Jamila Woods Jamila Woods
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Jamila Woods Soldiers On For Her City And Her People In Her Music

Chicago singer and poet Jamila Woods knows how to use her gentle voice to make big changes.

Perhaps it was the fluctuating weather patterns of a cool September morning that caused a scarcity of civilians, but for once, Brooklyn’s quaint DUMBO area was serene. Aside from the very few cars whizzing back and forth, the easily-accessible area beneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass seemed as undisturbed as the East River, which is not too far away from the neighborhood’s famous cobblestone streets. However, just like much of New York City, the alluring unpredictability of DUMBO is enough to make you stay and see what else you can discover while there.

The same can be said for Jamila Woods, whose demeanor is delicate, yet magnetic. A woman whose true magic lies in her poise, the 27-year-old Chicagoan, adorned in an unapologetic “HERO/BLACK” tank, black skinny jeans and black leather shoes with white soles, is quiet at first. Small talk regarding her end-of-day plans seems to warrant mere “mhmm” affirmations, and she often looks down as she responds. In doing so, her funky multi-bun hairstyle ornamented with cowrie shells is prominently displayed.

Once you get past the elevator chatter, her naturally inquisitive mind turns the tables. She is equally as chatty, asking her own life questions as we make our way down Fleet Alley past a brick wall dyed with nearly every color in the spectrum, and into the cozy-yet-busy Dumbo Kitchen for a quick bite.

It’s here that we see that the singer, songwriter and poet’s charming intensity is what really pulls you in. As we defend ourselves from the serious breeze outside, Woods noms on a chicken sandwich that she leaves half-finished and a fruit smoothie, which wasn’t priced with frugal folk in mind. Between each chew, she divulges on some of her experiences with writing, including her favorite piece she’s penned.

“I really liked ‘Blk Girl Art.’ It's like a manifesto saying why I create, whether it's poetry or music,” the Pushcart Prize-nominated poet explains. “I don't create from a place of me making art for art's sake, but wanting my work to actually do stuff…tangible things.” As you can gather, the strength in Woods’ words,especially when it comes to her passions, are what make her soft voice the loudest in the room.

Woods released her debut album HEAVN in July 2016 via the indie-Chicago label, Closed Sessions. The album, which includes features and production by Chicago brethren Chance The Rapper, Saba, Kweku Collins and Donnie Trumpet, illustrates the importance of black self-love and also serves as an outlet for Woods to voice her grievances about issues pertaining to prejudices against the black community. Those unfamiliar with her newly-lauded tunes, however, have certainly heard her gentle-yet-spirited vocals on other high-profile tracks like Macklemore’s “White Privilege II,” Chance’s “Blessings” and The Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy.”

Woods grew up the eldest of four in a primarily-white, Irish part of Chicago called Beverly. As she matured, she developed an affinity for Lupe Fiasco and Common, and adversely, Jimmy Eat World and Imogen Heap. A former member of the Chicago Children’s Choir, she began taking her music career seriously during her undergrad days at Brown University, where she performed as one-half of the duo M&O (Milo + Otis) with classmate and friend, Owen Hill. The group released two albums before they decided to go their separate ways; soon after, Jamila decided to try her hand at a solo career.

“I wanted to see what it would sound like if I had more control over more aspects of my music, like producing and knowing how to mix your songs and all that stuff,” she says of moving on. She grew up singing in church and acknowledges she wasn’t given solos, which made the thought of a solo career a bit frightening. However, she was up for the challenge.

“[M&O] was when I started realizing that, oh, I don't have to hold my voice to the certain standard. I can just use my voice and experiment in different ways that I can use it,” she says. “I could define what I wanted to sound like for myself.”

Her July LP, a SoundCloud exclusive, took around a year and a half to finish, and features samples of well-known tunes like The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait.” Since her music is rooted in hip-hop, she implements the use of samples to create a new meaning behind the popular songs.

“I think of music as creating a space,” she explains. “I like to put things in that are comforting to me and are nostalgic. To me, that's what sampling does in songs; it’s making deeper layers for people who know where it comes from, but also referencing another part of my history and my memory or a memory that I have.”

Much of the album interweaves the nostalgia of growing up black with the idea that there is strength in connection and vigilance. In a spoken word outro for the song, “VRY BLK,” Woods’ friend Micah Hicks discusses playing hand games with other black women she’s never met as non-black onlookers feel out of place, while the outro read by members of Assata’s Daughters for the song “In My Name” echoes the sentiment: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win, we must love each other and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.” “Blk Girl Soldier” focuses on riding for other black girls and possessing a perseverant spirit. She mentions women who embody the message throughout the song, such as Rosa Parks, Assata Shakur and Sojourner Truth. The track’s video, released in June, focuses on the power of self-love and community. It’s truly the epitome of Black Girl Magic.

