My favorite Jill Scott song is "He Loves Me," from her first album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1. Jill illustrates a love felt "in every way imaginable," from her hair follicle to her toenails. She starts in a coo, transitions into spoken word, and ends in what sounds like a full-on tribal cry. At times when performing it live she renders it like an opera, in Spanish or both.
The full title of the song is actually, "He Loves Me (Lyzel In E Flat)." Lyzel Williams was Scott's first husband, from 2001 to 2007. Her Saturday wedding to Mike Dobson is her second.
This is to say that Jill Scott has sung about receiving love from a man, and enjoying it, totally. She has sung about parting ways with men, too. She has sung about sex, and enjoying that totally. And she has sung about loving herself. At no time do I ever get the sense that one state of being is better than another. Marriage was never presented by her as a destination or a prize. It is, rather, one phase in the unfolding of life — something to enjoy in the present and learn from if it becomes the past.
Be honest: You've heard people say, "I liked sad Mary better." The common sentiment is that Mary J. Blige's music was better before she became happily married. I resent that, but maybe her pain was more raw than her love, and the art that resonated sprang from that place. Jill, by comparison, has always struck me as complete in her personhood. Her joy emotes just as vividly as her hurt. "It's just me / one is the magic number," she sang back in 2000. I bought that just like I dug it when she sang, "You're here, I'm pleased / I really dig your company" to a dude she just wanted to take a long walk around the park with.
People are allowed to change and grow, and Jill has done me the service of bringing me along on her journey. Around 2008, she announced that she was engaged to her drummer. The relationship ended shortly after their son was born in 2009. I think we all know not to mix love and work, but Jill did it anyway. She followed her heart, sh-t got messy, and she kept her head high when she realized she'd have to be a single mom. Jill never sold me an infallible brand; she told me she was "beautifully human," like me and you.
In this regard, Scott is different from female artists who commodify their lives, even down to their marriages. There are no writing camps crafting her songs by committee, as in the case of a Beyoncé or a Rihanna. When she wants to release an album, she does not lead it with a stint on a reality show like K. Michelle. Jill has no gimmicks; she simply articulates the complexities of the heart. And this is not shade; it's just why it's easy for me to look at Jill as an honest homegirl, as a godmother, as a griot. Jilly from Philly is Crown Royal on ice in an empty, vodka-soda world. On "(So Gone) What My Mind Says," she tells us, "You're gonna hear the pages turn." This was our signal that she was singing words that she wrote from an experience that she lived through. It was our cue to pay attention.
In college, I "talked to" a guy who was sweet, but never saw a mirror he couldn't lose himself in. When we spoke, he'd answer my questions but would never bother to ask what I thought. I understood when Jill sang, "I'm lonely whenever you're around."
When I fell for a man who treated me terribly in every aspect of our relationship but one, I understood when Jill sang, "Why does my body ignore what my mind says? / I try to keep it intact, but I'm here in this bed."
And now, when I hear "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)," I'm sure she's singing about a love I'll understand one day, too. After all, she committed herself to it again.
And so, am I happy for Jill and her new marriage? Absolutely! But not in the way most women are when a friend gets married. It's not like, She made it! Or like someone saved her from singledom. It's more like, she's starting a new chapter. I can hear the pages turn. And hopefully, as she grows through this new phase, she'll keep sharing those lessons with me, too.