If Jill Scott's sultry debut disc Who Is Jill Scott? doesn't blow up within the closed-minded R&B world -- and without even a hint of formulaic bump 'n' grind, don't expect it to -- it's good to know she's got something to fall back on.
In fact, you almost get the impression that music is a distraction for the Philadelphia singer.
An actor, spoken-word artist and author, Scott was busy hitting the boards in Philly and touring with the Vancouver production of Rent long before she got her musical break writing the hook for the Roots' single You Got Me. The chorus for the Grammy-winning cut was eventually sung by Erykah Badu. Scott probably didn't have time.
It starts to make sense that Who Is Jill Scott? took so long to finish. Still, Scott has managed to juggle her heavy schedule with grace, due in part to an overwhelming confidence in her work that, if taken the wrong way, could come off as arrogance.
Art attack "I call myself a writer, a singer, an actress and a poet," she offers from New York. "I have a lot of goals, and there isn't one thing I feel closer to than the others. I am passionate about my art, and for me that is a culmination of all those different things.
"That extends to the record, too. I wanted this record to be a full gallery of music. A little jazz, a little blues, a little soul, a little gogo. I wanted to give people a taste. This is just an introduction to what is going to be happening in my solo career."
For all its various directions, what stands out most on Who Is Jill Scott? is her ability to interweave deep soul crooning with raw spoken word. Where most would simply choose one or the other, Scott regularly mixes it up between the two, occasionally even changing gears mid-song.
"There's something a lot more honest and direct about spoken word," Scott reasons. "It can work nicely with music, though. I mean, some of the writers I respect most are people like Gil Scott-Heron and Ursula Rucker, people who really do mix the two worlds up.
"Music is just one thing I'm feeling. I also write short stories, children's books, screenplays and plays. It's all words. Some of it just suggests a beat to me.
Pay attention "I like to think this is a record that people have to pay attention to. It's not a dance record, and I don't think it's a record you can just have on in the background. It's nice to be able to use language to grab people like that."
So far, the people grabbed hardest are British new-school soul DJs like Gilles Peterson, who are eating up the disc's sophisticated mix of jazz, funk and soul.
Whether Scott will be swept up by either the straight-ahead R&B set or the new wave of organic American soul artists like Erykah Badu and Angie Stone is less certain, but it certainly won't be for lack of trying.
"I think this record fits neatly in the R&B/jazz/hiphop/funk section," she declares. "Whether R&B kids or hiphop kids like it isn't my concern.
"I like to call this new-school R&B. It's not manufactured and it's not artificial. It is what it is. It also comes from a good place, and that's the most important thing to me."
JILL SCOTT, with MOS DEF and DJ MASTERMIND, as part of the Urban Music Festival, at the CNE Bandshell (Exhibition Place), Sunday (August 27). $7. 393-6300.