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Jamila Woods Honors Toni Morisson With Her New Single “SULA (Paperback)”

Written by on August 6, 2020

SULA _Paperback_

Fifteen months after her landmark sophomore album LEGACY! LEGACY! made waves, Chicago singer-songwriter and poet Jamila Woods returns with “SULA (Paperback).”

Known for her rich wit translated into gorgeous lyrics, Woods has long been viewed as a leader of Chicago R&B. Inspired by trailblazers such as Betty Davis and Nina Simone, Woods marries her activism and songwriting with layered instrumentals that feel as full as they are wise. All of this is on full display in her latest single, “SULA (Paperback).”

Last year’s LEGACY! LEGACY! paid homage to an iconic artist of color with each song (including James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo and Muddy Waters). This time around, she’s honoring the late novelist Toni Morisson, who passed just months after the release of LEGACY! LEGACY! on August 5, 2019, and her 1973 novel Sula. It is no coincidence that “SULA (Paperback)” dropped on August 6, 2020 – 364 days after Morisson’s passing – but that’s not the only nod to be found in the song. As Woods stated in a press release:

“Sula was the first Toni Morisson novel I ever read and it inspired the first chapbook of poems I ever wrote. The novel shows the evolution of a friendship between two Black women and how they choose to navigate society’s strict gender roles and rules of respectability. On Sula, Toni Morrison wrote, ‘Living totally by the law and surrendering totally to it without questioning anything sometimes makes it impossible to know anything about yourself.’ Returning to the story several years later, it gave me permission to reject confining ideas about my identity designed to shrink my spirit. It reminded me to embrace my tenderness, my sensitivities, my ways of being in my body. This song is a mantra to allow myself space to experience my gender, love, intimacy, and sexuality on my own terms.”

But there are several deviations from LEGACY! LEGACY! on this track. This time around, Woods not only honors Morrison, but also the characters created by the novelist. Furthermore, “SULA (Paperback)” is a softer side of Woods that’s more reminiscent of the quiet moments within her first album HEAVN.

A master of filling space with only her voice, the softly strummed guitar perfectly marries her gentle harmonies and floating falsetto. As she resolutely announces she doesn’t need a man to save her, she also confesses, “Freedom and triumph ain’t worth it for me/ Girls of my color find something else to be.” And one can feel the conviction, uttered like a prayer, that she’s’ better, she’s better, she’s better, in the pre-chorus.

Woods didn’t need to prove anything with this song – her status as one of Chicago’s most respected poets of our time has already been cemented – and she uses the privilege of confidence in the most humble of ways. “SULA (Paperback)” is a gentle declaration and a serene prayer. Now, it’s just a matter of time until someone memorializes Woods in the same way she has done for her own icons.

Listen to “SULA (Paperback)” above and stream LEGACY! LEGACY! here:

Follow Jamila on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her website.

Written by Shelby Kluver

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