“In some ways, I value specificity,” she says regarding inclusion in her music. “I think that there's power in, once you know who your fan base is, being able to speak to them. I hope to cultivate a fanbase of black girls and black people and people of color, women of color, queer people, people who are are marginalized in general.” While Woods enjoyed her hometown’s quaint feel, she often felt out of place due to the color of her skin. Feeling outcast encouraged her to begin writing poetry.

“I didn't really fit into my high school,” she says, looking down to reveal her dewy beige eyeshadow. “It was very preppy and also a very Jesuit Catholic school, and I wasn't Catholic, so there were so many ways that I didn't fit. I kind of gravitated towards this after school program that met downtown that was way more diverse, and just had different types of people who weren't so concerned about, like, ‘Is that a Tiffany's necklace?’ or ‘Do you have the Lacoste…whatever.’”

Her experiences with marginalization first-hand, coupled with some of the more well-known issues of racism in the United States today, give Woods’ music a subtle whiff of protest and thinly-veiled frustration while still providing listeners with incredible production and soothing vocals.

“I think there's definitely power in having different approaches to the same issue,” she says of not being silent regarding the issues in the black community. “There's a culture of ‘you're not woke enough, you're not out there.’ Not everyone is built to be that type of protester, but you can access that within yourself. I think it was Audrey Lorde who said something like self-care is an act of protest and revolution, especially for black people, because so many people want to destroy blackness and black people.”

She also hopes to soldier on for causes that don’t directly affect her, which is something that gravitated her towards working with Macklemore on the aforementioned “White Privilege II.” In the early-2016 track, the Seattle-bred MC more or less apologizes for being a successful white man in a primarily black profession. Woods says that the intentionality of the song was powerful and that it was “really smart” of Macklemore to use his platform to raise awareness about appropriation. She recorded the song without regret.

Like many Chi-Town natives, Woods does what she can to give back to her community. She serves as the Associate Artistic Director of the non-profit organization Young Chicago Authors, and is a founding member of the organization’s Teaching Artists Corps, which educates Chicago youth about the city while helping them grow as both artists and people. She implements music in her curriculum to teach writing and poetry, and as an Ivy League graduate and poet whose work has been featured in three anthologies, rest assured, her pupils are in great hands.

“I feel like I get to be really close with them, which is nice,” Woods smiles when speaking about her mostly teenaged students. “They always have great energy and they're pushing me to think of new ideas and new ways to present the same ideas.” Woods’ students’ instant feedback was also helpful when putting the finishing touches on HEAVN; she would bring in rough versions of the songs on the album for them to listen to in order to hear their thoughts.

Above all, Woods believes she and other artists ride hard for Chicago because of the inner and outer beauty the city possesses. Whether it’s the “magical” waterfront areas like Promontory Point or the generosity and friendliness of its inhabitants, she feels that the art lurking around Chicago is too important not to protect, especially since art is where she feels most comfortable.

“[Art] made me feel a sense of belonging and a sense of community that I didn't have before because of my neighborhood, not really fitting in with my neighborhood, not really having a school that I was super-excited about,” she explains, the fervor in her voice rising. “So that became something that I thought about when I think about Chicago, it's the artistic community. If I couldn't have that, I think I would be a totally different person, and that's really how I gained a lot of confidence, not even just in performing, but my sense of value of myself I think came through my writing style and the people I met there.”

Never one to keep my all of my interview questions stagnantly professional, I press Woods with a cheeky challenge.

This is a fun one. Since you’re a poet, give me a quick haiku about Chicago that sums up the city. “Oh God,” she places her hand on her cheek, laughing. “This is freestyle! Haiku…5-7-5…” She pauses before counting on her fingers syllabically.

“Mild sauce and no salt
water, Southside pride, because
Beverly still counts.”

A true soldier whose long-standing pride in her people and her home is admirable to say the least, Jamila Woods’ peaceful and sonically pleasing ways of discussing what truly matters is what makes her voice an undeniable force.

2016 Tour Dates
November 4th - Lake Harmony, PA @ Boiler Room Weekender
November 19th - Chicago, IL @ MCA Primetime Ascend
December 8th - Brooklyn, NYC @ Rough Trade
December 13th - Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room
December 14th - San Fran, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
December 15th - Loa Angeles, CA @ Voila

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Gary Gershof

Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

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VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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