Jazmine Sullivan
The Ritz, Raleigh
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

“We’re about to get a little ’hood,” announced Philadelphia vocalist Jazmine Sullivan on Wednesday night to a nearly sold-out Ritz. It was the setup for “#HoodLove,” a track from her recent Reality Show LP. “Is that OK with everyone?”

In 2009, shortly after Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” climbed to popularity, my precious 1994 Toyota Corolla was the victim of a late-night window bashing. I heard it happening as I was entertaining company inside of my south Durham apartment. Within minutes, a squad car arrived, and the officer arrested the first person he saw—an innocent Latino man who just happened to be standing nearby. Moments after they drove off, I did a quick scan of the parking lot and saw a vehicle that shouldn’t have been there—my ex-girlfriend’s truck. She had busted my windows, and an innocent man was on his way to jail for a “hood crime” he didn’t commit. (He was released from custody less than an hour later after.)

I’ve embraced all ’hood things, I suppose, but I’ve disliked Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” ever since my own windows were busted. However, my feelings about the song changed on Wednesday night. Live, Sullivan’s metallic, around-the-way falsetto bettered the sharpened studio versions of songs from her 2008 debut album, Fearless. “Bust Your Windows” especially got that treatment. One of Fearless’ more intense vocal workouts, “Lions, Tigers & Bears” made an even better case for her live abilities as she roared the ballad into truth, confronting terrors and fears of love. Later in the show, she revisited Fearless’“Need U Bad,” spotlighting how her voice has aged into something mature, even spiritual.

That development can be heard throughout Sullivan’s sophomore LP, 2010’s Love Me Back. Unfortunately, she glossed over most of that, electing only to do “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” That’s because she spent the majority of the show demonstrating her excellent, post-hiatus album, Reality Show. The record is an open lens into a past abusive relationship, which came up often during the show. Before she and her guitarist went into an acoustic version of “Stupid Girls,” for instance, she warned the crowd against making decisions based on someone else’s needs. It almost felt like eavesdropping on delicate diary entries.

But she’s as open and detailed on stage as she’s been in interviews about her bad decisions. “You get addicted to the pain, you get addicted to that person,” she said during a chat with The Breakfast Club. She wrote her current radio hit, “Forever Don’t Last,” while going through relationships woes. She performed it and the After 7-inspired dimmer “Let It Burn” as passionately as someone can without revealing too much of their bad memories. Sullivan puts you there instead and makes you feel comfortable about not minding your own business. As long as you help her fight through her past, Sullivan will reward you with a glorified, soul voice full of ’hood love.