For Millennial Black Women, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales Is a Layered Portrait of Sex and Intimacy
Shortly after midnight on the night it dropped, I joined my Twitter timeline in listening to Jazmine Sullivan’s new EP, Heaux Tales, the fourth studio project the R&B songstress began teasing at the end of last summer. Finally arriving after a six-year hiatus since she released 2015’s Reality Show, Sullivan’s first conceptual project explores the perspectives of several different women on the subjects of love, heartbreak, and, of course, hoing.
Before I could even press play on the EP, I saw people reacting to some of the more salacious parts of the project, like featured artist Ari Lennox asking her lover to “spit on it” or Sullivan describing a lover of hers as a “lil’ bow-legged hood nigga with the nine inch” in the song “On It.” There is no shortage of provocative moments on Heaux Tales, starting with the opening track, “Bodies,” a song about a woman trying to mentally comb through the tangled memories from her too many drunken one-night stands. From there, we are introduced to the first interlude, “Antoinette’s Tale,” an empowering and scathing missive about women reclaiming their sexualities from men’s desires (“We’re out here telling them that the pussy is theirs / When in actuality, it’s ours”).
These gendered dynamics are explored throughout the album. “Funny how I finally flipped the script on you,” Sullivan sings in “Pick Up Your Feelings.” Here, Sullivan assumes the role of a fed-up woman retrieving her power from her adulterous ex-lover. However, in “Ari’s Tale” and “Put It Down,” the two tracks that come directly after it, we hear the ways in which women become so enamored with men they lose all their senses, essentially becoming dickmatized—from Lennox musing about how glorious a former partner’s lovemaking was (“That dick spoke life into me / Invigoration, blessings, soul, turmoil”) to Sullivan singing about being with a broke man who lives with his mother but whose dick has her “acting like a fiend.”
On “Donna’s Tale,” the seventh track on the EP, you can hear the laughter of multiple women accompanied by a church organ, as Sullivan’s godmother, Donna Anderson, extols the values of using men for money, or “tricking,” as she calls it. The interlude made me reminiscent of all the times before the pandemic shut the entire world down when I could sit around with my aunties and older female family members having conversations about sex and relationships that I was finally grown enough to be part of.
Heaux Tales feels as though it is meant to be listened to with other women. It feels like the group chat being lit on fire after receiving a no-context text from one of your friends that says “biiiiiiiitch,” followed by all the raunchy details of their hookup. It feels like divulging all the embarrassing and shameful details from a sexual encounter that you’d rather forget over cocktails with the girls. It feels like pregaming in your girl’s bathroom before going to a party.
It feels like the group chat being lit on fire after receiving a no-context text from one of your friends that says “biiiiiiiitch,” followed by all the raunchy details of their hookup.
Then the project arrives at “Amanda’s Tale,” during which a woman confesses that she uses sex to feel desired and worthy of love. (“I feel moments of sadnеss knowing that, you know / Just me alone and who I am is not enough.”) It’s moments like this and in “Lost Ones”—when Sullivan confesses to being “nothing short of a disaster”—that dredge up those deeply buried feelings you’d rather die than admit to having.
The EP’s greatest accomplishment is its willingness to hold space for all the contradictory emotions that women experience on their quests for intimate fulfillment; that what can be at one point thrilling, sexy, and exciting can also be demoralizing and degrading. For all the moments in our lives when we’re crying on our best friends’ shoulders after a devastating heartbreak or when your friends gently pull you to the side to tell you you’re the one who fucked up.
Heaux Tales finds itself in a cultural moment created by other Black female R&B artists like Lennox, SZA, and Summer Walker who have all made these deeply confessional bodies of work that explore sex, relationships, and the growing pains of young womanhood. However, by allowing different women to come onto the project and voice their views on the trials and triumphs of sex and romantic intimacy, Heaux Tales portrays a more layered and nuanced look into the lives of millennial Black women.
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