Jaguar Wright Not Just Jay-Z's Backup Singer

Soulful crooner releases debut album, Denial, Delusions & Decisions.

The events leading up to the release of her debut album, Denial, Delusions & Decisions, are far from such chance happenings as bumping into your neighbor in the grocery store or ordering the same dish as a co-worker in your company's cafeteria. But soulful crooner Jaguar Wright likes to think of the development of some of her songs and how her career fell into place as being "coincidental" or "matter-of-factish." 

"That was one of the biggest surprises I ever had in my life," she giggled about her backup singing appearance on Jay-Z's recent "Unplugged" MTV special. Jay called on hip-hop band the Roots to perform with him, and Wright just so happened to be down with that crew. So she ended up providing live vocals for the hooks on such Jay tracks as "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and "Girls, Girls, Girls."

"I went and started listening, beefing up on my Jay-Z material. We only had one real rehearsal with everybody there. I did what I do and I wanted to make sure I was going to bring something to the show and not take away from the show. It was the first [hip-hop] 'Unplugged' in so long, and it was Jay-Z, and it was my family. I wanted to do my family proud and I wanted to do Jay proud."

As one of the first artists to emerge from their MCA imprint, Motive, she's done the Roots proud with Denial, Delusions & Decisions. ("Those three things are something everybody has in common," she said of the title. "Sometimes we play the fool, sometimes we fool people.")

"It's a very simple and basic story," she said about the LP's first single, "I Can't Wait," which features fellow Philadelphia native Bilal. "I wrote a bunch of songs, one I knew I wanted as a duet, I called a friend and he said, 'Sure.' "

"It ain't nothing but us acting up," she said. "Anytime [Bilal and I] get together, we're joking, we're clowning, we're acting up. That's the good thing about working with your friends, it doesn't seem like work. Work is something we end up having to do so we don't waste money [on the studio]. Our chemistry works. He's the male version of me."

Like Bilal, with whom she's performed off and on for the past two years, Jaguar had to pay her dues. "I'd been trying to get in for a long time," she said. Ten years to be exact. Her resume includes stints as a convenience-store clerk and roadie. In 1997, she got the chance to perform for the whole industry at a music conference in Washington, D.C., but it wasn't until two years later that her set would start to pay off. Groove Theory's producer and songwriter Bryce Wilson found out about her and wanted to make her a part of his group.

At the same time, Wright had landed a recurring gig with the Black Lilly open mic forum that took place in Philadelphia and New York in 1999. The Roots, who helped organize the events, took notice of the singer.

"I went with my gut," she said. "Bryce was asking me to give away all my publishing and sing his music. The Roots offered me an opportunity to move forward with my own career and do music I believe in."

Wright laments about believing in a man and then being left to rot in love's doldrums on the Denial, Delusions & Decisions track "The What Ifs," a tune she'll be performing in commercials for Coca-Cola starting February 4. "The 'What Ifs' was written in my parents' backyard, and I was smoking a cigarette and thinking about my ex-boyfriend and wanted to say something," she said. " 'What if' was the biggest phrase I used in that whole sad three-year relationship. Words started coming to me. By the time I put out my cigarette and walked up to my room, the song was finished."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, "Lineage," where she sings about loved ones who have died, took her the most time to pen.

"I was losing family members," Wright said of a one-year period when several people close to her died. "Every time I would finish writing a verse, somebody else died. I didn't wanna leave anybody else out. When people stopped dying I could write. I lost five people that year. I cried the whole time I wrote the song."