Jamila Woods released her R&B album “LEGACY! LEGACY!” in May 2019 as a tribute to what has inspired her in life. The Chicago-based artist pulls from many genres to create her music while her words tell beautiful stories about perseverance and growth surrounding the titles of the song, each one-word name associated with inspirational people. Some songs, such as “EARTHA” and “FRIDA,” are instantly recognizable, referencing Eartha Kitt and Frida Kahlo, but others, like “GIOVANNI” and “OCTAVIA,” are more personal, referring to poet Nikki Giovanni and afro-futuristic author Octavia Butler. Both women influenced Woods greatly in her childhood, and she shares their work with her poetry students.
The first track on the album is “BETTY,” for Betty Davis. The famous performer inspired her with boldness that often scared the public, especially men. The smooth tone and melody that encapsulates Davis’ sensuality, combined with the strength in Woods’ words that channel the starlet, make for a song that inspires the heart and the mind. Woods uses lyrics like “Falling for myself, it’s taken time to know I’m mine” to show her growth towards independence that came from breaking any preconceived notion of women. This song was so well received, she even reprised it for the last track of the album. “BETTY (For Boogie)” is an up-tempo version of the song dedicated to Chicago house dancer Boogie McLarin who taught Woods about the music and dance styles she uses in this version.
“EARTHA” is one of the most vocally interesting songs on the album. The inspiration for this song is one of Eartha Kitt’s most famous interviews in which she discusses never compromising for a man and seeking someone to love her as she loves herself. Woods not only highlights this message but also Kitt’s own style. She emphasizes vowels and draws out notes in such a similar fashion during the chorus and bridge that it’s easily recognizable as a tribute to Kitt. The steady drum beats stay a consistent pace throughout the song and even her voice changes from faster verses to a drawn-out chorus. Beautiful background vocals make the line “who gonna share my love for me with me?” seem delicate and vulnerable. In such a short period of time, she shares seemingly contradictory elements, such as consistency and change or vulnerability and willfulness, in a cohesive manner, portraying just as much class and power as Eartha Kitt herself.
Jamila Woods has perfected her voice and literary prowess, and brought an impactful album to life. It touches on many relevant social issues, including feminism and racial inequality, in both a blunt and poetic manner. Her lyricism and melodies are everything one could ask for in a Soul/R&B album. She combines different elements of electric pop and rock to encompass the feeling of each person who inspired her while still staying true to her own soft sound, a sound that can appeal to all generations of music lovers. Overall, “LEGACY! LEGACY!” is one of the most well done and impactful albums of the year.
Photo: J. Stamler