Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!


At this point in the summer last year I was stuck on the 5 Kanye Wyoming albums, released a week by week in June. Not a single other track in modern music was doing it for me, so I would listen non stop to the playlist I made for myself entitled “Kanye Summer Jams” Each week that passed and each new album would be added to the bottom of my playlist, then played on repeat for the whole summer. A year has passed and most likely another 1-3% of hearing loss, brings me to my present obsession. A cosmos away creatively, politically, and musically from Kanye West, wonderful Jamila Woods stems from the same city of Chicago. Woods is first and foremost a poet with a similar background as Noname, Chance The Rapper and several other young Chicago poets turned artists. Born in late 1986, Jamila grew up in Chicago involving herself in theater and the arts, earning a BA in Africana Studies and Theater and Performance art from Brown University. Woods works are focused on themes of Black ancestry, black feminism, identity, and self-love. Jamila Woods is an activist and advocate for art and young artists, she sits as the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors and has several published works as a poet. I, as most of the world watching music in 2015 heard Jamila’s amazing voice on “Sunday Candy” from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment free studio album release. Woods went on to release her first solo work “Heavn” in July 2016 which earned acclaim in small circles. Woods is a master at Contrafactums, taking lyrics the audience is familiar with (Like Dawson’s creek theme) and substituting one text for another without a change in melody or music. Her touch is beautiful, empathetic and ambitious. Neo-soul, Funk, R&B, Afrojazz come to mind with an unmatched soulful voice and intelligent witty lyrics.

LEGACY! LEGACY! A homage to the artists of inspiration and legacy. “I was looking through the lenses of these different people, their work, things they said,” Woods said in 2019. This collection of songs is well thought out in concept, production, and clever lyricism. Some of the artists in which the songs are titled are obvious but others were only revealed to me via her quasi bibliography in the liner notes of the vinyl. LEGACY! LEGACY! is timorous and unconventionally not over-produced, the sound is funky and soulful. The lyrics are powerful with whit, modern references, clever observation of the present, and homage to the art of the past.

The album begins with
“BETTY” as in funk musician Betty Davis, opening with groovy piano and Jamila’s vocals, evolving into a beat-driven uplifting track. The lyrics point to her sense of self-worth and originality despite the hardships she endures as a woman of color. This track sets the pace of the album, it’s inspiring and a captivating opener.
“ZORA” inspired by author Zora Neale Hurston is a textural track with panning drums and bass, magnificent breakdowns, and careful vocal harmonies. Lyrically this track is full of contrafacta and poet cleverness. “I tenderly fill my enemies with white light” encompasses the feel of the track. This was my favorite cut upon first listen, it’s somehow new and familiar in the same breath.
“GIOVANNI” based on a poem ”Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni a fast-moving bass and drum set with panning tremolo piano track along with mid-track guitar work. with heavy R&B energy and a bit of soft rap and powerhouse vocals.
“SONIA” poet Sonia Sanchez. A stripped-down mellow texture of synth bass and an 808 behind a ¾ soulful lyric flow, that starts low and slow and swells to a very groovy flow.
“FRIDA” Kahlo brings the drums in this glitchy track full of lyrical metaphors that seem to point to the unconventional relationship of Frida Kahlo and her husband, artist Diego Rivera.
“EARTHA” Eartha Kitt brings us down a notch with a bit of mellow 808, piano, hand claps, and synth bass, this song has a great sense of imaging and panning from left to right. Lyrics seem to paint a coming of age story of confidence and self-worth.
MILES” Davis comes with driving 1/16 note hi-hat work, guitar, and a mouthful of lyrics that speak to the work that miles Davis put into his mastery of music.
“MUDDY” Waters not to him, or as him but about him. This track contains the most amount of guitar distortion, and natural drums and is the closest thing to Rock on the album. Jamila ambiguously tells the story of being accepted for your art, but not your color.
“BASQUIAT” Jean-Michel Basquiat is my current favorite cut on the album, this song takes it’s time and builds to a textural masterpiece, rocking a full band, the sense of space and imaging is full of timbre and quite wonderful. The lyrics are politically charged and almost evoke the spirit of TLC with some of the rhyme schemes.
“SUN-RA” inspired by Sun Ra’s Sci-Fi poetry book “This Planet Is Doomed” is another stripped-down cut with 808 that sounds rather science fiction, with futuristic-sounding percussion and laser shots.
“OCTAVIA” Buttler, another sci-fi Afrofuturism author. This cut also sounds Sci-Fi but more of an 80’s new wave vibe, the panning synth makes this cut quite trippy. She sings low and slow that provides a sense of intimacy.
“BALDWIN” James Baldwin novelist, playwright and activist. starts with soft piano and vocals, that evolves into a powerhouse track with futuristic bass, and a touch of horns, that for me serves as a wonderful album closer.
“BETTY(FOR BOOGIE)” a reprise and nod to Chicago music, is a remix/ reprise that is electronic and fun but seems to not belong on the album.

This albums is fun, sounds wonderful, and provides a more mature step for Jamila Woods as an artist from her previous release. I have listened to this album at least 50 times and I must say it has great replay value. This album is a breath of fresh air when releases seem to be dull and generic the last couple of months. I love the concept of paying homage to the artists that brought inspiration. As a white dude, my view and understanding of the lyrical theme are limited, all I know is that I enjoy it. This album is available on vinyl and streaming at 24/96 Flac on Qobuz and MQA on Tidal.