“Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with you the same way.”- Nikki Giovanni (a Black woman who be knowing)

What we doing? How we doing? I hope everyone’s been out here enjoying this weather and accentuating that melanin. I’ve been working, living, mothering, loving, reading and enjoying one of my favorite pastimes: listening to music.

There are certain albums that make you be like “Oh shit, did that beat go hard and did they just make me think?” Albums such as Kendrick Lamar’s Damn, Solange’s A Seat At The Table and Jay Z’s 4:44  forced me to put pen to paper. And now I can add Jamila Woods’ Legacy! Legacy! to the list.

When I ask folks if they ever heard of Jamila Woods, 99% of the time I get blank stares. Do you know how aggravating it is to be hype AF about something/someone that basically no one knows about? It’s a cross between “Damn, I’m exclusive” and “Oh wait, am I lame?” But I know it’s not the latter because her album is giving me all the feels. I ain’t gon’ lie, late last year, one of my homegirls told me about Jamila Woods and I was like, “Ok girl, yeah, I’ll get to her music.” I didn’t say when I’d get to it but at the time I was too busy bouncing to Cardi, Solange and Sza to switch gears.

Jamila Woods is more than worth the hype though. Before I really dig into this album, let’s just start at level 1 with the track titles. I have to list all of them so you understand what kind of Black Girl Genius we’re dealing with. Here it is:

  1. Betty
  2. Zora
  3. Giovanni
  4. Sonia
  5. Frida
  6. Eartha
  7. Miles
  8. Muddy
  9. Basquiat
  10. Sun Ra
  11. Octavia
  12. Baldwin
  13. Betty (for Boogie)

Pause. You can’t tell me that the track titles don’t have you hella curious right now. If you ain’t catch those references, look them up. Once I saw the songs, I knew I had to listen to the album from beginning to end even if it would be my first and last time listening to it. My commute to work was everything that morning and I ended up listening to the album at least 4 times that first day. Here’s my process: First listen-just trying to get a feel for the sound.

Second listen- paying close attention to the lyrics.

Third listen- analyzing the lyrics.

Fourth listen- determining which ones I like most and why. I’m gonna share that with y’all right now.

What I loved most is how self-actualized she is on the album which comes from owning and learning from her past and paying homage to the ancestors.

Checking folks is an art form though. It involves perfect timing, facts and being unapologetic-saying “I said, what I said” (in your Nene Leakes voice.) Every song is a checkmate but here are the songs where she screams it with a bullhorn. Take notes cause I did.

  1. Checking these niggas- “Sonia”

We’ve all heard and sang along to the songs about trash ass dudes using us, hurting us and making us bitter. I think of songs like Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry” (Eleven years I sacrificed), Beyonce’s “Irreplacable” (to the left, to the left) and Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” (but you can’t use my phone.) All of these are classic FOH fuck boy anthems but there’s something really fresh about Jamila’s song.

She helps us answer the question, How do I prevent myself from getting involved with a fuckboy? She gives us the formula to ensure that this doesn’t happen. First, you gotta know yourself and affirm your own greatness as a woman. She spits,

Listen, nigga

My abuela ain’t survive several trips around the sun

So I could give it to somebody’s undeserving son

This pussy don’t pop for you, booty don’t bop for you

Never owe none, belong to no one”

Skkrrtt, skkrrtt. Sis just went awf! Our ancestors endured way worse than raggedy ass niggas who couldn’t act right. How dare we as women shit on our legacies by getting involved with undeserving boys? This is not what we are created for- to raise men to be suitable mates for us. To be objects, twerking and body rolling for a nigga who isn’t worth the aches that we’ll feel in our knees the next day. A dude who couldn’t articulate what he wants in a woman and is willing to give a woman if you paid him. I think we’re all full from the bullshit.

Her second gem is the tools that she shares. She’s giving us our interview questions for our potential mate in the song when she raps,

Now I only trust patterns, not apologies

First date questions, what’s your ideologies?

Do you love yourself? Are you healing your trauma?

What’s your concept of wealth? Do you check on yo’ mama?”

The average fuckboy is asking for the check immediately because he ain’t ready for the final jeopardy round. It isn’t just about how much money a man makes because we all know that financially stable dudes are just as susceptible to being assholes and many have yet to do the work necessary to heal.

