Jamila Woods Album Reviews

Chicago’s Jamila Woods is a recording artist and 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. Both her writing and music focus on the themes of black feminism and self-love.

Introduction

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 of previous generations of soul and R&B. She grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, and her smooth grooves and political conscience connect her to the previous neo-soul stars, like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill.

Jamila Woods Album Reviews

Heavn

3

2016, 8/10
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.


Legacy! Legacy!

2019, 9.5/10
Jamila Woods dedicated her second album to twelve of her heroes. Each of the tracks is named for one of Woods’ role models and is intended as a self-portrait of a ground-breaking creative force. 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 less
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 – Jamila Woods

‘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.


Water Made Us

2023, 9/10
Chicago R&B singer Jamila Woods has had an almost impeccable solo career to date. Her debut featured the anthem ‘Blk Girl Soldier’, one of my favourite songs of the decade. 2019’s Legacy! Legacy! was an instant classic, with its 13 tracks profiling African-American heroes like ‘Miles’, ‘Muddy’, and ‘Eartha’. On her third solo album, she’s pulled away from the political, with an album centered on love. Conceptualised during the COVID pandemic, Water Made Us traces the cycle of a relationship.

Woods is also a published poet, so it’s not surprising that her lyrics are consistently eloquent and insightful. Opening track ‘Bugs’, features the line “Will I ever settle down/Turn my life around?”

Woods seems less guarded this time around. I’ve never heard her sound as joyful as on ‘Practice’. Accompanied by the rapper Saba, she delivers lines like “It’s been a few days and I’m missin’ your face”, less dignified than usual.

There are lots of strong songs, but it’s hard to go past the singles. ‘Tiny Garden’ opens into a vibrant chorus, sounding African with its percussion and joyful vocals. ‘Boomerang’ is also beautiful, featuring Woods’ smooth vocals.

Whether she’s tackling politics or love, Woods is always classy.

8 Best Jamila Woods Songs

Blk Girl Soldier
Zora
Tiny Garden
Baldwin
Octavia
Boomerang
Holy
Practice

Back to 2010s Album Reviews….

Leave a Reply


  • Jason Isbell The Nashville Sound

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

  • The Beatles Revolver