LEGACY! traces the influence and history of Woods’ heroes.
Legend tells that Muddy Waters only picked up the electric guitar to overwhelm chatty audiences. “Motherfuckers won’t shut up,” he ruefully explained before changing the course of blues. If they weren’t going to listen naturally, he’d force them through sheer power. They’d have to hear the DNA of blues, all the heartache and history through a screaming amp. But what if you made music so beautiful people had to shut up and hear your story? Something so entrancing that it equals a warring Waters without the volume decimation?
That’s what Chicago representative Jamila Woods has been doing for a few years. Her bluntly political music is always delivered in captivating sounds. The author, poet, community activist and singer is a true renaissance woman and her second album LEGACY! LEGACY! is the first document to capture her essence; traveling from the streets of Chicago to higher planes of existence.
LEGACY! traces the influence and history of Woods’ heroes, from Miles Davis and Waters to modern poets Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez. All are captured in exuberant all-caps like Woods is joyously shouting their names. It’s an expression of self through the artistic explorations of others. No Davis song sounded exactly like “MILES” but the stormy, gritty feeling still conjures his spirit. That being said, Waters would have absolutely jammed out over “MUDDY.” And with the ever-changing musical palette she draws from, she also flutters from theme to theme. The threads of afro-futurism are powerful in the later half of the album, but the barroom ruminations of James Baldwin and the romantic strife of Frida Kahlo roar just as strong through Woods.
Much like Frank Ocean or Solange, Woods melds her weirdness and smoothness expertly. The funky backbone of “GIOVANNI” causes mandatory head bopping and every chorus is pandemic-levels of catchy. But the catchiness reinforces the deep, hard truths Woods speaks too. “It was baaaaaaaad,” she croons on “SONIA” a neat hook to draw you into her revisit of the whitewashed and sanitized history of slavery. That’s followed up by a breathless verse from Nitty Scott who brings a gritty ‘90s vibe and spits “All the women within me are tired.”
The production is ever morphing, drawing from Chance the Rapper’s cotton-candy boom-bap and splashes of jazz-fusion. But even better are the lava-lamp synths and polished drums that bring to mind the the bricker-brac flashiness of Lone or Rustie. There are even moments that draw from the budding lo-fi hip-hop movement, but rouse them from their sleepiness. Closing track “BETTY (for boogie)” expands the subtle house sound that flickers through out LEGACY! into a full Chicago house track, proving Woods’ flexibility. The album’s most beautiful moments come from woozy, spinning beats barely anchored by her blissful, reverbed vocals. It’s a rapturous expression of her psychedelic soul, making it surprising there isn’t an “ALICE!” on here.
Matching Mario Galaxy keyboards with Woods’ theses on black exploitation and economic inequality is a brutal balance, but she does it with grace. This is first, and only time, a syllabus has been enjoyable. LEGACY! on its own is a thrill, but scrolling through Jean-Michel Basquiat canvases or listening to some of Betty Davis’ strut adds to the experience as Woods’ growth through her idols becomes clear.
But she never emulates; she only reinterprets and stays clearly, gloriously herself. “You’re the holy book I can lay my hands on,” she sings, the words of “GIOVANNI” and “BALDWIN” balms and teaches in lean times, but her compass is her own. She begins and ends by singing with a “I am not your typical girl,” with a giddy grin. No shit, Jamila!