Art is an extension of the artist, a glimpse into their soul and all the thoughts and feelings that flow through them. Kendrick Lamar embraced the fact he lived the life of a good kid in a city that overflowed with madness. When Earl Sweatshirt didn’t like shit and wasn’t going outside his album encompassed this feeling of a coming-to-age introvert secluded in darkness and debauchery. The Weeknd didn’t just name his album House of Balloons, he brought us into that home, let us see the girls, smell the coke, and feel the lust. That’s the power possible when musicians aren’t afraid to show you who they are, what they think and how they feel. Welcome to Jamila Woods' new album, Heavn.
“I’m very black” is sung soulfully in a rhythm that is reminiscent of the childhood clapping game, “Miss Mary Mack.” The entire chorus is sung in this rhythm, but instead of silver buttons, 50 cents, and elephants, the voice sings of fighting back for fallen brothers and refusing to be sent back.
In the first verse the voice sings of brothers being sent to heaven, not being able to breathe, cover-ups, and how serving and protecting is stealing babies lives. The prideful, resilient, and nostalgic voice belongs to Woods—a proud, black woman who sing songs of celebrated blackness on her entire debut album. That’s who Jamila is, that’s what her art reflects, and the glowing, positive representation couldn’t have come at a better time.
Paula Cole’s “ I Don’t Want To Wait,” made famous for being the theme song for the 1998 television series Dawson's Creek, is another moment of nostalgia that Jamila flips on “Lonely Lonely.” Another song about embracing self, even the sides of ourselves that are harder to accept. It’s a strong message—we spend our lives trying to be accepted, trying to avoid loneliness, hoping that someone sees we are good and overlooks the bad. Jamila doesn’t want to live life like that, she'd much rather love herself, even the crazy. Lorine Chia closes the song with a powerful vocal performance that will surely tug at your heartstrings. What I really enjoyed about Jamila taking Cole's song is how it’s another reference to water through its connection with Dawson Creek. Water is a recurring concept—the first song is called “Bubbles,” “LSD,” a song that recently received DJBooth’s Holy Shit stamp, is about Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, and on the cover, she’s dipped waist deep into the ocean. Jamila is truly a poet who cares about symbolism and it’s the small details that can really draw you back to the project.
“Blk Girl Soldier” is a dose of realism as the thunderous beat bangs and Jamila sings of black girl magic and how resistance is ingrained in the history of black women. She names Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, and Assata Shakur as freedom fighters from the past that paved the way for the next generation of black women ready to carry their legacy. It’s a compelling song that cites struggles of viewing the world from a black woman perspective, but the way she takes in all the negative and can still say “She don’t give up”? That’s strength. Another record that truly embodies her dedication to representing her blackness is “In My Name”—a short but relatable record for anyone who's suffered mispronunciations due to lazy tongues. You will put respek on her name. One of the most moving moments comes at the end as a group of children shout about their duty to fight for their freedom, loving each other, but the dagger comes as they say, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” To hear that from the mouth of a child hits you like a freight truck.
The moments that come at the end of every other song are important, little interludes that at times add a layer of introspection and also give insight into who Jamila is. The self-titled “HEAVN” ends with Jamila detailing how she received her name, a rather unorthodox tale, but it transitions into “In My Name.” At the end of “VRY BLK” is an anecdote that details one of her favorite things about blackness, and “Lately,” a heavy, heartfelt song that centers around missing someone that has passed is closed out by a sad recording about the person without detailing who. You don’t realize who she’s referring to until the next song, “Breadcrumbs,” a record for her grandfather who has passed. In a previous vocal note she mentions that he was sick and would forget people, and in "Breadcrumbs," she dedicates the song to him, even breaking out in a rendition to Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do,” a tribute to the music he could remember.
Jamila was completely aware of every inch of this album and how it was supposed to move forward. She leaves her own bread crumbs, sprinkling them across the album for us to follow. Next to her voice, that’s my favorite aspect of this project, the amount of time that went into not only making a cohesive listening experience but the small details that the lyrics reveal.
Heavn from start to finish is a soul album that is full of blackness. From being a black woman in America to a black woman in Chicago, and being a black woman in this universe. There are songs about love, songs about self-love, and love ones. No topic is revolutionary but the subject matter feels needed, necessary, in times where women, especially black women need more voices that can sing for them.
This is good music. Music that makes you feel. Music that reflects the artist and who she is. If you want to know Jamila Woods, the real Jamila Woods, all you have to do is press play on Heavn and listen. I recommend that you do.
By Yoh, aka Yohvn, aka @Yoh31
Photo Credit: Instagram