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Body and Soul 

A love rain from Jill Scott

Wednesday, Aug 2 2000
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Photo by Steven lamJILL SCOTT Who Is Jill Scott? (Hidden Beach/Epic)

There is a question that hip-hop, for all its touted liberating qualities, has not yet answered. In fact, the question has been made thornier, more problematic. How does a grown woman, a black woman, be sexual? Not just sexy, but sexual? Especially if she chooses as her role models figures other than Madonna, Marilyn or the 15-year-old (male) thug up the street — especially if she wants to stay whole in the process. Erykah Badu seems to have figured it out. So has Lauryn Hill. But they’re a minority among the onslaught of Cristal-swigging, blond-weaved, booty-baring sisters struggling with the question on the pop-culture video screen. And their answers, at least as their real lives spill across tabloid pages, often seem tied to old-school rhythms of heartache and betrayal, dreams put on hold.

On the track “Love Rain,” from her album Who Is Jill Scott?, Jill Scott gives one example of how it might be done. Her voice is high in the mix, sultry and strong. In a tight spoken-word performance (she also sings the hook), Scott pulls erotic energy from the details of an ordinary day, ordinary things: a walk through the city, ripe peaches, penny candy, warm summer nights. Innuendo flits in and out of point-blank musings on the wet and willing cootchie and the man who made it so — a man who woos her with talk of Mumia and reparations. (Who could resist?) The music accompanying her recollection is soft but insistent, anchored by a hard-held beat; it’s sparse, but sexy as hell. Outside hip-hop circles, the Philly-based Scott is best known as the woman who penned the hook to the Roots’ hit “You Got Me.” In the original, Grammy-winning recording, Ms. Badu sings the words; Scott made them her own again by performing it on the Roots’ live album, The Roots Come Alive, where she pumps the song up with a fierce freestyle. A poet, songwriter and singer, Scott has a voice that’s a more muscular, less nasal version of Badu’s; in her reading of “You Got Me,” she enunciates clearly where Badu slurs artfully.

Scott’s vibe, sustained and maintained in part by co-executive producer Jazzy Jeff (underrated after all these years), is plainly that of the neo-soul movement, accessed via jazz, hip-hop and poetry slams. But where so many recent artists have bitten influences to the point of rendering themselves irrelevant, Scott carefully draws on sources as diverse as Nikki Giovanni, Gil Scott-Heron and Miles Davis, tapping into their spirits, and not just recycling their riffs and ruminations. As a result, Who Is Jill Scott? is one of the best albums of the year. No question.

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