Breakdown: Jamila Woods' Creates the Ultimate Self-Love Blueprint

On ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!,’ Jamila Woods transforms self-love into a series of wonderfully constructed odes.
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Breakdown: Jamila Woods' Creates the Ultimate Self-Love Blueprint

Few things are as thorny as the process of loving yourself. Self-love and self-acceptance are both byproducts of hard-won battles that take years and years to resolve. In music, artists often treat us to front-row seats for these battles. Across albums, we witness artists come into themselves and blossom as creatives and people. 

On her elegant and blooming LEGACY! LEGACY!, Chicago singer-songwriter and poet Jamila Woods becomes the latest artist to step into the light of self-love.

The greater wonder, too, is that each of the 12 original tracks on LEGACY! serve as guides for the listener. Not only is LEGACY! a miraculous call to the past and reinvigoration of the present, but the album is also a blueprint for the listener to learn to love themselves. On LEGACY! LEGACY!, Woods, 29, transforms self-love into a series of wonderfully constructed odes. All the listener has to do to join Woods on her journey of self-care is tap in.

Each of these 12 tracks boasts one cardinal lesson, and we’ve gone ahead and broken down each of these lessons for your convenience.

“BETTY”

Great greats come down, they whisper to me quiet / ‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive,’” Jamila sings on the first verse of “BETTY,” named for Betty Davis. The majority of this track is spent reconciling with the self, with Woods learning to cease running from who she is and appraise her humanity as worthy. As she chants, “I’m alive,” we get the sense that there’s no real reason for Jamila to run. She has herself, and herself is enough. The lesson of “BETTY,” then, is by facing who you are in earnest, you will learn to love yourself.

“ZORA”

For the lesson of “ZORA,” named for Zora Neale Hurston, an influential author of African-American literature and an anthropologist, we can turn to the wizened hook: “You will never know everything, everything / I will never know everything, everything.” The beauty of this simple line is that it demystifies mistakes and brings Woods down to earth. She is merely human, and as self-love teaches you to be kind to yourself at your lowest points, “ZORA” teaches us to be comfortable with all we do not understand. A lack of understanding should not be cause for fear, but instead, fuel to grow.

“GIOVANNI”

On “GIOVANNI,” we glean that Jamila Woods will not be molded to anyone’s image of her, as she declares: “Permission denied to rearrange me / I am the Kingdom, I am not your Queen.” There’s a burning power to “GIOVANNI,” which teaches us that we are in control of who we are; we depend on no one but ourselves to develop our narrative. Woods uses this track to exemplify how crucial it is to dictate one's worth based on their own boundaries and not by the demands of others. It’s that very sense of self that will guide us towards beautiful and fulfilling self-love.

“SONIA”

On “SONIA,” there is a bevy of lyrics that point to the grand lesson of owning your healing, but not as potent as: “Oh, I’m trying to forgive, but can’t forget.” Here, Woods makes it clear that in the process of overcoming trauma, we do not necessarily have to forgive those who hurt us. Churning through pain to grow and letting go of what hurts you looks different for everyone, and only those deserving of your kindness should be privy to it, “SONIA” teaches. Detailing the fallout of an abusive relationship, too, “SONIA” is a reminder that your past does not disqualify you from love.

“FRIDA”

With “FRIDA,” we are taught and given the gift of sight: “Multiply my sides, I need a lot of area / A savior is not what I’m seeking / I’m God enough and you be believing.” The lesson here is one of acceptance, sight, and space: love who you are, see yourself for all that you are, and do not be afraid to take up space. “FRIDA” denounces the seeking of permission to exist, just as we all should in the process of loving ourselves. We set the pace, we set our boundaries, and we decide that we are worthy.

“EARTHA”

This one should be obvious. Jamila Woods sings “Who gonna share my love for me with me?” and we rejoice. The lesson of “EARTHA” is to put yourself first when your partner may not be able to. The operative question of “EARTHA” turns into a lesson in recognizing your worth without outside validation. To truly love the self, there must be an internal agreement that we cherish who we are. No one can rob us of that adoration. Self-love and happiness only last when they come from within. “EARTHA” does the critical work of planting these roots.

“MILES”

Written from the perspective of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, “MILES” presents a lesson in owning your actions and ensuring the self belongs to the self. “I do / What I do / Not for you / Not for you,” Jamila intones. It’s often so easy to act with others in mind, to put others ahead of ourselves, but on “MILES,” Jamila urges us to move with our hearts first. Pursuing self-love comes with the cost of deciding when to and not to be “selfish,” and for many, acting in your self-interest feels catastrophic. “MILES” is Jamila Woods reminding us that our impact unto the self is most important.

“MUDDY”

“MUDDY” is an interrogation of whiteness, and even still there is a self-love lesson to be learned. When Jamila sings “They can study my fingers / They can mirror my pose / They can talk your good ear off / On what they think they know,” we sense authenticity is king and something we own. Who you are cannot be stripped away from you, so bask in the self. The rumbling quality of “MUDDY” should read as a battle cry for the self, and the lesson rising from that cry is simple: there is but one of you, own that.

“BASQUIAT”

“BASQUIAT” is also an interrogation, but instead of interrogating white erasure, we are instead discussing permission to feel joy. “You can’t police my joy, no,” Jamila assures us. The lesson here is one of owning your emotions, knowing they are valid, and allowing them to thrive. Too often, people either perform their feelings for the benefit of others or stifle themselves for the very same reason. You are not required to feel or not feel something on another person’s behalf. You are only required to be honest in your self-expression, and it is that very self-expression that leads us to pure self-love.

“SUN RA”

On “SUN RA,” Woods teaches us that there is no shame in anger. A summation of the lessons of “EARTHA” and “BASQUIAT,” when Woods sings “I’m a warrior / Never let them shame me out of my anger/ I just gotta get away from the Earth,” we come away with the notion that anger is an essential part of the self-love journey. Earned anger is a critical step in that it signals that we have learned our worth and now can recognize when people are wronging us. Where we once assumed we deserved the worst, we can now finally expect and only pursue the best.

“OCTAVIA”

With “OCTAVIA,” the lesson is to bask in your craft. Self-love necessitates creative expression. Once you know who you are, and you love the self, there’s an impulse to share the self with the world. “It used to be the worst crime to write a line / Our great great greats risked their lives, learned letters fireside,” Jamila sings, reminding listeners of the historical implications of contemporary and past Black art. With so much consistently at stake, the question becomes: Why would you not share yourself with the world, especially when the world is already obsessed with extinguishing your flame?

“BALDWIN”

“BALDWIN,” the final original track on LEGACY!, is another interrogation of whiteness, but is also an essential lesson in owning your narrative and holding on to who you are. “You don't know a thing about our story, tell it wrong all the time,” Jamila opens the cut. As a takedown of well-meaning white folk, the song succeeds; as an ode to the self, the song also succeeds. For all the fear and strife packed into “BALDWIN,” love and community permeate the track as if to say as long as you know who you are and can find your people, there will be light in your life. “We don’t go out / Can’t wish us away,” Jamila concludes, and the listener agrees, having found themselves in her words.

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