Jamila Woods – ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!’ review

One of the albums of the year, this is a confident and self-assured project that affirms the Chicago musician's own place alongside the historical greats she praises

With her debut album, ‘HEAVN’, Jamila Woods arrived with a tidal force. Her blend of contemporary soul and R&B straddled contemplation and endurance, struggle and healing. On ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!’, her second album, Woods has created a project that looks to the past to fight for the future.

The title and the track names are a celebration of the Chicago musician’s heroes; an ode to historical black artists that came before her. Jean-Michael Basquiat and novelist Octavia E Butler appear alongside critic and writer James Baldwin as well as Zora Neal Hurston, Sun Ra and Eartha Kitt. The free-spiritedness of the album is grounded by Woods’ lyrics, as she recites on ‘ZORA’: “Must be disconcerting how I discombob your mood / I’ve always been the only, every classroom, every home / Kiss of chocolate on the moon, collard greens and silver spoon / Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes you can’t stick unto me / My weaponry is my energy / I tenderly fill my enemies with white light.”

Fusing together alt-pop, progressive R&B, ‘60s Northern Soul, the album showcases an eclectic range of style. Over 13 joyful tracks that radiate happiness and double as protest music that’s cerebral and pensive, Woods’ words possess the most weight, soaring above the instruments, lithe and often jazzy. Her lyrics are evocative, cutting through the rhetoric with double entendres and metaphors that showcase her poetic skills. On ‘SONIA’, she sings, “My great, great granny was born a slave / She found liberation before the grave / Who You tellin’ how to behave? / Oooh, I’m trying to forgive but I can’t forget.”

Features are scarce on the album. Chicago contemporary SABA shines on ‘BASQUIAT’: his bars a reminder that he is one of the more exciting talents in hip-hop right now. New York rapper Nitty Scott steals the spotlight, though, with her visceral, feminist bars on ‘SONIA’ that ooze confidence: “My abuela ain’t survive several trips around the sun / So I could give it to somebody’s undeserving son / This pussy don’t pop for you, booty don’t bop for you / Never owe none, belong to no one.”

Like history repeating itself, the album closes with ‘BETTY (for Boogie)’, a re-worked house edit of the first track leaving us with an irresistible urge to dance. Quite frankly, ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!’ is one of the albums of the year. It’s a confident and self-assured project that affirms Woods’ own place alongside the historical greats she praises.