She's sang with Chance the Rapper and Macklemore and now the Chicago poet and songstress is following her own musical lane.

Niema Jordan
Apr, 06, 2016

Singer Jamila Woods is a force. And she is using her power to make sure the messages in her music are loud and clear. The lyrics to her song “blk girl soldier,” are undeniably potent: “We go missing by the hundreds/Ain’t nobody checking for us…. The camera loves us/ Oscar doesn’t… They want us in the kitchen/Kill our sons with lynchings.” In her first single, Woods invokes ancestors, points out injustice, and celebrates Black Girl Magic.

Woods, a poet from the Southside of Chicago, may sound familiar. She is the voice that takes us to church on Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy.”  She’s one of the collaborators on Macklamore’s “White Privilege II,” where she consulted on content and offered up the indictment: “your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury.” With “blk girl soldier,” audiences get another glimpse of the lyrical and inspirational offerings to come.

We spoke with Jamila Woods about the creation of her new single, maintaining creative control and making music that heals.

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What inspired “blk girl soldier?”
I think on some level I wanted a song for myself to make myself feel stronger. Also, at that time in Chicago there were a lot of protests around the shooting of Rekia Boyd. I was also just getting to know the organization Black Youth Project 100. I remember at the orientation meeting they said they were very intentional about putting Black women and Black queer women at the forefront of whatever they do. I was really thinking about that, my friends who are black women, and the way that things can just take a toll on you but life doesn’t often give you a respite.



Your career has changed very quickly. What are your reflections on the last year?
It has kind of felt like things happened in a short period of time. Around January of last year I was trying to speak things into existence for myself and set different goals. One of them was to perform in front of thousands of people. Another was to make music that is healing for my community and other people who hear it. Then I got back from one of the TV performances and it’s like, “wow, this is kind of happening.”

You recently signed a record deal with and independent label. How will that change your approach to music?
I think it’s been really good for me to get to perform with Chance on SNL and have someone like Macklemore ask me to consult on the creation of the song and also write to it. I’m learning a lot about the type of artist I want to be and the type of career I want to have. Both of them are independent artists. And definitely growing up around Chance and seeing how he does things has influenced the way I want to be in terms of my relationship to any label.

When I met with my label I was like, “my first project has to be free because I want to reach as many people as I can.” They were like okay let’s talk about this. So, it was very chill and I feel like maintained all of my artistic control. I think being around people who I see maintaining their creative power, made me more comfortable being like, yes, it has to go this way for me or else I’ll keep doing it by myself. I think it was cool to have the label be really receptive to that.

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Do you feel like you have to choose between your career as a performance poet and your career as a singer?
I feel like I had to kind of unlearn the idea that you have to be one thing. When I was realizing that I wanted to be an artist, even though my mom and my family were all really supportive, there is this idea that you have to choose one thing. I never felt like I could just be one thing. I’ve realized that I can posses a multiplicity of things, of talents, of ways that I am. That that makes me stronger, it doesn’t make me weaker or less able to succeed.

What do you want people to feel when they hear your music?
I want people feel affirmed for being who they are when they hear it. I want my music to be something that you can put on in the car on your way to this day that you know is going to be hard or something, or whatever it is that you are going through that can be something that will help you see your situation in a different way. I want it to feel like a very useful album to people, something that they can come back to.

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