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Jill Scott Biography

Last updated: 05/19/2012 12:00:00 PM

The question - Who Is Jill Scott? - has been posed. Take your time: The significance of the answer is considerable.

After all, what do you make of a Philadelphia-born woman whose mother, upon placing first eyes on her daughter, envisioned an exclamation point behind her chosen name, thus: Jill! What do you make of a woman who years ago recognized and named her altar ego Ami, without knowing it was I Am spelled backwards? A decisive woman who respects talent but favors soul. What we do know of Jill Scott is that she carries her spine straight; confidence, high; spirit, risen and pure. Simply, Jill Scott-not to be confused with Gil Scott (Heron)-is lifted.

Ah, but this answers more what than Who Is Jill Scott? It is an honestly erotic and animatedly sweet album, enigmatic unto the question itself. Speaking in the tongues of both poetry and song, Jill Scott's timbre is refreshingly controlled yet exploring, restless and free! Her articulation is clear and patient, toying with space and time. Featuring production talents DJ Jazzy Jeff, James Poyser and A Touch of Jazz Productions, as well as the writing of hers truly, Who Is Jill Scott? seeks to establish a multifaceted artist with real, feeling stories to tell-not just words on paper. Jill clarifies: "These words have soul, conviction and woman behind them."

Because she can, Jill is releasing two singles: blessing the streets with "Love Rain," featuring standout rapper Mos Def; while radio receives the real Philadelphia soul single "Gettin' In The Way." Jill describes the latter as a mature woman's point of view when it comes to telling another woman to let her man go. "You know, like, look, please don't make me cut you," Jill pleads low. "I am praying here."

There is a subtle beauty to Who Is Jill Scott? -Especially when she acts out her stories. "A Long Walk" tells how Jill and her fianc閑 Lyzel fell in love. It's a slow, effortless swing, and one of Jill's most range-revealing tracks. But it's on the interlude, "I Think It's Better," that Jill deals with the difficult, trying to tell a seasonal lover that she's found her lifetime lover: "It's so hard for me to say this/I'm strugglin' to find the right words/匴hat I fell is past tense/What I felt, you just haven't heard..."

Though comparisons ranging from Betty Carter to Erykah Badu are inevitable-and flattering-they may at times result from lazy listening. "Comparisons? I laugh at them," Jill Scott says, and does-a light, free laugh. "A really important part of my work is that everybody have their own power. We don't follow like sheep. Every child has their own." (Ami rising.)

Jill Scott was raised and lives in north Philadelphia, the big city that feels like a town. She remembers her grandmother "taking a bath at five o'clock every morning, and you would hear this real back-porch hum? From some deep, throaty place, Jill recollects: "Mmmm-hmmm. HmmMMM"-the sound of cross-armed deacons and Mahalia Jackson. "We would gather at the door and listen," Jill continues. "My mother would cry."

While Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince rocked Central High School parties and The Roots were street performers, Jill was reading poetry at a local art spot, October Gallery. The crowds were growing and Jill was starting to hear things. "Sounds," she says. "Sounds in the words. Eventually some parts would be spoken, some sung."

Roots drummer Amir caught Jill's performance and told producer Scott Storch. The band invited Jill into the studio one night; she came and wrote in five minutes what would be the lyrics to "You Got Me." Amir called Jill the next day to say the song would be The Roots' first single. Sung by Erykah Badu, the track went on to garner The Roots a 1999 Grammy award for Best Rap Performance (Duo or Group).

Since then, Jill Scott has toured with the Canadian cast of Rent. She's collaborated with The Roots, Eric Benet (on a remix of his song "When You Think Of Me"), Will Smith ("The Rain" from Willennium) and Common (on his album Like Water for Chocolate and the single "8 Minutes to Sunrise" from the Wild, Wild West soundtrack). In conjunction with Eastman Kodak, Jill sent junior high school students nationwide out on a simple, profound mission: Take pictures of what it is to try. (The students were inspired by the lyrics of her song with the same title).

As for the answer to the question, Who Is Jill Scott?, well, ask Jill. "I don't know how to call it. I can't really put me in any parameters," she says. "I didn't want to be in anybody's box. My hair's not permed, I'm not skinny, I ain't got a big ass?What we gone do with her?'"

"Well," she says with bright, discerning eyes, "we can do this, this, this, this, this, this and this. How you like that?"