She asks about his concept of wealth which includes, but isn’t limited to, money. A basic nigga will try to show you his account balance; a real man is talking about building-not just financially but spiritually. A real man is either prepared to answer these questions, will actually follow up after giving some thought to them and if he’s really dope, he’s gonna want to know your answers to these questions as well.

In order to check these dudes though, you have to have a vision of what you want and deserve and that can only happen when you know who you are. Some of us can’t get men who act right because we ain’t get ourselves in formation. And let the congregation say Amen!

2. Checking society’s relationship standards, “Frida”

While I am aware that there are many influences in the world, I’m an independent thinker for the most part. One of the songs that’s doing it for me on this album is, “Frida” because it really begs the question, What is the best way to cope with your partner and heal yourself within a relationship? I think Jamila has articulated a way that I can get behind:

“I like you better when you see me less

I like me better when I’m not so stressed

We could do it like Frida, we could build a bridge then

I could come see ya”

This is an unconventional way of looking at relationships. We are constantly told that to love our mates is also to consume them; it’s supposed to mean that our mates bring us peace. But we all know damn well that our mates can be the main source of our stress and sometimes we need distance to get our minds right.

To some, this sounds like blasphemy. I have been saying for the past few years that I can be married and live in a different household from my spouse. People still be giving me hella side eye when I say that shit but oh well. I have married friends and acquaintances as well as formerly married friends and acquaintances. When I talk to my girlfriends about the ways that they cope after a heated argument, they say things like, “He goes for a walk” or “That’s why he has a man cave.”

My response is always, “Fuck a man cave. My (hypothetical) husband better have a man condo and he needs to take his ass there when I’m on 10.” This is the first time that I heard a song mention the space that’s needed within a relationship in order to have a healthier one and to be a healthier person.

I remember being in a nail salon about ten years ago and listening to the radio. The question of the hour was, “Do you think your mate takes your relationship seriously if they choose to keep their apartment after you two move in together?” I thought the question was a bit unfair. If I keep something that is mine, how does that make me any less committed? But of course, people said things like, they are more likely to leave and not fight for the relationship if they keep their apartment; they’re probably more likely to cheat because they basically have their own hotel, etc.

My thoughts again were, people can and will do whatever they want regardless if they keep their apartment or not. The responses focused too much on the external- what was happening/could happen out there in the world- instead of the possible necessity of distance for the sake of saving their relationships and their sanity.

I was reading Jamila Woods’ interview on Pitchfork where she breaks down the meaning of her songs and while she isn’t necessarily talking about a physical separation, it can definitely be read that way. I love that message because all relationships are not the same. Many people are sitting in relationships living with someone right now because they’re scared of paying (or simply can’t pay) the whole rent. Yeah I said it. That doesn’t allow for growth or building. If anything, it fosters dependency and resentment and I’m not a fan of either of those things.

If you cohabitate and are happy, more blessings to you. But I really appreciate the fact that a happy and healthy relationship can look different and I support any decision that fosters those things.

Finally, you can’t be someone I look up to without doing this last thing.

3. Checking these White folks, “Baldwin”

So, I’m gonna try my best not to throw all of the lyrics to this song in here but every line is so damn perfect. She opens the song with these lines,

“You don’t know a thing about our story, tell it wrong all the time (time)

Don’t know a thing about our glory, wanna steal my baby’s shine (shine)”

I didn’t need any context clues when I first heard this song. She was clearly talking about White folks. Who else fucks up not just a story, but all of history and retells it as though they are the heroes? Who else takes from every other culture then deems those cultures inferior? If your answer starts with “White” and ends with “folks”, you’re correct.

Woods pulls no punches when she shuts down these White people. I feel her fed-up-ness and exhaustion as she still needs to explain why White folks are so problematic. She sings,

“You could change a hood just by showing your face

Condo climbing high, now the block is erased

(You don’t get it, get it)

You clutch on your purse, now you crossing the street

Brother caught your eye, now you callin’ police”

She’s referring to gentrification and all of the ways Wypipo be white-peopling. This is the anger that we justifiably feel when the BBQ Beckys of the world are running loose on our communities. We are tired of being seen as a threat when the evidence shows that White people can call the police for any damn thing- Black people are staring at them too long; Black folks are taking naps in places that they should only be allowed to clean; Black folks are living in areas that they grew up in even though Whites moving in should have been a clear indicator that our Black asses should leave.

