OKP Exclusive Interview: 'Who Is Jill Scott?' -- Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of a Stunning Debut
If Who Is Jill Scott? was the question when Jilly from Philly made her stellar album debut 15 years ago today, then her new project, Woman, is the definitive answer. Back then, she blossomed as a beautifully lyrical poet and singer with undeniable talent and depth. A 28-year-old with a magical voice, she dared us to live, love, fight and enjoy the world and our relationships fully, sensually, and without apology. Her introduction on July 18th, 2000 was met with Grammy Award nominations (four total for the album: Best R&B Album in 2001, with "Gettin' in the Way," "A Long Walk," and "He Loves Me” each being nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2001, 2002, and 2003). It’s also worth noting that the LP’s twelfth track, "The Roots (Interlude)," is an excerpt from a live version of The Roots' Grammy-winning single "You Got Me" from 1999 -- a song that featured Erykah Badu, but was co-written by Jill (as our very own Questlove recently reminded everyone via Instagram earlier this week).
Instantly captivating in both presence and spirit -- have you seen that smile? -- Scott has maintained her place in hearts and ears by being Beatifully Human (2004), The Real Thing (2007), and The Light of the Sun (2007) for the past 15 years. From the beginning, she was more than a stunning voice and brilliant writer -- she embodied the essence of what women aspired to be and what men desired to attain (and yet, was somehow still believable portraying the less-than-confident Sheila in Why Did I Get Married?). Now also a busy actress and mother, she's currently on tour in support of Woman -- due on July 24th and available for pre-order here. Scott took a moment yesterday to answer a few questions as we celebrate one of the best R&B debut albums of the past fifteen years: Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1.
OKP: Can you tell us what you remember from recording that debut project -- who you were as a person and what that experience was like for you?
Jill Scott: At the time, what I remember most is definitely how broke we all were. Sharing sandwiches and walking to the studio. I remember going to Great Adventures -- we all took a day off, all the producers -- with like $12 between us. We even went to McDonald's to get those bags because they had discounts for [the park] on them. It was just so much fun... I really remember how much fun we had making the record. It was crazy late nights. We all had jobs at the time and were trying to keep our heads afloat while still making the record. It was magic. We would go from one room to the next room and everybody had something different and everybody was excited about sharing what they had with me and it was just fun. I didn't think twice about anything that I was doing. It was just so much fun.
OKP: Is there a song in particular that even now -- 15 years later -- that song or the experience of how it came to life stands out for you?
JS: The way the music happened then was like all music. I just walked into the room and it just kinda clicked. “He Loves Me” was really the same way. I always kept my composition book and pen with me and I was saying the words before I was writing the words. Everyone was like "write it down! Write it down!" There's no guarantee that it's gonna come back once it's spewing out and that's pretty much the way that everything happened. It was just so easy and so much fun. I tried to recreate the same energy and came pretty close with this new album.
OKP: Which leads to our next question: how would you describe the differences between making WIJS and making Woman?
JS: It was a little harder this time. In fact, it was a lot harder because I've been searching for inspiration. Just really, really trying to dig in and dig in the crates and find music that I love, and voices that I love, and energy that I'm interested in. I went back to Millie Jackson. I went back to country music -- I love the simplicity of the stories. I went through my journals -- I've kept a journal since I was twelve, so I went through my journals, especially over the last ten years and started to ask questions of myself and look at myself clearly. I've had a son, so I'm more responsible than I used to be. I have to be. So that was a challenge, recording while having a child. In the studio, the night time is the right time. So I'd roll out of there at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning and then [my son]'s up at 6:30 talking about "what we having for breakfast?" So in the beginning it really hurt. It was really painful just being so tired but wanting to continue both with all my heart. But I knew that I had to get my village in order, so I started to stay in hotels after the studio. My nanny would take my son to school, I'd pick him up, spend the day with him, hang out, put him to bed, and then I'd go to the studio.
OKP: So if Who Is Jill Scott? was the initial question and Woman is now a definitive answer, any thoughts on what might be next?
JS: I have no idea! We'll see. There are always ways to define oneself. I look at the girl that I was and I look at the woman that I am and I have far more responsibility now. I have to work harder for simple pleasures, but they're worth it. Taking walks, hanging out with friends, dancing, being silly -- I have to work a little bit harder for those now, but life is good. Life is really good. I'm just really, really enjoying where I am.