Four years ago, a North Philadelphia native released an album on a small record label founded by music veteran Steve McKeever. The word “debut” was a perfect noun for Who Is Jill Scott?, the first record from the woman in question as well as an indigenous release from Hidden Beach Recordings. Released with very little hype and virtually no promotion, the album’s success came through word-of-mouth. The result was a core audience whom Jill kept waiting as she recorded Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2. It was a long wait in these times of instant gratification, but the content of Beautifully Human justifies her absence.
The title of Scott’s second work is no accident. Along with the album cover-a photo of a young Jill Scott-it leaves the impression that one will get a deeper glimpse into its creator, not as an artist, but as an individual whose life experiences are not removed from the rest of the population. The song “Family Reunion” helps with this image, as Scott describes the crazy yet common occurrences at her family gatherings. Although most will probably never eat at Scott’s family’s table, we find ourselves smiling with warmth as we reminisce about experiences with our own family. “Family Reunion” is a break from the rest of the songs, many of which touch on issues about love between romantic partners. The debut’s selections were more abstract, as if the songs were written for a general audience, but the lyrics on Beautifully Human sound like they were taken from pages of Scott’s private journal. Such is the case for “The Fact Is (I Need You).” In this song, Jill asserts her independence to her lover, counting the ways in which she can take care of herself. But just when you think she’s reached “Superwoman” status, she submits to vulnerability and admits that despite autonomy, her Romeo is an essential part of her being.
What’s missing from Beautifully Human is the spoken-word poetry that set Jill apart from others of the same genre. The song “Cross My Mind” is a throwback to Scott the poet, but the aggressive voice found on the debut is replaced with a soft, almost whispered tone. This is a voice that is consistent throughout the album, especially on “My Petition.” What originally sounds like a letter to an inconsiderate boyfriend is actually a statement to the government. Such a political message may have been delivered with more fervor from the woman we knew four years ago, but the Minnie Ripperton-esque tone that Scott uses to communicate her grievances makes the song sound almost like a lullaby.
Despite the change in vocal styling, Beautifully Human succeeds in capturing the spirit of its creator while offering something new for its listeners. With this album Jill Scott proves that true artistry doesn’t die-it reincarnates.