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The primal howls, soothing vocals, and defiant lyrics of singer-songwriter Jamila Woods have been gracing the soul music scene since her debut album HEAVN came out in 2016. Woods’ sound is one that doesn’t surface every generation, and can only be matched by the sheer sincerity found in Betty Davis’ ‘70s rock & roll. This type of explicit, critical, self-assuring approach tends to be overlooked and discredited, especially among (Black) women artists. Not that this should come as a surprise, since Woods’ style has enough range to shake the music industry’s very foundations.
For her second album LEGACY! LEGACY!, Woods presents us with an ostensibly simple concept: its songs are named after historical figures in literature, music and the arts. Thus the track list is a tribute in and of itself, offering us a glimpse into what kind of substance the tracks are made of before we even press play.
The album-opening “BETTY” is a firm statement on what Woods is and has always been about: she’s built different and not to be fucked with. The piano pattern and the drum machine effects might be a little confusing at first, nevertheless, the aural vocals are able to afford this straightforward piece a trippy comfort zone. Track number two “ZORA” (named after author Zora Neale Hurston) provides us with a jazz-inflected hip-hop background while the singer sounds as delicate and confident as if she had just gone through the brightest introspective journey ever.
With its funky breakbeats, lead single “GIOVANNI” serves as Woods’ ultimate message, the urgent report of a liberation soldier who’s clear about her context, background, and mission. The singer-songwriter sounds courageous, disdainful, loving, and even carefree, her melodic approach is unmatched at this point. On top of it all, the album version includes a guitar solo that elevates the song to anthemic proportions.
“SONIA” warns girls and young women of toxic, manipulative, and immature men. All while Nitty Scott captures the moment by delivering an impeccable verse which ranges from political consciousness to emotional intelligence. It’s simply brilliant.
Following the same theme is “FRIDA,” a funky laid-back track about a romantic relationship in which the singer deals with balancing self-love and commitment. In a well-thought sequencing, “EARTHA” catches Woods going to lengths to explore surpassing her traumas and growing beyond others’ expectations. Together, both tracks evoke a nice early 2000s Kelis and Neptunes feel, which creates balance right in the middle of the album.
In the runaway slave tirade “MILES” (obvious reference), the Chicago vocalist showcases many delivery techniques over a nicely executed bebop leaning drum beat. “MUDDY” follows and the formerly enslaved are now taking over, it’s a hard-hitting, guitar-driven track that calls to mind John McLaughlin and Miles Davis’ rock fusion efforts, making for another standout moment.
The Saba-featuring “BASQUIAT” (again, obvious reference) is the primitive yet rightful answer from Woods to any former master trying to step over Black people and patrol their anger, joy, resentment, and even carefreeness. The sweet and minimalistic production along with the hypnotic vocals make this heavy track simply delightful.
On “SUN RA,” trauma is examined from a mass consciousness perspective, where Black people are forced to survive in state-sanctioned oppression and abandonment. Both Jasminfire and theMind offer their vocals in this slow-burning rhapsody.
With a trip-hop beat and double-track vocals, “OCTAVIA” (for author Octavia E. Butler) finds Woods chronicling, in the most explanatory way, the richness of the legacies that have shaped her art and activism (namely, the people who inspired the titles here).
Since the closing track is a house music reworking of “BETTY” (Chicagoan much?), track number twelve “BALDWIN” serves as the actual concluding piece. As with the extended version of “GIOVANNI,” here Woods succeeds in making a crowd-pleasing anthem that brings proper culmination to the whole album. The production, built on drum machines and synths, is a benefiting accompaniment for the singer to vent out on how difficult it is to be nice and coexist with the oppressors. Excellent trumpet playing from Nico Segal is fundamental for this track to achieve such ethereal quality.
Jamila Woods has given us an incredible LP in LEGACY! LEGACY!, with well-constructed, layered concepts, and successfully tackling the conditions in which oppressed people live in today’s society, and more specifically, in America. Her fearless and decisive conceptions of music and activism create a new path for future radical organizers in creative spaces. Woods, with her succinct yet vigorous voice, is firmly at top of her game and is definitely a force to be reckoned with for a lot of people. Don’t look now, but she’s destined to become a dominant presence in music for many years to come.
Notable Tracks: "BALDWIN" | “GIOVANNI” | "ZORA"