Music is, undoubtedly, one of the great wonders of the world. It’s incredible how much power an album, a song, or even a couple lyrics can possess — enough to give voice to suppressed emotions, summarize our hardships, or even contextualize entire periods of our lives.
Right now, the city of Chicago is a harbor of young creative talent making powerful music, from wordsmiths like Noname and Mick Jenkins to soulful voices like Ravyn Lenae and Jamila Woods. I was actually listening to the latter’s debut album, HEAVN, not too long ago. I hadn’t frequented this album nearly as often as I’d wanted to, but I felt compelled to revisit this album in anticipation of an imminent music release (she released a single, “Giovanni,” back in October).
A “very black” album, HEAVN is similar to A Seat at the Table in the way that it puts Black people — more specifically, Black women — front and center. And also like Solange’s exceptional 2016 album, the messages portrayed across HEAVN, though often aimed at Black women, have nonetheless been an incredible source of personal empowerment.
As I was listening through the album, I came to the song “Holy” in the latter part of the tracklist. “Holy,” a song about self-love, has been one of my favorites off the album ever since the first time I heard it nearly 2 years ago. But there was something about hearing those lyrics recently — “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me” — that really, really hit home for me in a way they hadn’t previously.
Perhaps it’s that I have a deeper appreciation for what those words mean due to the struggle it took me to learn what self-love really is.
You see, most of my adolescent/teenage years were spent oscillating between bouts of self-loathing and existential dread. I was a Black kid who didn’t like being Black; there were days I would literally flip my reflection in the mirror the bird because I despised even looking at myself. The world around me — the news, my peers at school, and even my parents — had little good to say about Blackness, and in turn, I had little good to say about myself.
Junior high/high school only accentuated my anxieties. Aside from the constant barrage of racist jokes, I just struggled to form real, lasting friendships (I had a lot of “friends” and “acquaintances” but very few real, constructive fellowships). As time passed and I became increasingly more alienated from those “friendships,” I began to dread what the future held — would I ever find true friends? Would I ever experience an intimate relationship? Was the rest of my life destined for friendlessness and lovelessness?
It wasn’t until college that I took steps to really work on loving myself and fostering my self-esteem. Some of my new outlook was simply a product of age and maturity, but I also benefited greatly from a change of perspective and a much more progressive environment in which to nurture this new frame of mind. And, of course, listening to elightening, Black-centric music, from artists just like Solange and Jamila, certainly played a role.
Nevertheless, it was still a struggle to get to a place where my decisions were my own, and not for someone’s else’s approval; a place where I didn’t have to put an unhealthy amount of stock in the opinions of others; a place where I was finally comfortable in my own skin — literally, my Blackness was no longer a thing of shame and disgust, but a thing of pride. And as my own self-worth improved, things began to fall in place naturally: I developed some of the most robust, worthwhile relationships I’ve ever had and experienced legitimate periods of happiness, an emotion I was nearly unacquainted with.
So yeah, I suppose I do have a deeper appreciation for what Jamila Woods is really saying in these lyrics. When she sings “Woke up this morning with my mind set on moving me,” I’m reminded that it wasn’t that long ago that I woke up every morning hating myself; when she says “I’m not lonely, I’m alone / and I’m holy by my own,” I remember that it wasn’t that long ago that I got aloneness and loneliness confused, and feared every single day that I was destined for loneliness.
The road to self-love and a healthier state of mind was a dramatic journey; even merely reminiscing gets me a little emotional. So you can imagine how I emotional I felt when, in a span of seconds, in just a couple of lines, Jamila took back through the last decade or so of my life.
I guess that’s what makes music so phenomenal — the many ways a single song or a lyric can hit you from a different angle, at any random time, and at any given moment.