In July of 2000, a then-budding R&B and soul star released her debut album: Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1.
Twenty years, three Grammys, and more than a dozen films and TV shows later, we know exactly who Jill Scott is. And on Saturday, the North Philly native will bring her commemorative 20th anniversary tour to Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel & Casino.
Her set list is every song from that first album, sung in order, and possibly some others. The 21-city tour kicked off last week in Kansas City, Mo., and will conclude in Columbia, S.C, on March 21. She plays Radio City Music Hall in New York on Feb. 20.
Who Is Jill Scott?, her seminal work, produced lustrous ballads that narrate the intricacies of romance and the temperamental nature of relationships. “A Long Walk” imagines the myriad possibilities of an ideal date. In the operatic “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” Scott declares: “You love me from my hair follicles to my toenails.”
In “The Way,” Scott opens the song describing her morning routine after a night of intimacy, famously describing the toast, two scrambled eggs, and grits she had for breakfast.
In a 2007 VH1 performance, Scott said that she wrote “The Way” while working in DJ Jazzy Jeff’s studio. Scott told Jeff, “If you pay me $263 ... I will stain and polyurethane” the walls in the lobby of his studio. Jeff agreed. And while Scott worked, she said, she would hum soulful riffs to catch Jeff’s attention. Soon after, she was invited into the recording room where she shared “The Way," eventually recording it.
Scott has sustained a 20-year career because of her ability to capture the “dilemmas and delights of being a black woman,” said Dyana Williams, a veteran radio host who mentored Scott early in her career. “Obviously, other groups are able to relate to Jill,” Williams pointed out. “But she’s never veered away from her core audience of black women.”
Scott’s dexterity as a poet has informed her approach to music in terms of rhythm, lyrics, and tone. In 2007, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam cocreator Danny Simmons said that he was brought to tears watching Scott deliver Nothing is for Nothing, a poem about the plight of black women.
“I was so impressed with the depth of feeling and understanding of what it meant to be disregarded as black woman,” Simmons says now. “It was one of the most powerful performances on Def Poetry, even by seasoned poets.”
The debut album went on to be certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, selling over 2.5 million copies. Since then, Scott has released four more albums, her latest being Woman in 2015.
Scott has also appeared on TV in Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane, Black-ish and other shows. She also snagged film roles in Why Did I Get Married? (and its sequel Why Did I Get Married, Too?) and 2012′s Steel Magnolias, among others.
For the past two years, Scott has headlined the WDAS Summer Block Party, a homecoming show for Philly R&B acts. Boyz II Men, Jazmine Sullivan, Musiq Soulchild, and Bilal have all performed on the Mann Center stage as opening acts. "Jill brings bravado,” to her live performances, Williams said. “It’s like hip-hop meets R&B soul meets opera.”