Three-time Grammy Award-winning R&B icon Jill Scott is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her classic debut album “Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol 1,” with a nationwide tour arriving Feb. 12 at at the Chicago Theatre.
Scott says that the show is just as unpredictable as any of her concerts, but for the first time, she’ll be performing the entire album in order.
“Honestly, every show that I’ve ever done has been different from the day before and three days after that. They’re all energy-based and I know my audience. They’re so passionate about ‘Who is Jill Scott.’ So passionate,” said Scott.
“Now that I’ve been rehearsing [the album] and we’re playing the whole album, it reminds me of a play. That’s what so interesting about it now. I’ve never played the album from beginning to end. I was always trying to pick stuff and move it around to fit with the flow of the concert, but now that I’ve been playing the songs as they are on the album, it’s a play. It really is.”
The steamy masterpiece was a groundbreaking staple of the neo-soul era of the 2000s that influenced a generation of R&B singers, spoken-word artists and writers. To Scott, it had everything to do with a higher power.
“I believe in divine intervention and I think it has a lot to do with that,” said Scott. “The atmosphere was pure and the space I was in at the time, I just loved it. And it surprised me because I didn’t know anybody who was doing that. But I did it because I had to. And I’m proud of it.”
“It really bugs me out. It’s thrilling to me that my work is taken so seriously and is appreciated. ... I’ve met people that have made their babies to my music, get married to it, take road trips, camping spots. It bugs me out all of the time.”
Just like her shows, the album was made in a free-flowing, spontaneous and inspired fashion.
“[The songs] all kind of just poured out and that was the best part of being in the studio where there were multiple producers. I would bounce from room to room and there was always something brewing. If I walked in and heard something, I would immediately write to it.”
For Scott, the making of the album was also one of the most liberating moments of her life.
“The creation of it felt better to me than working at the theater company. It felt better to me than working a nine-to-five or whatever. It felt better to me than even school,” she said.
Scott had an equally liberating time singing about the beauty of black hair when she was featured on an episode of ABC’s “black-ish” in January. The episode explored what it meant to have black hair, a topic that rekindled vivid memories for the singer.
“That has been a journey for me for sure,” said Scott. “I came home from college with all my hair chopped off. My grandmother told me to leave her sight, she was so disgusted. So angry that I would cut off all of my ‘beautiful’ hair. So being part of this particular show talking about hair, it was really cathartic. I really enjoyed listening to everybody’s take on their hair and knowing that they’re not alone in just discovering what it is that makes you happy with your appearance.”
“My point of view has always been it doesn’t matter what you have on your head, it’s still black. You could have whole tangled roots and still be a black woman. If you shave it bald, wear it blonde, do whatever you want really and you’re still going to be a black woman. So, when they asked me to write the song for that particular portion of the show, I was geeked. I sat up late night with my sister talking about hair. What I really wanted to say was that you’ll still be melanin brown no matter what you do,” she added.
Mark Braboy is a local freelance writer.