Jamila Woods' new album Legacy! Legacy! looks forward and backward at the same time. It's detailed, innovative and expertly produced, electrified with beautiful lyrics and political urgency. And for every boundary-pushing, genre-bending step Woods takes – elements of R 'n' B, rap and pop are blended seamlessly – she also considers those who came before, recognising not only her ancestors but activists and artists who forged new ground for people of colour in the civil rights movement and before.
The song titles on Legacy reference artists of colour in different pursuits throughout history, from James Baldwin to Frida Kahlo to Eartha Kitt. On each track, Woods references their work while also exploring her own experiences of marginalisation; it's art-as-activism that marches forward while recognising the shoulders on which it stands.
Opener Betty refers to Betty Davis, a pioneering funk musician who was briefly married to Miles Davis and never found mainstream success of her own, often criticised for her bold sexuality. Woods references how men feel threatened by unleashed femininity – "Let me be, I'm trying to fly, you insist on clipping my wings" – while the arching cry of the chorus celebrates Betty's liberation with stunning harmonies: "Falling for myself/It's taken time to know I'm mine."
Funk track Frida somehow manages to turn Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's separate houses, linked by a bridge, into a metaphor about balance and self-preservation, while Eartha is a playful but moving track about self-love which references Eartha Kitt's famous "compromise" interview (which reminded me of SZA's own sampling of the interview on her early EP, S). Interspersed throughout these references are mentions of Woods' own family: on Sonia (which refers to the poet Sonia Sanchez), she says: "My great, great granny was born a slave/She found liberation before the grave/Who you tellin' how to behave?" Earlier, on the hip-hop inspired Giovanni, Woods sings: "My ancestors watch me/Fairytale walking/Black Goldilocks."
It's a prime example of how activism and art can be blended beautifully; Woods' vocals and production are emboldened and elevated by the record's politicism, and the lives of those she recognises feel alive within the bars of the songs. It's easily Woods' best release yet, one that charts the legacy of others and furthers her own.
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
An innovative R 'n' B record humming with history