Jill Scott on Coming Up in a Philadelphia "Renaissance"

In 2000, a record emerged onto the scene asking a simple question: Who Is Jill Scott?

16 years later, we've got an idea. One part neo-soul, one part hip-hop, and another part deep poetic verse, the answer was a timeless talent. "I'm Barbara Streisand and Bette Midler's child" was how Scott described herself to New Times over the telephone. 

And while those aren't obvious points of comparison, over the last sixteen years Scott, like Streisand and Midler, has sung and acted with extraordinary presence. Here's what else Jill Scott shared with us about coming up with the Roots, the inspiration of her newest album, Woman, and what you can expect from her show tonight at the Fillmore.

Miami New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Jill Scott: I must have been five or six. My mother used to play a lot of records in the basement. She'd play Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder — she'd play them when we cleaned. Music was motivation to get us to clean.

You were a spoken word performer. How did that prepare you to be a singer?
I wouldn't call myself a spoken word performer. I'm really a poet. There's a difference. They are very similar in some ways. Spoken word performers, they perform. As a poet, my job was to write and read poetry. I think it helped to be a singer because I just had words and an audience. If I had any fear, that took it away because you're really vulnerable in that position.

It was much more intimidating to read poetry than to sing with a band?
There's nothing but the power of your words and the imagery of those words. With a band you can escape into a rhythm. You can escape into a melody with music.

With your first big break in 1998 writing "You Got Me," could you have imagined yourself, the Roots, and Erykah Badu, continuing to have such successful careers almost two decades later?
It's so cool. I mean, I didn't know anything. I just did what felt right, what felt good and natural to me. I think the Roots are doing exactly what they're meant to do as well as Erykah.

Did it feel like something special was happening at the time?
Yes, particularly in Philadelphia. There was so much poetry going on. It felt like a renaissance. There were amazing poets and DJs and singers. You weren't allowed to touch a microphone until you were any good. It was trial by fire. It was a really wonderful time for all of us. We learned a lot.

What inspired your newest album, Woman?
I'm learning. I turned 44 and there's something really awesome about this age. I feel like I've been waiting to be a grown-up my whole life. I've reached that point. I don't think the growth stops, but I'm enjoying this position having a career for 16 years. I feel like I'm arriving somewhere finally and I've enjoyed the journey. The album was called Woman because I think I finally reached that place. I'm holding myself accountable, I'm not lying to myself, allowing myself to love and be loved. I have a child now — actually, I have seven children. I have to think about the marriage and planning and organizing. Every day is a new way to love and I'm really enjoying this place.

Did you play the album for your children?
I played some songs for my youngest son. He tells me what he likes, what he doesn't. Some, he's not meant to hear. He enjoys it. He knows all the words.

What music are you listening to these days?
There's a kid I like, Raury. I like Theo Croker. I just signed a new artist, Tish Hymen. The best way I can describe her is as Biggie and Lauryn Hill's daughter. She's incredible — her stage presence, her flow. She's a real emcee and I don't give that term lightly. I grew up under Rakim. I don't label too many people a emcee.

Jill Scott. 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 30, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; Tickets cost $65.50 to $93.50 plus fees via
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland