“Black is like the magic, and magic’s like a spell,” sings Jamila Woods, her voice a lilting smirk. That’s the opening lyric on the wobbly “Vry Blk,” a song that embodies all the charms of her debut album, “Heavn,” as she repurposes the playground rhymes of “Mary Mack” and “Miss Susie” into a hymn against police brutality — a disarming tactic that speaks to the young Chicagoan’s songwriting acumen.
On “Heavn,” Woods doesn’t shy away from big issues like police brutality — she leans into them, invoking the Middle Passage in a love song, celebrating a home town that is more than violent headlines, and name-checking “freedom fighters” — Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, Assata Shakur — on “Blk Girl Soldiers.” “Look at what they did to my sisters, last century, last week,” she mourns on the latter, reminding the listener that the black struggle isn’t past but present.
“Heavn” is a celebration of blackness and black self-love that fits nicely alongside “A Seat at the Table” by Solange and “Telefone” by Noname, Woods’s collaborator and a contemporary in the same Chicago hip-hop-poetry scene that birthed Woods and Chance the Rapper. The album is also an expression of the range of what R&B can be these days. Its lush, lopsided beats straddle the electronic and the acoustic, evoking memories not just of neo-soul but also of songs by the Cure, Incubus and Paula Cole, all of whom Woods interpolates with skill and a bit of black-girl magic.
Show: Saturday at Songbyrd Music House. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. 202-450-2917. songbyrddc.com. Sold out.