Exclaim!'s Top 15 Soul and R&B Albums Best of 2016

9. Jamila Woods
(Closed Sessions)
That Chicago's Jamila Woods wasn't a bigger breakout artist in 2016 is somewhat baffling. Having featured prominently on big tracks from Chance the Rapper ("Sunday Candy") and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ("White Privilege II"), she should've had mainstream exposure enough to attract curious ears aplenty to her brilliant debut, HEAVN.
First off, the production is utterly gorgeous and consistently detailed, taking the most interesting aspects of a variety of modern rap production styles and making something more spacious, groovy and progressive out of them. Combined with vibrant future soul arrangements and Woods' calmly expressive, velvety voice, the whole experience is as blissful and soothing as it is musically compelling — which, hopefully, should relax the listener into taking an open-minded listen to her deceptively pointed lyrics.
It's a clever, subversive approach to writing politically charged music, and a smart way to convey the unique beauty of her cultural experience, which she does with an efficient elegance in both song form and as small experiential anecdotes shared between tracks. Timely, socially perceptive and mostly importantly, just damn good music that pushes its genre forward, Jamila Woods' HEAVN is easily one of the year's finest releases and an accomplished statement that signals the emergence of a major new artistic voice.
Scott Gray