Author: Briana Ellison
Chicago singer Jamila Woods released her latest project, titled “HEAVN,” on Monday July 11. The album boasts 13 tracks, and multiple features from other artists, including one from Chance The Rapper.
The first track on “HEAVN” is “Bubbles.” The song begins with soaring soprano vocals from Woods, before she begins a contemplative verse over a singular drumbeat. This opening verse doesn’t shy away from one of the album’s prominent themes – that of black girlhood – with the opening line “Black girl lives in a bubble.” After this pensive verse, the song opens up, with a background music composition composed of Afro-influenced beats appropriately sounding like popping bubbles. The song is a floating homage to black culture and the strength of black women.
The next song is “VRY BLK” featuring Noname. This song opens with a warbling brainwave beat and a heavy drum. As the name implies, “VRY BLK” follows the theme of “Bubbles,” with a pro-black theme. Mixed in are personal anecdotes of loss and police brutality, referencing such events as the murder of Eric Garner. The second verse of “VRY BLK,” by fellow Chicago rapper Noname explores the political motives behind all these events. Noname’s flow is beautifully simple yet powerful. The song ends with a recording from Jamila Woods, recounting an event with some other black women.
The third song is “Lonely Lonely” featuring Lorine Chia starting off with a soft R&B vibe that’s heavy on the bass. Woods’ lyrics are achingly raw but comfortable in their introversion. “Lonely Lonely” is another look at black girlhood and beauty standards, and the ways in which they negatively affect one’s self-perception and self-esteem. Featured artist Lorine Chia begins as the second chorus ends, her spoken word melding seamlessly with Woods’ sighing soprano.
“Lonely Lonely” is followed by the album’s moniker “HEAVN,” an upbeat track about the comfort about relationships and the loss of both the comfort and the relationship. The upbeat music and vocals of the track belies its darker nature, describing an oasis where a relationship isn’t affected by the outside world, especially its negative aspects. The song ends with another anecdote from Woods, describing how her mother came up with the name “Jamila.”
Appropriately, “HEAVN” is followed by “In My Name.” The song begins with a tripping series of guitar chords that evolve into a crashing drumbeat and Jamila Woods describing the correct way to pronounce her name. “In My Name” is a powerful track detailing taking back one’s identity and autonomy, a short tune about insisting on loving all aspects of your identity, especially your name.
The sixth song is “LSD,” which features Chance The Rapper. “LSD” is a soft track that features Afro-infused nature-esque clicks and calls. This track is a creative ode to Chicago, in which Woods instructs the listener to see the town through her eyes. Chance The Rapper’s verse matches this, with his flow describing his own view of Chicago and his familial ties to the town. “LSD” is a beautiful track that explores the side of Chicago that few people say, contrasting it with the more violent spin the media gives it.
The following song is “Blk Girl Soldier,” a heavy track dealing with “black girl magic” and aspects of black girlhood. This song is lyrically genius, making connections across generations of injustice and exploring and debunking the ways in which black women are taught to harbor self-hatred. The power and resilience of “Blk Girl Soldier” is reflected in the names of black women dropped throughout its second half. The song is equally powerful sonically, with a heavy in-your-face bass beat. “Blk Girl Soldier” carries a horrifyingly old tale in the mistreatment of black women with Woods’ modern swagger.
Opening with a funky keyboard, the eighth song “Emerald St.” – featuring Saba – is another personal anecdote revolving around Jamila Woods and her relationship with Chicago. Again seeking to disband the negative connotations surrounding Chicago, Woods gives an account of a typical evening. Saba’s verse is short but sweet, pointing to many features of living in Chicago and how the surroundings can affect a relationship.
The next song is “Lately,” opening with an old sounding guitar and a gradually growing drumbeat. “Lately” is a reflective ballad that isn’t that slow, but featuring vocal composition and runs by Woods that resemble 1950s pop. A song about loss, “Lately” explores the scope of emotions one experiences after a loss, and learning to move on after said loss. Again, Woods ends with a recording of her speaking, talking about a loss in her life and the way she remembers the person she lost.
On “Breadcrumbs,” Woods sings again about loss, but more prominently about finding your way through mourning so you aren’t completely consumed by your negative feelings and emotions. Dotted with personal anecdotes, “Breadcrumbs” has a deceivingly upbeat musical composition, punctuated with a strong horn section and solo by Donnie Trumpet. The song is, fittingly, a breadcrumb of hope for those who are dealing with an unexpected and life-altering loss. Surprisingly, “Breadcrumbs” is also about love – love that we deserve and self-love – and guiding yourself to a place so that you acquire both.
Following is “Stellar,” a guitar-heavy track featuring Woods’ vocals at her softest. This song expands on the theme of love that ended “Breadcrumbs.” More open and blatant, “Stellar” questions loyalty in a relationship and the ways in which distance can negatively and positively affect this. The song is accusatory and hopeful, ending without a clear ending but with a sense of optimism.
The penultimate song is “Holy” another optimistic and self-assured track that wholeheartedly embraces self-love. With a defiant message that praises the upsides of being lonely and introverted, “Holy” is the most hopeful track on the album, an anthem for those struggling with relationship issues and self-love, with the message that everything will be alright, no matter the trials and heartbreak that one experiences.
The final song is “Way Up.” This song begins with an organ-like run that builds gradually, accompanied by a string section led confidently by violin. “Way Up” is an amalgamation of all the themes that peppered “HEAVN” as an album. It signifies the end of a physical, emotional and mental and journey with an endpoint of self-confidence and self-love, presented in the metaphor of a fictional, dreamt-up paradise. Through her lyrics and soaring musical composition, on “Way Up” Jamila Woods embodies the feelings of everyone who aspires to be somewhere else and accomplish their goals. While completing one journey, it also signals the beginning of another, one that will see the fulfillment of her aspirations.
Overall, I give this album an 8/10. I loved the themes of this album, especially pertaining to the struggles of black girlhood. However, while for the most part many of the songs soared, a few were low points, though they gave the same message. On “HEAVN” Jamila Woods introduces her true self while being relatable in the themes she discusses with no boundaries. Since “HEAVN” is a strong start, I can’t wait to see what follows.
TRACKS I RECOMMEND: Lonely Lonely, In My Name, Blk Girl Soldier, Lately, Stellar