indie-only white vinyl version - With the assistance of fellow Chicagoans Chance the Rapper, Saba, and Kweku Collins, R&B artist Jamila Woods makes vital, resonant protest music that sounds like a children’s playground.
It’s hard to tell if Jamila Woods’ solo debut HEAVN could have (or would have) been made without the renewed scrutiny of America’s deeply entrenched racism that has crystallized in the aftermath of the August 2014 killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. As part of M&O—a duo formed with fellow Chicagoan Owen Hill—Woods released two full-length projects before the phrase “black lives matter” became a national argument, a hash tag, or a movement. The group’s pair of self-released albums—The Joy (2012) and Almost Us (2014)—were softly adventurous mixes of acoustic soul, alternative pop, and folksy hip-hop that gamboled around the subjects of love, art, the art of love, and the love of art. A sample hook, from Chance the Rapper went: “Love won’t you fall asleep in my arms/While I read you these poems/That I wrote you so long ago.”
M&O showcased many things: smart production, masterful arrangements, a willingness to follow melody and tune above and beyond genre or format. The music was all soft and tender, songs of unity with no anger; the type of songs that would feel like escapism at a time when the rhetoric churned from the mini-complexes of presidential candidates, pop stars, and social media micro celebrities alike was ever-sharpening and often unforgiving. But Woods—who in addition to being a vocalist serves as Associate Artistic Director of the non-profit youth organization Young Chicago Authors—has emerged as a proponent of social justice; the kind of voice that doesn’t stay silent or shy away from the troubles of the world. And, on HEAVN she delves deep into the calamity of now and emerges with songs of freedom and meaning.
As with her previous work, Woods utilizes what’s functional—clapping games, lullabies, Paula Cole, headlines, statistics—to make music that defies categorization but not meaning. The result is unmistakable: HEAVN is protest music that sounds like a children’s playground. Every song here is resilient and steadfast without being angry and militant; almost each tune is a jingle. Produced largely by a coterie of ascendant Chicago stars—Peter Cottontale, oddCouple, Kweku Collins, Saba, and more—the tracks come off as if they’ve been cooked at a high temperature until all of the indignation has evaporated, leaving behind only hope and a rising strong vulnerability.
|A7||In My Name|
|A9||Blk Girl Soldier|