This is how we got #WhileBlack.

#sleepingwhileblack

#vacationingwhileblack

#breathingwhileblack

We can’t just live our lives. And it’s more complicated than that as she names a real dilemma that Black people always struggle with. How do I not only co-exist with y’all White folks but how do I love you despite how you treat me? And more importantly, do y’all deserve my love? Her melodic voice continues,

“All my friends

Think I should love you anyway

My friend James

Says I should love you anyway

And that’s okay

But ooh yeah

You’re making it hard for me

Ooh you’re making it so hard”

And here, she is referring to the one and only intellectual and lover of Black folks, the late James Baldwin. He believed that love was the way to reconciliation and Woods struggles with this. Hell, I struggle with this and this ain’t new. Many people couldn’t get behind Martin Luther King Jr. due to that same message. Love is damn near impossible when you see the way White people make it their life’s mission to terrorize Black folks. Again, how do I love White folks when they make that shit so hard to do? Remember I told y’all that Black women be asking the tough questions.

And finally the lines that I love which are so simple and matter of fact,

All my friends

Wanna know why you ain’t figured it out just yet”

She repeats these lines four times. It’s so important that she emphasizes it because I feel that same sense of bewilderment, like “Why don’t y’all fucking get it?” It messes with my mind to think about all of the ways that White people are so damn oblivious. I don’t know if it’s an act or a straight lack of fucks but My Lordt.

How many times do we have to tell y’all not to touch our hair? How many times do we have to say that calling us articulate with wide eyes is not a damn compliment? How many times do we have to tell you that reverse racism is about as real as seeing a unicorn in the month of Nevruary?

I’m one of Jamila Woods friends who wonders why y’all ain’t figured it out yet. #DoBetter

So there you have it! I ain’t got much left to say except listen to the album.

A few times.

In a row.

Then take a break.

And listen to that shit again.

Every time I hear it, I think, “Where is Mrs. Woods? She better come get her daughter- out here speaking all these facts. I don’t think they ready.”

But we gotta be ready and stay ready.


Because Black women be checking folks in the morning.

Black women be checking folks in the afternoon.

And don’t sleep because Black women be checking folks in the evening.

And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.

Join the Conversation

3 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this one! I remember you telling me about this album but now I’m really curious to listen. The part about “checking these niggas” took me out because that’s pretty much my life story lol. Thanks for constantly shedding light on serious issues that we face in the black community but most importantly what we as black women face. Love you ugly!

  2. Definitely woke up at five, heated up my black& garbanzo beans and sat down to read. I love Jamila too. I haven’t got to the new album yet, but i looooove her song ‘holy.’ girl!! Anyways, how many ways can we say we are so thankful for your words and execution and humor. I think on the ‘love thy neighbor’ part or the MLK philosophy, we just have to complicate what it means to love ‘complicated people.’ I gotta few in my family who I certainly love but who definitely have to keep their distance. I’ve always liked how bell hooks sees love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I think that is totally possible for these people without cracking one gotdamn smile! . ….ok, now for a smoothie!! ttys, n

  3. Yes, yes, and yes! Prior to this post I hadn’t heard of Ms. Woods, but after listening I can’t ever forget her! I appreciate her ability to tell our pain and joy! You can’t police these teeth, you can’t police this joy! But don’t they be trying?!? *insert eye roll*

    Let’s talk the mix of house, hip hop, new soul, that really a sound all her own. One word-Dope. I love her affirmation and reminder that we need a “no f**ks to give” attitude at times. But mostly I love that she sings the values I subscribe to- values for the way we engage with ourselves and each other. Listen, as a grown woman constantly diving deeper into my own consciousness of the world around me and self, I realize I constantly have to do work. Sun Ra stuck a cord because all the lyrics are words I need to seep into my psyche. It’s one thing to intellectually know who you are and your value; it’s another thing to have that mantra in your ear making sure you live it. We are inundated with messaging to self loathe, self doubt, self destroy. In my work to rewire I’ve acknowledged how consumerism is apart of racist and sexist (to name a few) structures that work in harmony to maintain the status quo:White male dominance- or for me, what at times feels like experiencing life in madness. So having this album and Heavn (First gospel in the church of self love is definitely Holy from the Heavn album) as a tool and soul quencher is a blessing. On heavy rotation! Grateful for you Khalya.

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