And she almost didn’t come out of retirement to make it.
A native of Philadelphia, Sullivan was first signed to Jive Records at the age of 15. She recorded an entire album with them, but it was shelved indefinitely and she was eventually dropped from the label.
Sullivan retreated to behind-the-scenes work, writing and guesting on other artists’ songs. Eventually, she released her first single, “Need U Bad,” which featured Missy Elliott and Pepa of Salt-n-Pepa. That song jumped to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and peaked at 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her debut album, on which she wrote every track, was released in 2008 and debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Sullivan’s second album, Fearless, was released in November 2010. It too contained several hits, though Sullivan told Billboard in 2015 that she didn’t “give it a push at all. I didn’t give it a chance and a lot of that was due to the personal issues I was going through.”
In December 2010, Sullivan was named Billboard‘s “Rising Star” for 2010. She’d notched a total of eight Grammy nominations during her career, but then, in January 2011, she tweeted that she was leaving the music industry.
“I promised myself when it wasn’t fun anymore I wouldn’t do it,” she wrote. “And, here I am. I’m not saying I won’t ever sing again in my life because I don’t believe that. But in this moment right now got some things to figure out.”
What followed was a three-year hiatus, which Sullivan said she used to “come to a point where I’ve learned and am still learning to love myself completely.”
Somewhere during that process, she started work on what would eventually become Reality Show. “My confidence was completely shot,” she told Pitchfork of her return to music, which she said was like “learning how to walk again.”
“But,” she added, “the love that I got when I finally did start performing again was all that I needed to just get back out there. Just to know that people were out there and they missed me. That made all the difference.”
Four years after announcing her retirement, Sullivan dropped Reality Show, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart, sold 30,000 copies in its first week and garnered three Grammy nominations, bringing her lifetime total up to 11.
Not bad for a retiree.