From its reggae-tinged opening salvo to its emotionally charged lyrics, Jazmine Sullivan’s “Need U Bad” appeared destined to hit the top of the charts, as it did when it was released last year.
But it almost didn’t make it to radio. Even though Sullivan co-wrote the tune, she fretted about putting it out as her debut single.
“I was a little hesitant to do the song because it was so different from everything else that was on the radio. It (has) a reggae vibe and I didn’t know how people would accept it,” she said.
It’s clear she’s been accepted now.
Not only was the song a rousing success (it was No. 1 on the R&B charts), it put her on the path to potential Grammy gold. The 21-year-old Philadelphia native, who only released her debut CD “Fearless” last fall, received a stunning five Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist, pitting her against the Jonas Brothers, Lady Antebellum, Duffy and Adele. Her five nods put her on par with veteran acts like Alison Krauss, who also received five.
“It was unbelievable,” the smiling Sullivan said during a rehersal break before a club performance. “Just one was enough, but five is just amazing.”
With “Fearless,” Sullivan has crafted an album that includes ’60s pop, ’80s dance and contemporary R&B. Sullivan worked mostly with Missy Elliott and Saleem Remi (who has worked with Amy Winehouse and Nas). She also co-wrote a track on labelmate Jennifer Hudson’s self-titled debut.
“Need U Bad” is about a woman pleading for her lover to come back — a familiar refrain in music. But what has made her debut so compelling are songs that tell stories and express emotions outside the typical love song. “Call Me Guilty” is about a woman who kills her abusing mate, and the Grammy-nominated “Bust Your Windows” is cringe-inducing for any man who has cheated — or has considered it.
“I’m influenced by everything when I write. It can be speaking to my girlfriends or very personal (things) from my experiences,” she said. “That’s one thing that separates my album from a lot of other albums — it’s so diverse and that’s who I am.”
Sullivan’s risk-taking attitude convinced Peter Edge, president of A&R at J Records, to offer her a record deal after she was dropped by Jive Records at 18. He sought her out after listening to her demo (she had sang and wrote the song “Say I,” which was later sold to Christina Milian and became a top 40 hit in 2006).
“When I found Alicia (Keys) and developed her it was the uniqueness of her that totally impressed me. There’s nobody like her, there’s still nobody like her, and I feel that Jazmine has that unique quality, that voice (and) that writing ability,” he said.
Edge believes the singer’s newest single, the dramatic “Lions, Tigers and Bears,” will take the performer to the next level. In the song, Sullivan sings: “I’m not scared of lions, tigers and bears, but I’m scared of loving you.”
“She cut that song right at the beginning of us working together and we knew that (it) was the magic song. That’s the career defining song,” Edge said.
Though her CD is titled “Fearless,” there are other songs on the CD that talk about being scared. On the song “Fear, “ she namedrops things she’s afraid of — the dark, being in love, and whether her CD would flop or not.
Despite her recent success, Sullivan says her fears haven’t been eased — in fact, she has even more to add to her list.
“I think there are more fears now, more pressure for what’s to come,” Sullivan said.
But she’s just fine with that.
“I can take it though,” she said, smiling once again. “I’m a fighter.”