The New Conscious Soul of Jamila Woods

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

In these turbulent times, music is a great way to console one’s self and express feelings and frustrations. One artist who is tapping fully into expressing herself musically is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and poet Jamila Woods. Upon first listening to her songs, I instantly felt that her vibe was very reminiscent of soulful-songstresses like Jill Scott, India.Arie, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill. Her songs seamlessly range from Soul, Acoustic, Gospel, and Neo-Soul to more modern Electronic and R&B production styles. I enjoy her versatility and really love the strong self-love, black and female empowerment themes that run throughout the album.

In July 2016, Woods released her debut album HEAVN on her SoundCloud page which received praise from listeners and critics and featured collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, Lorine Chia, Kweku Collins and Donnie Trumpet. The 45-minute masterpiece features sincere interludes from Woods that explain the song meanings and backstories. In the era of singles, a well-crafted and meaningful album is a breath of fresh air.

The album starts out with “Bubbles” which perfectly sets the tone for what is to come with lyrics about the young black girl experience with mentions of hair bubbles (ponytail holders with balls on the end). The production also has a bubbly and bouncy quality that perfectly supports the song’s meaning. “VRY BLK” features fellow Chicago-based rapper and poet Noname. The melody “VRY BLK” is taken from the rhyming song “Miss Mary Mack” from the common childhood clapping game. I really liked the way that Woods presented such serious and important subject matter like police brutality in a subtle yet catchy way, while still bringing it to listeners’ attention. I feel that a lot of people are turned off by uplifting and socially conscious music because some artists deliver the subject matter in a corny and overly preachy fashion. Woods has mastered this art by cleverly giving us some rich and powerful lyricism while still keeping the melodies, word choice, and musical feeling enjoyable.

A great anthem for black girls everywhere is “Blk Girl Soldier.” The production sounds like something I could hear early Lupe Fiasco rapping over. Throughout the song, Woods talks about the injustices and struggles black women have had to and are still going through and how we are resilient and strong. A very personal and touching song is “Breadcrumbs” which is about her grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Another nice touch is the jazzy trumpet lines played throughout by Nico “Donnie Trumpet” Segal and the production is very captivating and unlike any of the other tracks on the album.

The self-love message of “Holy” reminds me a lot India.Arie’s “Private Party.” The song features some beautiful lyrics like “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” I think we are often too hard on ourselves and forget to practice self-love. This song is a great reminder for everyone to not forget about loving ourselves. It also features an interesting video featuring some floating braids. The second to last song on HEAVN is the gorgeous “Way Up.” Some other awesome tracks off of the album are Lately (Which sounds a lot like SZA‘s “Drew Barrymore“), the beautiful acoustic track Stellar, the sassy, head-bobbing track “In My Name,” and the shimmering “Way Up.”

I am really looking forward to seeing what Jamila Woods’s follow-up to her nearly perfect debut will be. I’m so glad that more artists and are getting notoriety are unafraid of making music with uplifting, black narratives.



About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting