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Jamila Woods

Tempering sharp and powerful lyrics with a sweetly melodic voice, Jamila Woods specializes in modern, soul-rooted R&B that is easily accessible without concessions to the mainstream. A vital part of Chicago's arts community, the singer/songwriter -- who is also an activist and award-winning poet -- raised her musical profile through collaborations with the likes of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Chance the Rapper. HEAVN (2016) marked Woods' full-length debut with material ranging from the celebratory spirit of "Blk Girl Soldier" to the romantic idyll of the title song. LEGACY! LEGACY! (2019), her galvanizing follow-up, put the spotlight on artists and writers of color with personal and familial lyrical threads. For her third album, Water Made Us (2023), Woods illustrated her journey along the arc and aftermath of a romantic relationship with buoyant alt-pop, atmospheric R&B, and fluid funk in the mix. Born and raised in Chicago, Woods started performing in church. After she graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies and Theatre Arts & Performance Studies, she returned home and formed the self-termed "adventure soul" duo Milo & Otis, aka M&O. The pair released The Joy (2012) and Almost Us (2014), the former of which featured an appearance from Chance the Rapper. Woods and Chance reconnected on "Sunday Candy," a highlight from Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment's Surf (2015). Early the following year, she signed to Chicago's Closed Sessions label as a solo artist and released her first single, "Blk Girl Soldier." Around the same time, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis issued "White Privilege II," for which Woods delivered the song's closing lines. Shortly after that, she could be heard on "Blessings," the finale of Chance's Grammy-winning Coloring Book. HEAVN, Woods' highly anticipated debut album, arrived digitally on Closed Sessions in July 2016. Given its high levels of conviction and wisdom without preachiness, it sounded like the work of a veteran artist operating at her peak. The following year, the audience for HEAVN grew when an expanded edition was released on multiple formats by the Jagjaguwar label. Woods continued to glean inspiration from her work as associate artistic director of the nonprofit Young Chicago Authors, and in May 2019 released LEGACY! LEGACY!, her second solo album, through Jagjaguwar. Each one of its songs was influenced and titled after a writer or artist of color, from Nikki Giovanni to Muddy Waters. Assorted singles and featured appearances followed over the next few years. Woods' own releases included 2020's "Sula" (released in chilled-out "paperback" and more robust "hardcover" versions), an imaginative 2021 cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," and 2022's BLVK-produced "Boundaries," the latter of which found Woods embracing a textured acoustic sound. Among her collaborations during this period were Bonobo's "Tides" and Adi Oasis' "Red to Violet." Meanwhile, Woods was working toward her third album, having pushed herself to write at a prolific rate. She and Chris McClenney collaborated remotely before Woods was able to join the producer at his Los Angeles studio, where they shaped Water Made Us. The album arrived in October 2023, and though it was easily Woods' most inward-looking record to that point, it was a typically collective effort with featured appearances from Duendita, Saba, and Peter CottonTale.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo


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