Unapologetic about her heritage
Jamila Woods is a Chicago-based singer, songwriter and community activist. She knows that history is important; it’s not just some words written in some old, dusty book. Woods understands that history explains how we have arrived at the present, and provides a basis for predicting and shaping the future. Woods shares this world view and more on her sophomore album Legacy! Legacy!
Legacy! Legacy! is a blend of neo-soul and alternative R&B. Instrumentation, made of anything from jazzy horns to piano chords to bleep-bloop electronics, is consistently woozy and contemplative; the beats are generally in a hip-hop style. As for vocals, Woods’ voice is unassuming and light on the ears, but one would never assume she’s bashful. Even before hearing a single note, the track listing proudly shouts the names of Woods’ artistic heroes and heroines, such as writer and essayist James Baldwin, funk icon Betty Davis and painter Frida Kahlo. The lyrics reveal Woods is not afraid to swear, and she does not beat around the bush about her values and perspective, either.
Each track details an instance of Woods learning a lesson from a hero. Occasionally, Woods is fascinated simply with inheritance, the idea of receiving something from someone before. On “Octavia,” Woods marvels at the risks slaves took to learn to read and write, leading to Octavia Butler being able to write her award-winning novels. Woods sings, “I write it down/ it happens next,” as a nod to the written word being able to influence and teach future generations. On “Sonia,” Woods discusses domestic abuse and trauma suffered by women in relationships, and possible parallels to the struggles of her ancestors. The track features an amazing rap verse from Nitty Scott, in which Scott sums up the album’s feminism theme in one sweet line, “all the women in me are tired.”
Other times, Woods is awed by the supreme confidence and swagger of her icons. On the opener “Betty,” Woods goes full fangirl for Betty Davis’ bravery and single-minded focus on self-expression despite the disapproval and ostracization by a patriarchal music industry. On “Miles,” Woods celebrates Miles Davis’ artistic control and independence by putting herself in his shoes, singing, “In the old country / You could make me tap dance, shake hands, yes ma’am / But I’m a free man now.” Learning about the confidence of luminaries that came before her, Woods gains the confidence to declare her own freedom of expression at several points on the album. On “Giovanni,” Woods sings, “I am not your rib, I am not your Eve.” asserting that she will not be boxed in or trampled because of other people’s perceptions of a woman’s position in society.
Musically, the best aspect is the psychedelia. Instrumentals are woozy and trippy, and Woods acts as a cool, mellow guide through the psychedelic haze. The best example of this is the track “Giovanni,” in which instruments and effects layer on top of each other unevenly to create a fantastically colorful atmosphere. Slot-A handled much of the production on this album, and many tracks follow this approach.
While these psychedelic beats are decent, rarely do the lyrical concepts mesh cohesively with the music. Tracks like “Betty” and “Miles” would have been much stronger with funk and jazz elements, respectively. One moment on the album where cohesion does happen is “Muddy,” a homage to the legacy of blues musician Muddy Waters. The beat on this song features a gritty guitar, famously Muddy Waters’ axe of choice, as well as a more rock-influenced drum beat. This effectively conveys the idea of musical legacy, and helps to enhance the song as an ode to Waters’ achievements.
Woods aced the test in revealing her personality and thoughts on this album, but still lacks in the musical department. As competent and fresh as the music is, the production is not surprising or compelling enough for greatness. Additionally, a musical component to complement the lyrics would have improved the album’s concept greatly. Finally, this album is much more cerebral than emotional. While this is not inherently bad, the ray of emotion when Nico Segal blew his horns on “Baldwin” felt superior to almost anything else the album brought musically to the table. Woods casts a beacon on the legacies of past heroes, but has yet to shed light on her own.