Jamila Woods grew up in Chicago. She loves the community and culture there. It’s the place where she launched her music career. Where she performed at her first open mic night. Where she teaches poetry.
But she sees none of that in the headlines she reads about her hometown.
"A lot of the media and politicians speaking about Chicago focus on the violence," she says. "Without really interrogating where that violence comes from and who's at the root of it. And also ignoring the vibrant community of artists and very loving people who exist in Chicago too."
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So the soul singer decided to create a more balanced look at Chicago. And she did it through hip-hop.
"I learned so much history, black history, Chicago history from hip-hop," she says. "More than I learned it in the classroom."
Woods tells that story on her debut album “HEAVN.” She sings about places on Chicago’s South Side where she had fun as a kid. She weaves phone conversations with friends and family to talk about their experience as black women in Chicago. And she recruits a few of her favorite hometown MCs, including Chance The Rapper.
Woods says these details pay tribute to her upbringing. They celebrate her community and the people who inspire her.
"I think of songs as physical spaces," she says. "It's like I’m decorating this room I’m in with things that remind me of someone or comfort me in some way or are nostalgic to me."
Woods hopes “HEAVN” will also resonate with listeners beyond Chicago. She wants to inspire people to get more involved their own communities, wherever they are. And to take control of their own narratives, no matter what they read in the news or hear in the classroom.
"People aren't really taught that you have that power to affect things just through your words and energy," she says. "The power of affirmation and speaking things into existence for yourself or for your community."
You might not see those stories in news reports. But Woods intends to rewrite those headlines through her art. And she hopes “HEAVN” might lead others to do the same.
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