Every year brings about a few notable newcomers to the music scene, although the longevity of them is often questionable. Like Keyshia Cole three years before, 2008 saw the debut of a big-voiced, passionate singer whose album proved to be one of the best of the year. Prior to her own release, Jazmine Sullivan was a songwriter, who had written for Fantasia and Christina Milian's single "Say I". Reminiscent of Lauryn Hill, Jazmine crafted an excellent debut, having a major hand in writing each of the tracks (she is credited first on all of them). Between the power of her voice, and the depth of her writing, Jazmine's debut easily indicates her as an artist to watch in the coming years.
"Bust Your Windows" starts things off, showcasing a woman scorned and set on revenge. With its darker, haunting music the track has Jazmine singing of destroying her cheating ex's car in attempt to make herself feel better. Right away, this track allows Jazmine's voice to shine, particularly with the emotion it evokes. The bridge is particularly haunting ("You broke my heart, so I broke you car/You caused me pain, so I did the same"). Despite the vengeance here, Jazmine twists it slightly at the end, questioning why it hasn't made her feel better. "Need U Bad" talks of wanting an ex back, regretting your mistake of letting him go. Although it's not quite as powerful as the first track, it's a great way to show the softer side to Jazmine. It's also one of the most relatable songs, speaking of needing someone's love as much as you need air. Even Missy Elliott's ad libs can't mar this track. "My Foolish Heart" talks about how your heart will do things that you know it shouldn't ("my foolish heart will trust just anyone/it's so naïve"). As far as the album goes, this track is essentially filler, but it's filler at its best. While unmemorable compared to much of the rest of the material, it is an enjoyable listen and does play to Jazmine's strengths. There is nothing wrong with the song per se, other than the fact that there are much stronger ones on the album.
One such strength is the highlight, "Lions, Tigers and Bears", which talks of fearing heartbreak more than other generally fearful things. The instrumentation is excellent, as are Jazmine's powerful vocals. Unlike other singers with big voices, Jazmine never feels the need to oversing, instead allowing for the emotion in her voice to speak for itself. This also showcases Jazmine's writing at its best, with relatable lyrics and the clever interpolation of the classic line from The Wizard of Oz. The bridge in particular is a highlight, where Jazmine decides that in spite of her fear, she's willing to try. "Call Me Guilty" is another highlight as well as another of the darker tracks, with Jazmine contemplating killing an abusive partner. Here she talks about knowing that he'll kill her if she stays, and says she's not sorry for killing him first. It's a creepy track, but brilliantly done, truly showcasing how cornered abuse can make someone feel. The album then goes to a much lighter note with "One Night Stand", which talks about a man who was supposed to just be for one night, but ends up becoming much more. Tracks like this show Jazmine's versatility, showing that she's just as strong on the fun songs as the deeper, darker material. The bridge is stunning.
"After the Hurricane" is a stunning ballad about knowing that a break-up is imminent based on how your partner is behaving. This track has more subdued instrumentation, giving room for Jazmine's emotive vocals to shine. This is also one of the more fresh-sounding Stargate productions in a while, although that may be more of a testament to Jazmine's writing than the music itself. "Dream Big" is a fan favourite, possibly due to its much brighter sound than the first half of the album. This track talks about Jazmine's taking opportunities as they come, inspired by Jazmine's own journey getting into the music business. While not a personal favourite, this certainly makes a nice change in the otherwise darker tone of the album, without sounding out of place. Along with "One Night Stand", this helps to maintain a balance in styles. "Live a Lie" is one of the less memorable tracks here, describing how sometimes it's better not to know the truth of a situation. Jazmine sounds good, and the track is written well. It's another case of there being nothing wrong with the track in itself, it just becomes overshadowed by the rest of the stronger material. However, like "My Foolish Heart", it is filler at its best as it is generally a good song.
"Fear" is another standout, and seems like a companion piece to "Lions, Tigers, and Bears" as it carries on the theme of being afraid. Here, Jazmine lists things she's afraid of, but then goes on to assert that we're not human without fear. This is a highlight due to the rather unconventional style of the lyrics, as few artists would write such a list, particularly since it seems very repetitive on paper. However, the delivery combined with the instrumentation make it work excellently. "In Love With Another Man" is another of the few ballads here, where Jazmine sings of being in love with someone other than her partner, even though she knows she shouldn't be. It's another relatable song, describing how sometimes people can be drawn to a person even when they themselves do not know why. The subdued instruments here allow the power of Jazmine's voice to shine. "Switch" brings things back to the lighter tone, telling of going on a double date and being more interested in the other guy instead of the one you came with. Jazmine goes on to suggest that she date his best friend instead. It's a funny song, and as with many others here, one that most people could probably relate to.
Overall Mark: 4.5/5
As a debut, this album easily puts Jazmine in the running as a new artist to be on the lookout for. At its best, it showcases powerful vocals and considerable emotional depth while maintaining a balance with more light-hearted material as well. Even at its worse, the tracks are consistent and strong, only suffering by comparison to others that precede or follow it. It's rare for a new artist to put together an album so solid, and rarer still for that album to not have a single track which is weak on its own. Jazmine's performance calls to mind many other performers, namely Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, and Lauryn Hill, yet never in a way that makes her seem unoriginal. Rather, she has crafted a brilliant debut showcasing her as a true powerhouse with talents for singing, writing, and creativity in general.