Chicago-based artist Jamila Woods gained widespread recognition after her features on the 2015 Chance the Rapper/Donnie Trumpet mega-single “Sunday Candy”. Following that success, she put out her debut solo record HEAVN (2017) through Jagjaguwar. Met with high levels of critical acclaim, the album was a graceful love letter to her home city and black pride. Her second solo record, LEGACY!, LEGACY!, showcases Woods’ vision as an artist in a more fully-realised and fully-liberated form.
Woods contrasts her often subversive, cutting lyrics with her warm, soulful voice. It is a quiet rage, one that doesn’t need volume to be impactful. She holds a degree in Africana Studies and Theatre & Performance Studies from Brown University, and her intellectual pursuits fill up every corner of space on this record. Her songs are dense with literary and artistic references, but not in a way that screams pretension. Jamila Woods finds personal significance in the art and books that have deeply influenced her. Each track is cleverly named after influential artists and black thinkers, cleverly utilising their work as a metaphor in her life and thoughts.
The album is bookended by two versions of “BETTY”. The intro opens up with a soft, reverb-heavy piano bit. It is carried by her soft, defiant voice. The swirling chorus contains exuberant harmonies in an anthem asserting her independence and visibility. “I’m not your typical girl,” she emphasises. The song is reworked in vintage Chicago house style to conclude the record. A skeletal drum, bass, and synth pattern builds into a stuttering verse and springy keys. It would make Frankie Knuckles proud.
Inspired by the poem “How it Feels to be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston, Woods examines what it was like to be a black woman in a predominantly white part of Chicago’s South Side. It questions the absurd nature behind the molds and boxes that are put on certain people. It is buzzing neo-soul backed by crackling snare and fractured synths. “GIOVANNI” is a statement of purpose: “There must be a reason why,” she repeats throughout. It’s a hip-hop track flavoured with grisly bass and twinkly synth arpeggios climaxing with a screeching guitar solo.
Moodier than a typical Jamila Woods tune, “SONIA” is sparse and weightless. “My great, great granny was born a slave, she found liberation before the grave, who you tellin’ how to behave?” states Woods in one of the most fiery and impactful lines on the record. Joined by rapper Nitty Scott, the two speak of the power of naming the bad that you have experienced, refusing to sanitise it. This is followed by “FRIDA”, a sparse and soulful stomper.
On “EARTHA”, Woods tells a compelling before and after tale, one in which she finally gains the confidence in her own agency to abandon a failing and toxic relationship. It’s one of the bouncier, reflective tunes present. With creeping bass and weary guitar, Woods pays homage to a jazz titan on “MILES”. She takes on the persona of Miles Davis as a model for speaking out against her own critics. “I gave you the cool; I could do it in my sleep.”
With a fiery verse, fellow Chicagoan Saba joins Woods on “BASQUIAT”. With its call-and-response chorus, Woods alludes to untapped rage while not allowing it to take her own inner happiness away from her.
“SUN RA” is full of atmosphere. Woods takes on the ideas of afrofuturism, fitting to name it after a jazz legend who truly claimed he was from outside this world. Those themes are continued on “OCTAVIA”. Octavia Butler was a black science fiction writer, who placed black people at the centre of her narratives, something no one else was doing at the time. Woods internalises her writings in an anthem for unapologetic black progress, a claiming of her own personal narrative.
“BALDWIN” features crystalline horns and a triumphant chorus. It is a message about empathy, but empathy for one’s enemy. It’s a tough message, but Woods feels the responsibility to learn to love her white audience, even when it results in violence against her. It’s a subversive, strange type of kindness.
LEGACY! LEGACY! is a lush, graceful neo-soul album. Jamila Woods’ soft, earnest voice carries a direct, but restrained rage. She has thought a lot about her own identity, and doesn’t need to shout to show her anger. Woods looks to the past, utilising her heroes’ influence as tool to push herself forward into the future. Her second album is refined, confident, and vitally important in its messaging.