On ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!,’ Jamila Woods is at her best

by Tyler Beresford

On ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!,’ Jamila Woods is at her best

Jamila Woods

Jagjaguwar Records · May 10, 2019

On ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!,’ Jamila Woods is at her best

In her sophomore album LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila shows off her skills as poet, researcher, teacher, and rapper.

Jamila Woods garnered the attention of many after being featured on Chance the Rapper’s infectious track, “Sunday Candy”. Following this buzz, the Chicago native release her debut album HEAVN in 2017 and grounded herself as an R&B poet with promise.

In the past year, there have been several black artists who have written albums about the history and struggle of their ancestors and the struggle that still remains for black people today. However, few have created works so poignant and well informed as Jamila Woods. In her sophomore album LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila shows off her skills as poet, researcher, teacher, and rapper.

Each track on LEGACY! LEGACY! is named after and pays tribute to trailblazers such as Miles & Betty Davis, Frida Kahlo, Zora Neale Hurston and Sun Ra. As Jamila channels these historic figures, she offers insight into her creative process which is both personal and deeply inspired.

Each legend functions as a muse for Woods to view herself in a way that is reflective of the past, while still looking forward. “I thought of it not so much as writing songs about these people, but thinking of the songs as self-portraits,” she told Pitchfork. “I was looking through the lenses of these different people, their work, things they said.”

In the album’s lead single “ZORA,” Jamila sings, “I’ve always been the only, every classroom, every home. Kiss of chocolate on the moon, collard greens and silver spoon.” The lyrics in “ZORA” borrow from the ideas of Zora Neale Hurston who wrote about what it felt like to be a colored person “thrown against a sharp white background.” Many of the motifs in LEGACY! LEGACY! relate to feelings of alienation and the feeling of being othered. Yet, learning how to understand these feelings and move forward was something common among all of the tracks’ themes as well. Through their lessons, Jamila finds the strength to move forward.

The penultimate track “BALDWIN,” honors James Baldwin and brings the frustration and injustice of LEGACY! LEGACY! to a more hopeful ending. Jamila sings “All my friends readin’ books you ain’t never read, We burnin’ brighter everyday.” She acknowledges the ignorance of others, but finds comfort in the bright future of her black peers.

“MUDDY” feels like the record’s climax, as Woods voices some of the anger that is phrased more eloquently and calmly in the tracks that preceded. The onset of the track begins with Jamila crying out, “Motherfuckers won’t shut up!” backed by a gritty guitar that separates the track from the rest. Standout feature, Saba, joins her for a powerful verse and in the call and response lyric, “Are you mad? Yes I’m mad!’. In “MUDDY” Jamila and Saba express their own anger, as well as the anger of her ancestors.

Betty Davis serves as the inspiration for the album’s bookend tracks: the opening track “BETTY” and the closing track “BETTY (For Boogie).” Both tracks feature the exact same lyrics and vocals from Ms. Woods, but differences in production and instrumentation give the two track different vibes. The opening track is rather speculative, while the uptempo “BETTY (For Boogie)” closes out the album with high spirits.

Overall, LEGACY! LEGACY! is an extremely impressive flex of Jamila’s talents in terms of musicality, intellect, and activism. Every song is like a golden nugget, full of history and profound lyrics worth analyzing. Even when the references throughout the album are indirect, they feel well-informed and grounded in her deep love for history and activism. In her debut, HEAVN, Jamila sang, “Black girl live in a bubble.” In LEGACY! LEGACY!, she finds strength from her predecessors to burst through that bubble.