Jully Black is not known for keeping her opinions to herself.
The outspoken Toronto-born musician was the youngest of nine children and had to shout to be heard. Driven and unafraid, the 28-year-old Black backs up her refreshing frankness with immense talent.
Blessed with a powerful, soaring voice and songwriting skills to match, Black has made a big name for herself in the Canadian music scene and is a widely respected R&B star.
Aside from her gold-selling 2005 debut This is Me — which spawned the ubiquitous summer single “Sweat of Your Brow” — Black has also composed songs for artists like Destiny’s Child and Nas. On the side, Black has developed a TV career as a commentator and correspondent for CTV’s eTalk Daily.
Black’s interviews are must-see television, because unlike all of her peers, she possesses an infectious energy and snags great clips from celebs — often getting them to duet with her and break out into song. On the red carpet for events like the Emmys and Grammys, she attracts reluctant stars to drop by for screen time. “I’m 6’1″ in heels,” she says. “There’s no way they’re going to pass this black woman in heels that’s sexy and voluptuous on the red carpet.”
We caught up with Black to discuss her upbringing, why her music is intently bling-free and why she loves to blog.
Your first album was released last year, yet you’ve been performing for over ten years now as a songwriter, performer, right?
Yes, you see Kardinal, Socrates, we all met at summer music camp in 1994. We weren’t who we are now; basically we didn’t have aliases.
Tell me about your upbringing. What was it like being brought up in the tough area of Jane and Finch? Was it a nice community to grow up in, despite how the media portrays it?
Of course, of course. The thing of an eight year old being able to run next door, to run up the street to grab something for your mom is over because of crime and all that stuff. But we were able to go to the mall by ourselves at young ages. We were able to create music and dance. The school is there, and the library is there. I remember back in the day—‘cause we didn’t have computers—we’d go to the library to listen to music. It’s still a community where there’s a lot of growth going on. I’m proud of being from there, I lived there for eighteen years and it basically made me who I am today.
You have commented that hip-hop has become all about the “bling” and that you’re trying to do something different. What are you trying to achieve?
I’m trying to make a musical contribution, basically. I was able to go to Bangladesh and go to different garment factories [as part of documentary for MuchMusic] and I have a newfound outlook and perspective on materialism. I’m not going to be preachy like, “I don’t do this and I don’t do that.” I don’t think it’s up to me to say what I do or don’t do, but I should be responsible for my actions, set a great example for myself first, then lead by example. So, my thing is, actually have a message before you have any “bling”—have a message and purpose and put that in the forefront. I’m sure you can get your “bling” later. And buy Canadian diamonds, ‘cause we have diamonds here too.
Aside from music and TV, you also have another outlet to express yourself. You blog a lot on your website.
Oh, I blog a lot, yeah. I think it’s so great to be able to speak to your fans. It’s kind of like everybody, you just thank everyone, it’s like I’m speaking to my girlfriends or something. There are no limitations. I’m able to not worry about grammar and just have fun and maybe just speak. A lot of people have been responding; it’s not a gimmick, I’m like, if you read, you’ll see what I talk about. So, thank God for technology as far as that aspect, because uhhhh I want to say this and I don’t have to wait for my site to update, and so it’s liberating.
I’m glad you do that, because some people have a blog and they have like two entries only. I know, exactly, and it’s like “OK, can you not tell me something else?” I even blogged when I was in the Dominican Republic. It was so expensive but I just had to get a quick blog in, you know.
Black is currently in the studio recording her follow up to This is Me.