Chicago’s Jamila Woods is a recording artist and a writer. She graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Africana Studies and Theater & Performance Studies. Her poetry has been featured in anthologies like Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls, and both her writing and music focus on the themes of black feminism and self-love.
Woods’ musical career started with the soul-pop band Milo & Otis, which she formed with classmate Owen Hill. The duo released two records before splitting in 2014, and Woods released her first solo album, Heavn, in 2016. She’s also guested on tracks by Chance the Rapper and Macklemore.
Woods’ music is a continuation to previous generations of soul and R&B. She grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, and her smooth grooves and political conscience connects her to the previous generation of neo-soul stars, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill.
Jamila Woods Album Reviews
Jamila Woods already had plenty of musical experience when she cut her debut – two albums in soul-pop band Milo & Otis, as well as singing the hook on Donnie Trumpet’s ‘Sunday Candy’. Her debut record features fellow Chicago artists Chance the Rapper, Saba, and Trumpet, and the lyrics reflect her passions – black feminism, the city of Chicago, and self-love.
Woods has an endearing habit of quoting other songs, including the melody line – ‘Breadcrumbs’ takes a line from Stevie Wonder’s ‘All I Do’, ‘Lonely Lonely’ quotes from Paula Cole’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’, while ‘Way Up’ uses the opening line from Janelle Monae’s ‘Violet Stars Happy Hunting!’ as its own launching point. The Cure, Radiohead, and Incubus are also quoted.
The standout track is ‘Blk Girl Soldier’, a vibrant protest song with centuries of rage channeled into positive action. There’s a great vocal melody, propulsive percussion, and a low humming synth bass. The bridge was taken from Black Lives Matter protest marches; “Rosa was a freedom fighter/And she taught us how to fight”. Woods isn’t solely political – ‘Holy’ is a confident statement about self-love, while she’s vulnerable on ‘Lonely Lonely’.
Heavn is an articulate debut album from Woods, setting the scene for an amazing sophomore effort.
Jamila Woods dedicated her second album to twelve of her heroes. Each of the tracks is named for one of Woods’ role models, and are intended as self-portraits of these ground-breaking creative forces. Legacy! Legacy! features musical portraits of:
– funk musician Betty Davis
– author Zora Neale Hurston
– poet Nicky Giovanni
– poet Sonia Sanchez
– artist Frida Kahlo
– singer Eartha Kitt
– jazz trumpeter Miles Davis
– blues musician Muddy Waters
– artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
– jazz musician Sun Ra
– author Octavia Butler
– author James Baldwin
The music’s great – classy and organic R&B – but it’s the theme that makes Legacy! Legacy! stand apart. With her own successful career as a poet and using other literary figures as inspiration, Woods has great lines all over Legacy! Legacy!
I like you better when you see me lessFrida – Jamila Woods
I like me better when I’m not so stressed
Can we do it like Frida? We could build a bridge then
I could come see ya, just not where I live
‘Frida’ refers to the bridge that married couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera constructed between their separate homes. Woods grew up in the only black family in an Irish neighbourhood in Chicago, and she related to Zora Neale Hurston’s line “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” In standout track ‘Zora’, Woods sings “Must be disconcerting how I discombob’ your mold/I’ve always been the only, every classroom, every home.”
Legacy! Legacy! is an outstanding sophomore record from Woods, a masterpiece that works even without its thematic heft.
Five Best Jamila Woods Songs
Blk Girl Soldier
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