R&B singer Jill Scott made quite a splash when she released her debut album in 2000, the Grammy-nominated Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1. The record reflected Scott’s poetic sensibilities and instantly made her star. She and Maxwell are co-headlining a tour that launches tomorrow at Quicken Loans Arena. Scott — who also has a role in Tyler Pretty's latest movie, Why Did I Get Married Too and contributes a regular column to Essence magazine — recently spoke to us about the tour. —Jeff Niesel
Are you excited about touring with Maxwell for the first time?
I don’t have words to describe it. “Wow” is first. I think he’s an amazing artist and brought such a passion for live music. We fit together really well.
Are you going to perform any songs together?
We’ll see how it goes. Who knows? We’ll go into rehearsal together in a few weeks and at that point we’ll decide what to do.
Cleveland is the first date of the tour. Was that just mere chance?
Yeah, but Cleveland rocks. I don’t remember the time I played there, but I think it was July or August of 2008, and there was a music conference going on in the city and there was music everywhere. It was fantastic. First thing in the morning there was this area right across the street and there was music all day. I was there for three or four days. It was cool.
I read that you initially thought you’d become a teacher. Was that the case?
That was my first idea. I couldn’t afford to finish my education. I was working two jobs and it just wasn’t coming together. I was trying to be an A+ student and it wasn’t working out. I was writing and I had been writing for years. I went to a couple of poetry jams. One thing I enjoy about Philadelphia is that there are places to get your craft together. I found these places and got really comfortable being on stage. I don’t do slams or things like that, and I wasn’t trying to win anything. I was performing in front of people with just words, and it felt good to me. One day, I started to sing. The reaction was so strong I thought I would continue. Later, came the little clubs and libraries. I was shy when I was a child. I didn’t want to give that to everybody. That was my private little joy.
Did singing come easily?
Sometimes it just comes and sometimes I have to work at it. It’s a gift and I can’t take it for granted. What I learned about myself is that I’m a method singer. I just found this out four five months ago. I have to live inside that moment so truly. I admire singers who get on the microphone and just sing. I think that’s great. I have to feel the words. I’m a writer first. I have to know what I’m saying and I feel it. That’s me.
You have a real poetic sensibility to your lyrics. Where does that come from?
I read a lot. That’s always helps. You see how people put words together. Cornel West is a great writer. The thoughts and sounds in his words are really exciting. I love Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson. They are these phenomenal writers. I love the way their thoughts come together. They paint such beautiful pictures in my mind.
Did you start writing when you were young?
I did. I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni when I was in the eighth grade. My teacher introduced her work to me. We had been reading great writers like Edgar Allen Poe, which still gives me the chills. We’d been reading these great writers, and I felt like this was a voice for me. I was a black girl living in the ghetto and I had a Southern grandma and we ate fish every Friday. I thought, “Okay, there is a space for me.” I think that was a turning point.
Are you constantly writing?
Yes. I write shorts stories and screenplays and stage plays. I’ve enjoy writing for Essence for the last four or five months to some controversy. It’s okay. It’s disappointing to me that people don’t read as much as I thought. They look at one phrase and make a decision. It’s upsetting to me but that’s okay. As a human being, I have to write to think. I have to write to express. It’s God given and nobody can take that away. I’m trying to figure out myself and learn more. I will hopefully open doors for other people to think and write as well.
And what’s it been like working with Tyler Perry?
It’s been really cool. More than anything else, I appreciate his work ethic. I have never seen anyone work that hard. To do two television shows and create this empire. It’s pretty impressive.
I don’t usually like his films, but he is certainly prolific.
His movies have a voice for a specific audience and sometimes they branch out to other audiences. If you do “black” movies, that’s great but it has to exemplify all that it is. When you get down to it, it’s just human beings of a different culture. The humanity of it is what makes it so cool. That’s the good stuff. I’m a big movie buff and when I think someone of any race, creed or sex could play this role, then I know that’s great writing.
Tell me about the album you have coming out later this year.
It’s called The Light of the Sun. I’ve been saying it’s a revealing project. It’s more hip-hp than I’ve been in a long time. It’s where I started and I’m going back to what I ultimately am. I’m enjoying it and I like being in this place. There’s some rock and some old school R&B as well. I think it’s refreshing and interesting. It doesn’t necessarily stick to the verse, chorus, bridge thing. There’s a lot of freedom in this project.
If you had to change anything you’ve done or said over the course of your career, what would it be?
Damn. Lemme think. If there was anything, I would have stopped working at a certain point. I can’t take anything away from it but I learned as a human being that’s there’s a positivity and negativity well. At a certain point of exhaustion, the positivity is harder to reach when you start pulling from the negativity well. I was 30 years old and I now know when to stop. I can refresh my existence by taking walks, being quiet, having a swim, hanging out with my family. I wouldn’t take anything back because if I did then I wouldn’t be here. That’s the best for me to find all the joy in life. But I wouldn’t take anything back. If I hadn’t done it then, I wouldn’t have been where I am. I see the kids - and I call them kids because I’m fully a grown-ass woman now - I see how they work and it leads them to a road that may destroy their careers. You have to take a break. That’s why I’m so grateful to my audience. They’re very patient with me. I appreciate the fact that they wait and then support me whole-heartedly not because it’s being pushed down their throat. They’re doing it because they want to. I think that’s really fresh.