The city of Chicago has a strong musical tradition that has been somewhat revitalized during this decade by the Chicago Renaissance — carried out by artists like Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa, Noname, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Ravyn Lenae, just to name a few.
Among the emerging voices of the Windy City is Jamila Woods, a singer/poet/activist who has used her art for so much more than simply just making music. What sets Woods apart in the current landscape of R&B/soul, and music as a whole, is her commitment to telling important and salient stories, utilizing her art almost exclusively to offer political commentary and social introspection from a relatable perspective. On her 2016 debut project HEAVN, standouts like “VRY BLK,” “Holy,” and “LSD” emphasized her incredibly pro-Black/pro-woman politics, philosophies on self-love, and her affinity for her hometown. Her pleasant voice, coupled with a gauntlet of syrupy, neo-soul Midwestern production, made for one of that year’s most elegant musical experiences.
Three years later, on her second album LEGACY! LEGACY!, Woods returns with an even clearer sense of purpose and an even more refined sense of artistry. On her latest project, Woods honors 12 of her heroes (Betty Davis, Zora Neale Hurston, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Jean Michel Basquiat, Le Sony’r “Sun” Ra, Octavia Butler, and James Baldwin), as well as the musical/literary/artistic legacy they’ve left behind, through the lens of her own experiences.
Lyrically, LEGACY! LEGACY! reads like poetry (which is unsurprising, since she is a poet) as she uses those icons from history to tell stories of her own — whether it be confronting toxic masculinity on “Betty,” addressing the stereotype of the “angry Black woman” on the song “Basquiat,” or attacking cultural appropriation and cultural erasure on the song “Muddy.”
But militancy isn’t the only emotion running high on this incredible project. On the song “Eartha,” one of the album’s singles, Woods takes after the iconic “Santa Baby” singer’s uncompromising attitude in regards to love and relationships; on “Giovanni,” one of the myriad of highlights amongst the tracklist, Jamila Woods basks in self-empowerment and ancestral blessing; and the single “Baldwin,” while primarily about microaggressiveness and gentrification, is also a song about dealing with the psychological dilemma of showing love to one’s supposed enemies.
LEGACY! LEGACY!, in its totality, is a unique expression of identity and a celebration of Black artistic creations. With musical references to jazz, soul, hip-hop, rock, blues, and even house music, as well as deep historical references to these legends of color, Jamila Woods’ latest album, much like its palate of instrumentals, is lush, layered, and gorgeous.