The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “A Long Walk” by Jill Scott

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Jill Scott | still from video

Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “A Long Walk” from Jill Scott’s 2000 album Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1.

Last fall, Jill Scott broke the internet (as folks like to say), when a YouTube video went viral showing the Philadelphia singer, songwriter, and poet onstage and imitating oral sex using her microphone as an apropos prop. While there was much pearl-clutching among casual listeners who maybe gravitated towards the wholesome facade of her music, longtime fans pointed out that Jilly from Philly has always celebrated sexuality in her art — with Questlove’s take, as usual, being the best: “Lol at y’all Jill Scott newbies. Y’all thought she was incense and sandals huh?”

But why is this even a choice? Why can’t Scott be a proud sexual being as well as somebody who revels in the simple things in life and love, like commitment and devotion? Let’s go back to her first album Who Is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds Vol. 1 and one of her first big hits to see how both things coexist.

The effervescent and impossibly smooth “A Long Walk” is lyrically stream-of-conscious from the perspective of a person on a date. Scott impressively rocks the second person voice, typically a difficult one in storytelling, to paint a vivid picture of two people early in their relationship — “You’re here, I’m pleased, I really dig your company” — and then gets to the point where they have to talk about their pasts.

Your background, it ain’t squeaky clean
Shit, sometimes we all got to swim upstream
You ain’t no saint, we all are sinners
But you put your good foot down and make your soul a winner

Talk about acceptance, talk about looking beyond one’s shortcomings. Talk about how they aren’t even shortcomings, really, ’cause “we all got to swim upstream.” Whatever the opposite of slut-shaming might be called, this is what it looks like in practice: pure acceptance and love.

As the song plays on, Scott’s narrator and their partner wind their way through the date, shooting the breeze with intellectual conversation, pondering spirituality through passages of the qur’an and Bible, making plans for the future — seeing a movie, seeing a play — and thinking about just kicking back, maybe getting high (“we can roll a tree and feel the breeze”), while enjoying the music of their favorite local band (“we can take a cruise and listen to the Roots”).

The song’s central conceit, a long walk around the park after dark, is rendered as such a romantic idyll, such a sweet and comforting picture of two people enjoying one another’s company and nothing more, that this is possibly the beginning of that cognitive dissonance we mentioned above. But a closer inspection shows that “A Long Walk” is not just wholesome but holistic, wrapping up our passions, our love, our spiritual aspirations, and yes, our sexual desire in a robust picture of what it’s like, not just to be human, but to be two humans together.

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