Let's Talk About Jill Scott: A #BlackMusicCity roundtable about a Philly music icon - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

A poet, a singer-songwriter, the voice of a movement, an icon in Philly and around the world. Jill Scott‘s impact on music and on the city she comes from is undeniable — so much so that when the grant winners were announced for this year’s Black Music City initiative, five unique projects were dedicated to celebrating Scott’s music and work: a ceramics workshop, two documentary-style video reflections, a new original song, and a portrait.

On the WXPN Local Show this week, we invited those five grantees on the air for an in-depth roundtable discussion about Scott, their projects celebrating her, the impact she had on them personally and creatively, and whether the neo-soul scene she quickly ascended from in the late 90s could happen today in the city.

Listen to the conversation in its entirety below, read on to get to know the grant winners a little better, explore highlights from the conversation, and listen to a playlist of Jill Scott essentials compiled by the panelists.

Let's Talk About Jill Scott - A Black Music City roundtable

The Artists

Ebony Bennett (@ebennettart) is a Philadelphia painter and portrait artist who created a portrait of Jill Scott. At 30 inches by 40 inches, it is the largest portrait she’s done thus far. The majority of the time, she paints from a photo reference, and while searching the web, Bennett tells us she thought “‘I need to find a beautiful picture of [Jill].’ She’s beautiful anyway, but I need one picture that’s going to catch my eye. I found one, and she just has this big hair, and I was like ‘I need this thing to take up space.’”

Sug Daniels (@sugdaniels_) is a singer-songwriter originally from Wilmington, Delaware, currently living in South Philadelphia. She initially envisioned the project as a cover of her favorite Jill Scott song, “Golden,” but as she worked on it, the project expanded into a documentary-style short via candid videos of Daniels at home, reflecting on her personal and creative journey that’s led her to Philadelphia. She says “It started one place and ended somewhere different but ended right where it was supposed to end.”

Kerrin Lyons (@iamkerrin) is a multimedia visual artist working in film and photography. Born in Philly, she grew up in southern Illinois, and currently lives in Germantown, and she describes her work as “a visual conversation,” a discussion with herself as a kid about Jill Scott’s music and how it has grown with her and remained evergreen. For this, Lyons captured video and photos of neighborhoods in North Philly that Scott lived in. “It’s a lot of streets and movement, seeing the landscape of the city floating past,” says Lyons. “That’s what I see when I listen to her music.”

Eboni Pearce (@ebonipearce) is a jewelry artist and musician originally from New Jersey who works in an eclectic array of sounds including neo-soul, jazz, folk, R&B, and rap. For her project, she two versions of the same original song created from samples and re-contextualized lyrics from both Jill Scott and Teddy Pendergrass, making something new out of something old. She also recorded a collaborative live version with a band, which opened it up to unexpected new directions, incorporating Bossa Nova and beyond. Of the project and Scott’s influence on it, she says “It’s all about the tone, all about the energy, all about the vibe.”

Qiaira Riley (@thegoodhoodwitch) is a Chicago born-and-raised interdisciplinary artist who does mixed media community-based work; Riley has lived in Philly for the past four years – she moved here to get her MFA from Moore College of Art and Design – and for her project, she organized a Jill Scott-inspired ceramics and poetry workshop that was free for Black femmes. “We made alters together,” Riley explains. “We started off eating together, listening to the album. We did a poetry workshop that my friend Noah ran, and we used the poetry we wrote as inspiration for the alters we created.”

from left: Ebony Bennett, Sug Daniels, Qiaira Riley, Eboni Pearce, and Kerrin Lyons | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

How did you first encounter Jill Scott’s music and what keeps you connected to it?

EB: “My aunt lived a few blocks from the park where they took the [“A Long Walk”] video and I used to always want to go to my aunt’s house like ‘Oh, maybe I’ll run into her.’ I never did. Over time, going through different things throughout my life, especially when it came to love and relationships, certain songs got me through rough times, and understood that but love is gonna hurt…but it also is a good thing. Jill, she helped me through all of that.”

SD: “The music video for ‘A Long Walk,’ that touched me too. I was in love with this woman. One, she’s…can I say ‘horny’ on the radio? [laughs] She’s horny for emotional connection in this song! And in this song in particular as a young girl, hearing her really try to connect with this other human on an intellectual place, I was like wow. And to see her with her natural hair, she’s just sexy in her own way that really struck me as a kid. Cause me being very obviously queer, I knew I felt something different in the way I wanted to present, and I wanted to do it in a way that felt good for me. So to see someone look different but still just know that is a beautiful person, a beautiful human, a beautiful woman…I was like, I don’t know who this is but she got me for life.”

KL: “Her music was so beautiful, her voice was so beautiful, she sounded so angelic. And then to have this bass, this groovy bass under her voice, and so constant. But her voice is doing so many thing – going up, and having a laugh as she’s singing – and having these serious conversations, like ‘I’m getting with this person who’s trying to be romantically involved with someone I’m involved with’ but explaining it with so much grace and beauty.”

