“Holy”: Jamila Woods’s HEAVN Finds Spiritual Freedom in Solitude

Mohith Subbarao
beats and thoughts
Published in
5 min readNov 24, 2019

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Solitude has a stigma. Our society harshly judges a solo life in any capacity — from the simple decisions of attending a movie alone to the major life choices of not getting married. When we see people alone, we may think they are antisocial, defective, or even criminal in nature. This toxic judgement prevents us from deepening our relationship with ourselves and our brains. Without a sense of conviction in our solitude, we cannot be fully at peace with ourselves and our place in the world. It is only with a deeper sense of freedom in our solitary experiences that our relationships, goals, and health can fully blossom. Jamila Woods moves towards this solitude on “Holy”, the penultimate track off her outstanding debut album HEAVN, an angelic and stirring standout that highlights the human capacity to thrive within oneself.

“Holy” by Jamila Woods

Before leading fans to inspiration, Jamila Woods blew away audiences everywhere by shining the light on her own ability to thrive.

With immense lyrical depth and outstanding vocal performance, Jamila stole the show on 2015’s Surf, the debut album from The Social Experiment. On lead single “Sunday Candy”, she shocked and awed audiences with her angelic, tender, and rich voice, buoyed by lyrical content of spirituality and peace. On this gospel-infuenced hip-hop track, she delivered a chorus that could make the clouds part and the sun shine down even on the darkest days. Riding the waves of that critical and commercial success, she released 2016’s HEAVN — capitalizing on her vocal strengths while expanding her lyrical content towards topics like racial identity, gender politics, hometown reflections, and internal purpose.

Through these topics, Jamila never stops searching for her own personal heaven.

“Give me today my daily bread / Help me to walk alone ahead / Though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no love / Oh my smile my mind reassure me I don’t need no one”

Jamila opens the song with a steady and passionate vocal delivery that immediately absorbs you into the heady atmosphere of the track. She punctuates each word with an ever-so-slight staccato that perfectly lands in sync with the drum beat. This contrasting combination allows the gravity of each word to sink in while maintaining a comforting levity throughout the track. That levity allows us to maintain hope as Jamila recounts the rollercoaster of feelings that comes with our lease on life.

With references to Christian theology, she acknowledges that the expedition of life is often one that is both solitary and spiritual. In this expedition, we will trek though the darkest valleys. Trying to do this without a flashlight, guidebook, or a crew can be one of the most terrifying undertakings. Yet when we remember that we always have ourselves for support through the ebbs and flows, a conviction so powerful begins to overtake us.

With a new conviction, often comes an epiphany.

“Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me / With my mind set on loving me / I’m not lonely, I’m alone / And I’m holy by my own”

With a simple but enlightening chorus, Jamila shifts the connotations of being alone that have been ingrained in so many of us. We can be surrounded by tons of people but still feel empty and lonely, and we can be all by ourselves yet brim with fulfillment. As we create more of the latter moments for ourselves, we make the sacred transition from loneliness to solitude.

The electronic-tinged synth loops, jazz-influenced drum pattern, and soothing horns all build in a slow-moving fashion allowing for a steady energy that grows fuller as the song progresses with Jamila’s journey. This instrumentation coupled with her heavenly and seasoned vocals, create an environment that is just as internally convicted as it is externally triumphant.

This triumph is not without the acknowledgement of life’s hard truths.

“Ye, the bad days may come / The lover may leave / The winter may not / Hey, the map of your palms / The temple you be / You’re all that you got”

With these words and her mature-sounding vocal delivery, Jamila gives an impression of someone who has seen pain and hardship directly in the face but has maintained a level of practical determination to not wither in the storms of life. As the horns crescendo and an injection of soulful crooning supports Jamila’s final chorus, her determination transfers to the listening audience. We leave the song understanding that life is hard, but we begin to internalize the idea that our capacity to thrive in times of solitary strife may have been severely underrated.

As college has come and gone, and I have moved to a major city, this stage of my life has naturally veered into a more solitary direction. I still see and connect with friends, family, and co-workers on a highly regular basis, but I also have begun to spend much more time alone. Even more jarring than that, my life path has become much more of a solo endeavor. The intense camaraderie that defined my life has disappeared as I am no longer in the same structural bubble of the American education system.

This change was difficult at first. What begun as a pretty intense bout of loneliness slowly transformed into a great focus on myself. I began to take much better care of my mental and physical health, creating a more disciplined food, sleep, and exercise routine, along with taking full advantage of my company’s free mental healthcare benefits. I started my music publication, which deeply reconnected me with my core values and made me profoundly optimistic of where I could take my dreams. All these changes skyrocketed my ability to be self-compassionate and deepened in me a strong sense of self-efficacy.

These types of transformative experiences crystalize in the moments we spend with ourselves. These are times when we can ponder, reflect, and process our lives completely without distraction or input. Eventually, this time of disconnection can lead us to a place where our greatest values and hopes are no longer this drifting ephemeral cloud that is impossible to grasp, but a burning spiritual fire that is at the forefront of our consciousness. While crippling and painful at first, this solitude eventually builds us in ways we could have never imagined.

In this solitude, we find our freedom.

Photo Credit: Apple Music

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