Saved My Life tour, Sullivan will embark on a promotional run, which kicks off in a couple of weeks. The label has been posting two new tracks per week on Sullivan's Facebook page since early November, Williams says. In addition, a MySpace album premiere will launch the week before street date, and the set will be available for streaming on her site.
Video: Jazmine Sullivan, "10 Seconds"
Meanwhile, Sony Music U.K. executives are focusing on giving Sullivan a great British new year. "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)" will be promoted to British audiences at the turn of 2011, with a Jan. 16 release date scheduled. The "Love Me Back" album is due Nov. 29 in the United Kingdom.
Matt Ott, publicist with RCA Label Group in London, says a U.K. visit by Sullivan is planned for the second quarter.
"The new tracks are absolutely breathtaking," he says. "This album should reach out to those who've supported Jazmine from the beginning, while looking to cross over to a more mainstream audience. We look forward to her coming over to our shores in the spring."
Sullivan made her first foray into the U.K. market when, some nine months after her U.S. launch, "Dream Big" became her first British single in February 2009. She made her initial European visit the following September, playing three consecutive nights at London's Jazz Cafe, coinciding with the U.K. release of the "Fearless" album and another single from the set, "Bust Your Windows."
Media coverage at the time included such specialist press as Blues & Soul magazine and a live session for MTV U.K. Sullivan's spring will include not only plenty of promotion but also concert dates.
Back in the United States, in addition to the Facebook rollout, an album preorder on iTunes has been running since October. Sullivan also shot a movie with Ne-Yo, titled "Red Tails," and is planning another tour in the upcoming year.
But for now, Sullivan has a few things on her immediate checklist: "I want to be a household name. I want to inspire great music and be known for that," she says.