Silky smooth vocals, salient lyrics and emotive interludes combine to create a powerful debut album by Jamila Woods. With Heavn, the Chi-town native, who previously featured on Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” and Chance the Rapper’s “Sunday Candy” steps out of the shadows to create a project entirely her own.
The opening song ‘Bubbles’, part produced by her sister Ayanna Woods is a light and airy composition exploring black girlhood, one of the prominent themes of the album. The almost playful ‘Bubbles’ then seeps into ‘VRY BLK’ which addresses blackness more broadly and features a very candid chorus –
“I’m very black black black
Can’t send me back back back
You take my brother brother brother
I’ll fight back back back”
The rhythmic almost clappy tune and Wood’s playful tone reminds the listener of the innocence of black children. But this contrasted by the serious subject matter which illustrates the way in which black children are conscious of and exposed to such issues from an early age.
In the following track ‘Lonely Lonely’ Wood’s shifts her attention towards self-love. It almost seems as if Woods is singing to herself and encouraging herself to love herself. Woods is aware of the revolutionary power of self-love and does not ‘wanna wait for [her] life to be over’ before she learns how to do it.
However, Jamila certainly possesses a lot of love for Lake Shore Drive, a freeway in Chicago running parallel to Lake Michigan. Her love for the lake and the drive towards it is expressed in ‘LSD’. For Woods the water is healing. And even though Chicago may have flaws the lake is described as a source of magic. Woods clearly has a connection with water as evidenced in the opening song ‘Bubbles’ and the album cover which depicts Wood’s body submerged in water.
Chance the Rapper’s feature on the track provides a damming critique of the media’s depiction of Chicago. He specifically addresses the ‘Chiraq’ series by Vice and Spike Lee’s satirical musical drama of the same name. Chance looks to California as a potential safe haven but recognises it has problems of its own before coming to the conclusion that it is up to him to create a better a future –
“And I’m supposed to father my daughter?
She the princess in the dragon’s lair
I’m a dragon slayer, I can’t fly away
To some hideaway, I gotta find a way”
Jamila again returns to the subject matter of ‘VRY BLK’ in track seven entitled ‘Black Girl Soldier’. The use of heavy synths and drums contrast with the simple light beats in the previous tracks and creates an almost military feel. Every sentence is laced with meaning and metaphors which have been sourced from Black American history and modern day Black culture. In verse, ten Woods names the most prominent female freedom fighters by their first names suggesting she feels some type of affinity with them. Rosa, Ella, Audre, Angela, Sojourner, Assata. The use of first names alone also suggests that Woods expects the listener to know who they are, and to understand the struggle for equality which is highly likely considering the albums focus.
With the following tracks ‘Emerald Street’, ‘Lately’ and ‘Breadcrumbs’ Woods uses her soulful voice and insightful interludes to reminisce on the life of her late grandfather, before drawing the album to a close in ‘Way Up’.
In ‘Way Up’ Woods describes herself as being “an alien from inner space’” who is out of place on Earth. Whether you believe this to be true or not her debut album at least, is certainly out of this world for a debut offering. From start to finish the album benefits from high-quality production, powerful lyrics and is culturally relevant. Heavn is definitely an album worth listening to.
By Alex Ighalo