music review

Jazmine Sullivan shares her stirring ‘Reality’ at Royale

Sullivan came up in the late 2000s as a protégé of Missy Elliott.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Sullivan came up in the late 2000s as a protégé of Missy Elliott.

Midway through her set at Royale on Monday, the Philadelphia-born belter Jazmine Sullivan opened up to the audience about what motivated her to write her third album, “Reality Show,” which came out earlier this year. “I started writing this album as a way of finding myself,” she declared. “I’m not ashamed to say, ‘It happened to me.’ This album was my way of walking back into my destiny.” Her band kicked into the sultry “Let It Burn,” and her laid-back yet powerhouse performance was a perfect complement to her mission statement.

Sullivan came up in the late 2000s as a protégé of Missy Elliott, who produced Sullivan’s reggae-tinged debut single, “Need U Bad.” That lament topped the R&B charts and established Sullivan as a strong up-and-comer; her slightly raspy mezzo-soprano underscored the emotion shooting through early singles like the pleading “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” while her tough-as-nails attitude helped turn the vengeful “Bust Your Windows” into a “Glee”-worthy rallying cry for scorned women.

R&B’s fortunes have turned, though, and Sullivan took a few years off from the music business after releasing the strong 2010 offering, “Love Me Back.” Released in January, “Reality Show” is one of the best R&B albums of the last few years; Sullivan’s an expert at melding old-school soul ideals with forward-thinking production, and “Reality” reaches its peaks when it pushes forward while looking back, as it does on tracks like “Burn.”


Live, Sullivan is simultaneously spellbinding and relatable, turning inspirations for “Reality Show” tracks like the rueful “Stupid Girl” and the self-affirming “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)” into opportunities for shared catharsis, while also muscling through vocal runs that would leave any diva green with envy and taking furious notes. She closed out her main set with “Need U Bad,” but was coaxed back onstage for an extended run through her 2010 track “In Love With Another Man,” which showed off not just her vocal range, but also her emotional depth.

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The New York singer Jordan Bratton opened with a brief burst of tracks that showcased his prodigious songwriting talent; his covers indicated appreciation for the work of Michael Jackson and Drake, but his heady blend of funk, rock, soul, and moxie recalled the polymath stylings and kitchen-sink talent of R&B alchemist Miguel. Bratton’s career is still in its earliest stages, but his set on Monday was a tantalizing preview of what’s to come.

Jazmine Sullivan

With Jordan Bratton

At: Royale Boston, Monday

Maura Johnston can be reached at