First Look Friday: Understand The Driving, Soulful Sounds Of Jamila Woods

Kevito is the managing editor of Okayplayer. His top three MCs…
Photo by Johnny Fan for Okayplayer.

Photo by Johnny Fan for Okayplayer.

What a time to be alive, right?!

Music is shifting the culture and moving a new generation of artists to the forefront, as this week’s First Look Friday subject is one of the most dynamic voices to come out in a long while. Raised in Chicago, Illinois, Jamila Woods is considered “a modern-day Renaissance woman” by the Chicago Sun-Times and a creative force amongst her peers.

A graduate from Brown University, most have heard her name mentioned alongside the likes of Chance The Rapper, Saba and Noname Gypsy, yet she has proven that she is more than capable of cultivating her own sound and style. A poet and vocalist with supreme skill, Jamila Woods explores topics involving blackness, womanhood and her hometown of Chicago. Inspired by legends such as Erykah Badu to Toni Morisson to Frida Kahlo, Jamila Woods is a jill-of-all-trades.

In addition to being a founding member of the Young Chicago Teaching Artist Corps and the associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, Jamila Woods is also the front woman of M&O. Buoyed by her church upbringing, this Pushcart Prize nominee is shaping the future sound of Chicago with soul, hip-hop and R&B. A true powerhouse if there was ever a living description, Jamila Woods’ musical aesthetic is on par with her community activism.

We here at Okayplayer were honored and blessed to speak with this artist and educator about her influences, being signed to Closed Sessions and what she has learned from her contemporaries.

Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that the Chi is seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?

Jamila Woods: Chicago is full of brilliant artists. It feels like every time I go to an open mic or music event I learn about someone new here in Chicago. We have really long winters here, so for a lot of people the cold season is a period of hibernation. I’m excited for 2016 to unfold because I know I’ll get to see what everyone in Chicago has been working on for the past few months.

OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?

JW: I love Erykah Badu because she’s so unapologetically herself and always striving to evolve. I love her sense of humor and how she’s not afraid to try different genres of art. I’m also really inspired by Sia. Reading about her background as a songwriter really stuck with me, how she balances being inside someone else’s head to write for them while still working on her solo projects. In the future, I would like to write for other artists in addition to making my own music.

OKP: Your first single, “blk girl soldier,” is very empowering and is paired with some really strong lyrical content. It has placed you on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist in the Second City?

JW: Growing up in Chicago has greatly impacted the way I approach my art. I grew up singing in the children’s choir at my grandma’s church, and later sang in the Chicago Children’s Choir in high school. My first memories of performing music are with choirs and for a long time I didn’t believe my own voice was strong enough or interesting enough to be heard on its own. It was through writing poetry and participating in youth open mic spaces like Gallery 37 and “Louder Than A Bomb,” that I realized I had something to say and that my voice was something worth hearing. Coming up in Chicago taught me how important an element of community is in making my art. A lot of my music plays with layering my voice in different ways to achieve a choral effect. I also sample a lot with my voice as a way of shouting out my influences and mapping where I come from.

>>> How important will Chicago be to the music industry? Find out what Jamila Woods has to say on Pg. 2…

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