To explain how she found love, Jill Scott wants to take you on safari.
"In the animal kingdom, the lioness does the hunting," the singer said by phone between tour stops. "But the king, it's up to him to earn her.
"I went on safari, and I watched this male lion chase a lioness for two hours. He got close to her; she slapped the fool out of him. Made him bleed. Then she ran. And he ran. And she ran. And he ran. For hours. And then finally, she decided, Okay, you're the one. He earned it.
"And it was like a light switch: Ohhhhh … I think I had been doing the same thing."
And so Scott, 44, gave up the chase. She stopped hunting. She stopped pursuing. She got comfortable being on her own. She cleared out half her closet, cleared off one bedside table, and decided to let love fight for her, rather than the other way around.
"I gave it to the creator," she said. "I made room in my life for someone great."
Scott, who performs Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, is one of modern soul's great philosopher poets, a three-time Grammy winner who's made a career of mindful meditations on love and relationships. Her fifth album Woman, released last year, is all about the glory of finding love that works, love that fits, love that feels like love should feel.
So to hear her go deep on her own winding path to a stable and loving relationship … well, how can you not love that?
"There are things that happen as you grow up, as you mature, that you start to see the bigger picture," she said. "All along, I've been telling these stories of life, and I feel that I've really advanced into the maturity and wisdom of a woman. … Making room for what I want in my life, loving myself enough to focus on the things that matter to me, and forgetting about the rest of it — that takes time."
Scott was already 28 when she bloomed in the music industry, finding her footing as a spoken word artist before dropping her debut album, 2000's Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1. It featured the breezy hit A Long Walk, which walked listeners through a dream date with a dream lover — cruising the park after dark, discussing the Bible, eating passion fruit and listening to the Roots. She was an instant neo-soul heroine, respected and beloved for her deep, literate and personal lyrics.
"I don't read music," she said. "I explain what I'm looking to hear in terms of color, taste, texture and scenario. Not everybody can understand that. Not everybody can respect it. I'm a poet first. I'm a writer more so than everybody else. Not everybody gets it or likes it."
Scott's also an actor (Why Did I Get Married?, Get On Up), and said that business is even harder than the music industry, especially for women.
"It's part of the gig to be picked apart — too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too whatever," she said. "But that's kind of the way this business works, unfortunately. I think I've just made some decisions not to fall into anybody's traps of what they're thinking of my womanhood or me as a human. I've kind of let it all go. The things that I hope for, I work for. The things that I want to change, I work to change those, too. And the rest, whatever's going on in somebody else's mind, I leave that to them."
Then, on a dime, her tone brightens.
"You know what? This woman thing is really kind of awesome!" she said. "I've been wanting to be a grown up — like, authentically grown — for a long time, to the point where I'm now, in a lot of ways, the parent to my parents as well as my children. I'm the matriarch now. This is crazy. But it's also what I hoped for."
Indeed, Woman takes that girl from the park and pulls her into adulthood, where she's "reading her old journals" and "making room for my life to grow," even as she confronts "going through heartache" and feeling "overworked, underpaid." Through it all, she holds out hope of meeting the right man "at the end of the aisle / with that true heart / and that real smile."
For Scott, that love came in June, when she married her longtime beau, "an incredible friend," at their home outside Nashville, Tenn. It happened long after she stopped stalking love like a lioness on safari. And still it felt completely earned.
"Everybody talks about queendom and being the queen, but actually walking it authentically, earning it, going through the potholes, climbing ladders, falling down, listening to wise people give you good information, making hard decisions and tough choices — I like this. I think it suits me better than being a girl."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.