Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Jaguar Wright's name can be added to the list of such Philly-based neo-soul talents as Grammy award-winning rap band The Roots and multi-platinum hitmakers Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild. Wright earned rave reviews for her background vocal stint at Jay-Z' MTV Unplugged appearance during December 2001. Around February 2002, she began appearing in a national TV ad for Coca Cola. Her energetic stage shows garnered favorable write-ups in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone.
In a kind of homage to the old-school, Wright covers fellow Philly singer Patti LaBelle's hit "Love, Need and Want You" on her debut album, Denials Delusions and Decisions, which was issued by Motive/MCA on January 29, 2002. With production by members of the Roots, James Poyser, Richard Nichols, Scott Storch, Pino Palladino, Larry Gold, and Vikter Duplaix, the album is a provocative brew of gut-wrenching soul and incisive, life-influenced lyrics. The results spins a "fo' real" autobiographical tint (helped along by salty language on the uncensored version of the album), moving some to drawing comparisons to her contemporary Mary J. Blige and R&B/rap-roots mother Millie Jackson as well as Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. Still, on Denials Delusions and Decisions Wright offers an enticing, unique portrait of a young woman trying to find her way through life, through songs that are mesmerizing whether they're biting or beautiful.
The singer grew up in a household where it was forbidden to listen to secular music. Her earliest musical influence came through attending church events, social gatherings, and weddings where her father would sing. Still Wright got her fill of such favorites as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Minnie Riperton by attending parties, listening to music while her parents were away, and sneaking into the family's garage at midnight to listen to the radio. Wright started performing as a rapper in a group called Philly Blunts. Four years later after they disbanded, she began doing background vocal work for artists in Philly, New York, and New Jersey.
In early 1999, while working at a convenience store in New Jersey, Wright heeded the advice of her vocal coach and began pursuing a full-time music career. While attending the release party for the Roots' Things Fall Apart album, she met Leslie Arnette-Pina and Scott Storch and was added to the lineup of the Black Lily, an acclaimed performance showcase held at the Five Spot in Philly, and later toured with the Roots on the Okayplayer Tour. After singing on the band's album The Roots Come Alive on the track "The Lesson, Pt. 3 (Its Over Now)" and the single "What You Want" from The Best Man movie soundtrack, Wright signed with the band's Motive label.
With thumbs-up reviews in Vibe, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone,Denials Delusions and Decisions has several standout cuts: Wright shows a tender side on "Country Song": "I'd watch a fuzzy screen with you/as long as I gotcha, boo." The singer's own struggles as a teen mother seem to be mirrored on world-weary phat funk of "Same Sh*t Different Day, Pt. 1." "I Can't Wait" is a sly, percolating duet between Wright and fellow Philadelphian Bilal that's perfect for bedroom bopping. The Roots' Black Thought guests on "I Don't Know" and "Ain't Nobody Playin'." "Lineage" is Wright's ode to family life with lyrics that paint a vivid picture. The clavinet-laced, strident "2 Too Many" has a groove along the lines of Stevie Wonder's "Maybe Your Baby" from Talking Book. The introspective "Self Love" is inspiring and almost ten minutes long. ~ Ed Hogan