Jamila Woods

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by Andy Kellman

Jamila Woods conceptualized her second solo album after an exercise she presented to her poetry class at Young Chicago Authors. The students were assigned to choose a poem and "cover" it, as Woods terms it, by putting their individual spin on it. Woods took part with Nikki Giovanni's "Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)," and was then asked by YCA artistic director Kevin Coval to do the same with a piece he wrote about Muddy Waters. This evolved into LEGACY! LEGACY! The liner notes list "Ego Tripping" and a Waters interview with other texts, clips, documentaries, and a painting, all of which are either by or about the prominent artists and activists -- predominantly black and all of color -- Woods honors here. Each song is titled after its catalyzing figure and is brilliantly threaded with references, but Woods also connects their experiences to her own and those of her immediate bloodline. Racism and its side effects, from theft of culture and land to willful distortions and ignorance of black achievement, weigh heaviest on Woods' mind, yet her voice maintains a sweetness, unfurling like ribbon over the rhythms. Vulgar rebukes such as "Shuddup muthaf*cka, I don't take requests" are expressed with enough grace and melodicism to be as quotable and whistle-able as "I tenderly fill my enemies with white light" or "Take a picture if you want me quiet." Just like HEAVN, Woods' debut, LEGACY! LEGACY! is a modern R&B album recorded in Chicago, mostly with Chicagoans. There's more from Saba and Nico Segal, HEAVN collaborators who respectively add a tailwind-generating guest verse and beaming horns. Three-quarters of the songs, plus a garage-flavored remix of "BETTY," are dynamic Slot-A productions, covering sci-fi electro-soul of numerous shades and chunky hip-hop with elements of post-bop jazz, sometimes with an electric quartet. There's evidence his work was custom built, like when the keyboards burble and blare out of "Miles," evoking the namesake trumpeter's early-'70s dates, and the moment a sampled Geoff Barrow/Adrian Utley one-off elbows its way into "MUDDY," resembling the grit of Electric Mud (an LP recorded in Chicago with Chicagoans). This galvanizing declaration of pride, support, and discontent will no doubt inspire covers itself. Every public library should have at least one copy.

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