Review: Jamila Woods – Heavn


To title your album “Heavn” could be deemed a promise of musical sublimity, on the other hand, it might be a sardonic commentary on living amidst a supposedly ‘perfect’ society. Still, who are we to describe heaven? It can be whatever an artist chooses it to be.

Jamila Woods’s “Heavn”, with a letter ‘e’ purposely removed, is a lyrical statement of expression, this time upbeat and eccentric, fundamentally speaking to us in a rhythm that we are accustomed to hearing. Profoundly individualistic because of its lyrical content and its layers of nuance, it is a vertiginous heaven not for the faint of heart.

Made up of 13 tracks, the first two clear words heard are ‘black girl’ on the opener, “Bubbles.” It’s political straight from the off. Following this, the theme remains with tracks titled “Blck Girl Soldier” and “VRY BLCK” sending a very direct message. Although an ambiguous “I” and “we” are heard in many of the songs, it becomes very clear that this is a reflection on black femininity. 

The record fits well amongst what we may call Chicago’s black protest pop, which includes the works of Kanye West, Rhymefest, and Common. Lyrical and politically upfront its more relevant than ever. 

However, Woods vocal talent is as fundamentally key to the record as the message she shares.  Title track “Heavn” reveals a side to Woods which may lead her along the path of a pop star. She swoons the listener with her sultry, slow tones whilst Eve Ewing, the voice we hear over the voicemail, brings a remarkably smooth and understated edge to its conclusion. 

Meanwhile, “Holy’s” lyrics are the most interesting. She toys with the works of the Christian gospel, remixing sacred text and preacherly speaking into song. It’s deep and contemplative. 

This album’s highlight is “Emerald St.” It’s essentially a song about a street she holds dear. It’s  reminiscent of early Jazz. Resonant, numbing at times.

The song “Breadcrumbs” makes great use of the trumpet, though Woods outperforms its musings: it adds great nuance but it feels like filler. The same can be said about the guitar in “Stellar.”

Edouard Manet’s Olympia is one of the most widely known paintings that offers a perspective of race in the modern world. Olympia stages the world that capital has created built upon the world that feudal imperialism has left behind, a profoundly bourgeois existence where blackness serves whiteness, even by adding to ‘white’ beauty. Woods' album however does something else entirely: it expresses freedom from obliged servitude, allowing Woods to serve her subjective heaven to listeners at will.

As challenging as it might be, it’s best to listen to Jamila Wood’s album “Heavn” without an a priori of American blackness, especially not at the time of Black Lives Matters protests and inhumane police killings. Only this will truly reveal the records aesthetics in a way which cannot come if one focuses purely on the politics of her sound and song. Only this will allow for the album to reveal true blackness. The beauty of simply listening is a revelation.

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