EP: “Tone is everything for me, and Jill Scott’s voice is both airy, angelic, light…but also, in the back end of it, there’s support that’s deep, that has weight to it. And whenever Jill Scott does a song, even if she’s featuring on someone else’s, you know it’s her, she’s very unique, and she doesn’t conform to the song, she’s just showing up as herself.”

QR: “Neo-soul was around a lot when I was a kid. I grew up in the South Side of Chicago, so it’s house music, it’s neo-soul, it’s hip-hop, that’s what was around at the time. When I first moved to Philly, I moved to North Philly, I moved to something and Allegheny right off the train stop there. I feel like North Philly is the South Side of Chicago cousin, and it’s really funny to be like I’m suddenly dropped off in this place…and not really know anything, and slowly remember that ‘Oh, I do know this space from listening to Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild.”

Jill Scott - A Long Walk

What is it that makes Jill Scott quintessentially Philly?

EB: “It’s her style, her grace, her presence. Her confidence, the way she moves. Her body. She is Philly to me. Period.”

SD: “One of the things that drew me here, in the music scene especially, is that the musicians are all very unique and different, and they let that lead them. And that is absolutely what Jill Scott does. She’s not trying to conform to anything. She is absolutely who she is, her music really speaks for itself. I could meet her one day, but also if I never do, I feel like I know her.”

KL: “Jill is honest, and that is what I most love about her. Making that transition to being on the east coast after living in the midwest…and the midwest is really nice. I feel like the general sense is like everyone’s nice, you get along to get along to get along, you say what you need to say and move on, people don’t get to deeply into what their issues are, you put this facade on like everything’s good. And coming to Philadelphia was so refreshing, it’s like a breath of fresh air to have people curse at you and tell you the uncomfortable truths. That was JIll to me. She’s talking about everything, she’s talking about a range of things. And she knows what tone to deliver it to you so you best receive it.”

EP: “As I see more of Philly as time has passed, I understand the diversity, not by demographic but I’m talking about architecturally. The landscape, and how quick it can switch up, too. So what makes Jill Scott uniquely Philly is just how Philly looks. Jill is adaptable but consistent and I think that’s what Philly is as well.”

QR: “Jill Scott is kinda hood, and I like that. I feel like I’m also hood, and I’m artsy, and she’s sweet and she’s cool and I like that in other Black femmes I meet in Philly, who are from Philly. It feels like a kinship between the South Side of Chicago girl and the North Philly jawn as they might say.”

Is there space and resources in the Philly scene for an artist to ascend today in the way Jill Scott did?

EB: “Yes, absolutely. We have so much talent here in Philly. Some that are going to have their own unique styles but there’s definitely room for another Jill, inspired by Jill.”

SD: “The music scene right now is extremely collaborative and I think that was a big part of why Jill Scott was able to shoot off into the stratosphere – because she has amazing players who were doing their thing, working with each other, and that’s exactly what Philly is to me right now.”

KL: “When I think about the time [Jill Scott came up], we didn’t have cell phones the way we do, we didn’t have social media the way we do. And to me, that synergy of people actively and intentionally connecting around something without your phone that’s always having you on the pulse. You just connected with the people, you saw them, they were in front of you. I would love and hope that’s happening now, that artists are able to step away from the things that pressure us to perform a certain way. I think about Jill Scott’s path, and I think The Roots, they were creating something together that they believed in, and everyone jumped in on it. I would love to see that energy.”

EP: “The saying is if you want to find success, you need to move out of where you used to live, move out of your hometown. It seems to me that people want to support you when you’re already supported. But the truth of the matter underneath that layer when you dig deep enough, when you’re being honest, when you’re being accountable, when you’re actually showing up as yourself is that people are going to support you if you’re supporting yourself, if you’re putting yourself out there. So I do think there’s means for it to happen again.”

QR: “The interesting thing about Black women and femmes in pop culture is that they kind of have to be uniquely different from one another in a kind of a really extreme way. And so I think Jill Scott said it on The Breakfast Club, if you’re in the room just be in the room. So if you’re in the room, why be the next Jill Scott in the room, be your own person. So I would say no, we don’t need another Jill Scott, ‘cause we have Jill Scott. We need other people who are not Jill Scott.”

Ebony, Sug, Kerrin, Eboni, and Qiaira will present their projects in person at the Black Music City Juneteenth Celebration, a culminating event for this year’s project held this Sunday, June 19th, at World Cafe Live. The event is FREE to attend, and will be video webcast as well on WXPN’s YouTube page. For more information and to RSVP, go here. Below, listen to a Jill Scott essentials playlist compiled by our panelists.

Related Content
View All Related Content

No news added recently