Album Review: Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

Album Review: Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
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Jamila Woods
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LEGACY! LEGACY! is an album that looks in the past—seeking affirmation, self-acceptance, and love. Many of the songs are filled with poignant beauty and gorgeous vocal arrangements. Jamila Woods doesn’t arrive at her destination without encountering a number of trials and tribulations while on the road to finding herself. While the album could stand alone in its beautiful messages, Jamila also uses the space to celebrate her heroes through time; implicitly relating her own characteristics to these historic figures.

Here we explore how Jamila uses her warm yet tactful vocals to shape the heroes of her past.

BETTY – Betty Davis

Right off the bat, Jamila lets her listeners know "I am not your typical girl / Throw away that picture in your head" and she does this by drawing out the words like a tribal chant, sharing the spirit of the album and the energy that will possess many of the topics. She begins the album with messages of self-understanding and reminds listeners there are those who are threatened by her willingness to express herself this way. The powerful message breaks through the topic's barriers by approaching it head on with the lines "What is it with you independent men? It's always something / Threatening your masculine energy, you think it's fleeting / Nothing you ain't give to me I can take away from you now / Let me be, I'm trying to fly, you insist on clipping my wings". It quickly becomes clear that Jamila's silky voice is the only thing that is going to be dampening her razor-sharp lyrics.

ZORA – Zora Neale Hurston

The idea of being a "kiss of chocolate on the moon" and growing up surrounded by (predominantly white) people who thought they understood her plight without actually understanding how she identified herself in these groups draws some very provocative lines from the Chicago singer. And while she takes aim at the ignorant, she also aims the mirror back at herself to show that she won't see the world the same as someone else does. She does not necessarily "attack" these issues on "ZORA" but instead uses the song as Newton's prism—demonstrating that white light comes from all the colours of the rainbow.

GIOVANNI – Nikki Giovanni

To call the song hyperbolic is an understatement. Understanding the ego of Jamila from past works, this thing feels ultrabolic (not a real word but felt like the only apt description here). But even among these bold, braggadocios claims she can't help but let some of her true self leak into the song, while remaining poetic to the core.

SONIA – Sonia Sanchez

This song has Jamila right in her element. Though the chorus is repetitive and somewhat flat, it connects the themes of slavery and relationships both taking ownership of a person. The loss of one's self and emotional turmoil that accompanies these toxic arrangements are shockingly striking when you get to the bones of the lyrics. This is one of the few tracks where the production is providing the lighter notes to Jamila's dark lyrics.

FRIDA – Frida Kahlo

This song has an interesting message behind it—Jamila is building a space between her and a partner. She understands her emotional connection to this person, but also wants to remain in a space of her own. The idea that she wants this person but doesn't need them, shows the emotional strength and maturity that is necessary in lasting relationships. Some may find it an obscure way to build a love song—not have these lavish and emotionally-charged lyrics—but instead you'll find the emotion in Jamila's affectionate delivery of her carefully chosen lyrics; she caresses her somewhat-distant message with a warm, inviting voice that reminds listeners the message comes from a place of love.

EARTHA - Eartha Kitt

This is undoubtedly the funkiest track of the album. The slow-kicking drums give the groovy little synths air to breath. Jamila fills this air with words of self-reflection. She begins with a tale of hiding her smile and questioning whether a loved one will see these flaws and leave her. However, this is no longer the story she's telling herself; she now sees the compromise in her actions and asks for more back. The song culminates with the discovery that's she's achieved a state of self-love and is now just looking for someone worthy to share that love with.

MILES – Miles Davis

"MILES" presents a very notable shift in the narrative for the album. For starters, it's the first song to be named after a male. Secondly, it feels less like Miles Davis had an influence on the track, and more like the song was made from the perspective of the character. Perhaps Jamila used the track to inject some masculine energy into the album but took her own advice and understood that she wasn't going to do that without getting into character. Lastly, the production on the song feels shifty and unsure—not the composed neo-soul sound that graces most of the album.

MUDDY – Muddy Waters

"Motherfuckers won't shut up." Tell me a cooler way to open a song. Once again, this song wasn't sung with Muddy Waters in mind, but actually felt like it sang to Muddy. The song speaks to imitation without ever being able to replicate the personality Muddy held in his songs, which is skillfully made light of with the lines "You're shootin' for the stars / I'd rather stay muddy". The personality seeps into the production which is woven together with a looping electric guitar and lush bridging vocals. The song feels like it's wearing a leather jacket that only your coolest friend could pull off.

BASQUIAT – Jean-Michel Basquiat

The bassline to kickoff this song is laced with anticipation, there's a palpable suspense building that's only further driven by the echoing guitar plucks and paranoid percussion. It's the second before you ask your girlfriend if she's okay after having her bottom jaw flexed for the past half hour of you not talking. Jamila breaks the silence at the pre-chorus: she is mad. Why? Well, that's why the song is almost 7 minutes long. The song explores two separate people's reactions to the emotion, understanding that the same emotion in two people may look very different.

SUN RA – Sun Ra

A very interesting departure from the rest of the album, this song looks to the future and writes almost like a sci-fi novel. The idea of black people not being accounted for when leaving this planet behind produces some of the darker notes of the album, as well as taking the curtain back on perhaps some of Jamila's more concerning thoughts "this marble was doomed from the start". The production's futuristic nature is lined with notes of despair and loss. Though the song is played out with a simple piano, the last fluttering notes of Jamila's voice suggests that perhaps this isn't how things have to end.

OCTAVIA – Octavia Butler

The futuristic theme carries into "OCTAVIA" and has the songstress reminding listeners that textbooks are not scary. With the constant evolution of technology, the language used to convey information to the student has evolved and in some cases, become diluted. The reminder that these dated forms of information carry the message most similar to the truth is the thesis behind much of this song.

This is one of the rare moments on the album where it feels like Jamila's pen stops a little short with some of her lines; she never really goes in on one single issue, just blankets the subject all over with her calm and calculated delivery. The song might have benefited from a beat switch, a featuring guest, or a few bars to break down the listener's walls.

BALDWIN – James Baldwin

Just when you think the album is closing up, the curtains are coming down and Jamila has put out everything she could with this album, she gives us "BALDWIN". The song sharply contrasts its determined message with uplifting production that features playful little drum skips and brass that sounds like it's announcing the arrival of a new king. It also doesn't help that Jamila puts on her best soul-melting gospel voice to add a layer of warmth to her thought-provoking lyrics. The song sounds like a triumph, but feels like a battle.

BETTY (For Boogie) – Betty Davis

THIS is how you close out an emotionally-charged album filled with provocative lyrics. The album begins with "BETTY" and opens listeners to the idea that Jamila Woods is not your typical girl. The album finishes with Jamila doing the exact same thing but in notes of celebration and understanding. After the heart-wrenching thoughts of some songs, she reminds listeners that we can still dance and celebrate ourselves. All the song really does is put a positive spin on the intro track—but you know what, that's enough to give me hope.

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Album Review · R&B


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