Gaining notoriety as a poet, activist and singer, Jamila Woods has been having a good run as of late. Recently, she provided the backing vocals for Chance The Rapper’s beloved Blessings and featured on the typically polarising Macklemore and Ryan Lewis offering White Privilege II. Now, she has released her thirteen-track album HEAVN – a powerful, poignant, soulful debut. Equal parts confronting and sublime, HEAVN sees Woods preparing to be hailed as the next favourite out of Chicago. Through a seemingly effortless amalgamation of hip-hop, r&b and soul, Woods creates a divine message of hope, self-love, political commentary and social justice.
In HEAVN, Jamila Woods has put forth a timely and poignant offering. The second track VRY BLK directly addresses and confronts the issues of racially motivated police violence in the United States: “my brothers went to heaven/the police they’re going to hell… you’re serving and protecting/and stealing babies lives.” Lonely Lonely, an exploration of self love: “I put a post-it note on my mirror so I might love myself / So that I might be enough today… I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over/To love myself however I feel.” The vocal recordings between tracks is where Woods shares her experiences with exploring and celebrating identity through intimate insights into her life and the lives of others.
At its very core, HEAVN is a beautifully and carefully crafted exploration and celebration of black girlhood, Chicago and “the people we miss who have gone on to prepare a place for us somewhere else, about the city/world we aspire to live in,” as Woods herself wrote in a press release. The hope she holds that it encourages listeners to love themselves and each-other may seem ambitious, but as it seeps so effortlessly onto a loop and becomes one of those albums you can listen to for hours on end, it doesn’t seem to be an unattainable or inconceivable outcome. “I hope this album encourages listeners to love themselves and love each other. For black and brown people, caring for ourselves and each other is not a neutral act. It is a necessary and radical part of the struggle to create a more just society. Our healing and survival are essential to the fight.”
An amalgamation of soul, hip-hop and r&b that showcases Woods’ divine vocals, the album also features Chance the Rapper (LSD), Donnie Trumpet, (Breadcrumbs) Saba (Emerald) and Lorine Chia (Lonely Lonely). HEAVN is pure poetry and wholly deserving of its title. You can stream it in full on SoundCloud.