Jill Scott is off to a fresh start.
"My music is a lot more free," says the North Philadelphia-raised R&B singer, actress, and poetess, speaking about the changes she's gone through, artistically and personally, in the years leading up to her new album, The Light of the Sun, which entered the Billboard album chart in the top spot when it was released on her own Blues Babe label last month.
Since the release of her previous album, The Real Thing: Words & Sounds Vol. 3, the 39-year-old Scott - who will headline the Jill Scott Summer Block Party at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden on Aug. 6 along with Anthony Hamilton, Mint Condition, and Doug E. Fresh - has had her world upended.
After divorcing her husband, Lyzel Williams, in 2007, she gave birth to her son Jett in 2009. But soon thereafter, she and the boy's father, drummer Lil' John Roberts, split up. Last year, she also parted ways with Hidden Beach, her longtime record label, which will release an album of unreleased recordings, The Original: From the Vault, Vol. 1, on Aug. 30.
She has since gone into business for herself with her Blues Babe label. It shares a name with Scott's charitable foundation, which assists college-bound students in Philadelphia and Camden. (Both Blues Babes are named after Scott's late grandmother Blue, to whom she pays tribute in Light's celebratory opening cut, "Blessed.")
Scott recorded the spirited, soulful, and frequently improvisatory The Light of the Sun, which features contributions from Hamilton and Fresh, as well as rappers Eve and Paul Wall, at The Studio in Center City. But Jilly from Philly moved west in 2009. At home in Los Angeles earlier this month, she talked about the hard lessons learned that led to the often exuberant Light.
Question: So The Light of the Sun is your first album to make it to number one on the Billboard album chart. How did that feel?
Answer: I'm excited. . . . I feel it and I know it's happened. But it might be too much for me to really comprehend at the moment. To me, a record is not a few weeks' or days' journey. A record is a year, a year and a half. It's like: "Wow, we're starting at a good place." There's a lot of positive feedback. All those things are just incredible.
Q: Since the last record, you've gone through a lot. Among other things, your grandmother passed. Anthony Minghella, who directed you in the HBO series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, died suddenly. Yet The Light of the Sun feels more like a party record than your previous albums.
Q: How did that happen?
A: I have this philosophy that in order to really appreciate life, you have to go through tough times. I mean really go through it, and have moments of unabashed tears. . . . It's going to happen. But you survive. And then you have to celebrate it. . . . That's what art is. We celebrate chaos. We celebrate confusion. We celebrate love. We celebrate grief. We celebrate happiness. That's what artists do.
I'd never been hurt like that. I never felt that way before. That confused, or been in the position where I stopped believing in love. It scared the hell out of me. So when I sing about something hurting on the record, I sing it because it hurts. I just want to give other people permission to hurt, too. It's all right.
Q: Your music has been empowering, and uplifting, all the way back to Who Is Jill Scott?: Words & Sounds, Vol. 1, in 2000. Has your positivity been put to the test?
A: Yeah, definitely. The whole breakup with the label, everything, was very taxing to my spirit. And I learned a lot about people. A lot about business. About money. About greed. . . . It was definitely the most challenging few years I've ever had.
Q: You're home in L.A.?
A: Yes. The tour begins in like a week and a half. I've got a lot of work to do. The rehearsals are in Philadelphia. My band is so talented. I don't have any worries about that.
Q: Will you bring your son on the road?
A: He's going to stay with my family. My mom and dad and cousins. Everybody is vying to spend time with him. 'Cause he's so cool.
Q: "An amazing all-expense grand prize": That's how you describe yourself in "Womanifesto." You read that at the White House poetry night in May. Is that the one you wrote the morning before the reading?
A: No, that's "Write, Children, Write." . . . I was tired when I got to the hotel, so I said, "I'm going to go to sleep and hope something comes." And around 6 o'clock in the morning, "Write, Children, Write" came out.
Q: When the muse arrives, can you tell whether it's a poem or a song?
A. Normally, when something comes out and it's music, I hear music. I hear background harmonies, I hear tempo, I hear melodies. When it's a poem, sometimes I hear a character, but mostly I just hear the words.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Now I'm writing a screenplay.
Q: What can you tell me about that?
A: Nothing yet. I'd rather finish painting the picture before I talk about the colors.
Q: Do you have any acting jobs coming up?
A: No, I haven't found anything I want to do. I'm looking. But right now I'm in concert mode. I've got to tour and make sure that people enjoy themselves.
Q: What's the tour going to be like?
A: All the acts - Anthony Hamilton, Mint Condition - have a live band. They're all really incredible vocalists. It's all really the kind of artistry that I like to present. Live vocals, live musicians, powerful energy. And, of course, there's me.
Q: Why is it important to have live bands?
A: . . . There is a culture that I want to see continue. I love it when I see kids pick up instruments. I love when people slow drag. When people have their arms in the air and they're yelling and waving and singing along. There's something very exciting to me about that.
VIDEO: Jill Scott on her new album - and where you should (and shouldn't) listen to it. www.philly.com/jillscott