What exactly is #BlackGirlMagic? The phrase has been around for awhile, but has been popping up even more as Michelle Carter, Simone Biles and Simone Manuel make the 2016 Olympics a showcase for black excellence. While there is joy in seeing the first black female swimmer win Gold or break records, like most magic, #BlackGirlMagic has its own complexities. For every moment of triumph, #BlackGirlMagic is also what powers us to get through the difficult moments. For every Simone Manuel, we must also deal with the horrific events that took Korryn Gaines and Rae’Lynn Thomas from us. It’s easy to forget just how powerful #BlackGirlMagic can be with what seems like a never-ending onslaught of everything from police to brutality to Kylie Jenner’s latest appropriative hairstyle. Luckily, two artists have blessed us with a Summer ’16 guide to everything #BlackGirlMagic.
Jamila Woods and Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) both hail from Chicago and are regular co-conspirators with the likes of Saba and Chance the Rapper. This summer saw both of their debut releases, HEAVN and Telefone respectively, and they could not be more black. Both albums perfectly capture the difficulties of the black femme experience while the city of Chicago creates a perfect backdrop for the danger, joy, tragedy and strength inherent in #BlackGirlMagic. Most importantly, these albums are about loving your full black self. As Jamila Woods says about HEAVN, “For black and brown people, caring for ourselves and each other is not a neutral act.” In fact, it’s the backbone of our magic.
While both albums deserve a thorough listen (trust me, Telefone will be the album you put on repeat this winter when you need a reminder to stop dating and stay moisturized), a few lyrics have made their way into a Daily Mantra for those days when I’m out of coconut oil and everything seems impossible.
1. Jamila Woods – Blk Girl Soldier
See she’s telepathic
Call it black girl magic
Yeah she scares the government
This song is the very anthem of everything #BlackGirlMagic is – dangerous, intimidating and persistent. Woods reminds us that our magic comes from a long line that connects Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks to Assata to our efforts today. When you feel that legacy behind you, it’s a little easier to get through the day the next time a white girl asks to touch your hair.
2. Noname – Reality Check (ft. Eryn Allen Kane & Akenya)
Granny gone turn up in her grave
And say, “my granny really was a slave for this?
All your uncompleted similes and pages ripped
You know they whipped us niggas
How you afraid to rap it?
You went to heaven after so we could free them now,
Ain’t no ocean floor when you can be a Yeezus now.”
There’s nothing that motivates me more than a stern talking to from my Grandma. Noname’s “Reality Check” is already a track that’s gonna make you open your calendar, schedule your wash days for the next 6 months in advance and get your whole life together, but these lyrics in particular are the encouragement you need to make every last one of your ancestors smile down on you.
3. Jamila Woods – Holy
Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me
I’m not lonely, I’m alone
And I’m holy by my own
Yay, the bad days may come
The lover may leave
The winter may not
Hey, the map of your palms
The tempo of your beat
You’re all that you got
“Holy” feels like a religious track and definitely borrows from classic gospel songs in a way that almost makes me feel like I’m back in the Missionary Baptist Vacation Bible School of my youth. Woods replaces the religious aspects with self-love and a reminder that you’re all that you’ve got. Nobody can harness your #BlackGirlMagic but you, so don’t worry about that date who isn’t texting back.
4. Noname – All I Need (ft. Xavier Omär)
You remind me to love myself for the principle
For the kid inside, til the end of time
There’s something about being a black femme in our society that doesn’t allow for childishness. Too often, we’re forced to grow up too quickly. We take on responsibilities and are subjected to treatment that steals our childhood away. Take Quvenzhané Wallis for example – remember when The Onion thought it was funny to call the 9-year old a “cunt”? Remember when a reporter asked her at 11-years old if she watched Annie “when she was a little girl?” Quvenzhané wasn’t having it and replied, “Well I’m still a little girl.” Demand space to be childish and love that little black girl inside, til the end of time.
5. Jamila Woods – LSD (ft. Chance the Rapper)
I won’t let you criticize
My city, like my skin, it’s so pretty
If you don’t like it, just leave it alone
“LSD” is a love song to Chicago, Lake Michigan and the Lake Shore Drive (LSD, get it?) highway that snakes along the coast of the city. You can’t deny the problems Chicago has — segregation, police brutality, poverty — but as a fellow Chicagoan, there’s nothing more irritating than the constant focus on the negative when so much positive work is being done. #BlackGirlMagic 2016 has no patience for these haters — if your response to Black Lives Matter is to focus on black-on-black crime or something else you think will demean my skin or efforts, please take several seats.
6. Noname – Yesterday
Check my twitter page for something holier than black death
Who am I? Gypsy black
The vacancy of hallelu
Me hollow in my interviews
Me only wearing tennis shoes to clubs with dress codes
Cuz fuck they clubs
There have been way too many mornings this year where I’ve woken up to videos of black men and women being murdered on my social media feeds — black death casually interspersed between cat videos. While Noname definitely has a twitter worth checking out, these lyrics have inspired me to live my blackest #BlackGirlMagic life without fear of judgement. Wear tennis shoes to the clubs, fill your social media with the things that make you happy and holy. Just be who you are, even if it’s imperfect, even if it doesn’t fit the narrative other people want. My #BlackGirlMagic can make black death as entertainment disappear.
7. Jamila Woods – In My Name
I like to make you wash your mouth before you talk about me
Keep my name out your mouth cuz you can’t handle the fleek
Don’t cut your tongue on my syllables
Bet you need a syllabus to teach you how many vowels sound
It’s a long “i” baby, but your tongue too lazy
Fix your face and say your grace
Before you pray to me
I mean, does this even need explanation? This is just everything. #BlackGirlMagic demands others put respect on your name or take a step back.
8. Noname – Casket Pretty
And I’m afraid of the dark
Blue and the white
Badges and pistols rejoice in the night
And we watch the news
And we see him die tonight
Tonight the night his baby said goodbye
Roses in the road, teddy bear outside
Bullet there on the right
Where’s love when you need it?
“Casket Pretty” is the most heartbreaking song on Telefone. The loss of young lives in the black community has become so common that Noname’s refrain – “all of my niggas is casket pretty” — comes off as reserved and complacent. #BlackGirlMagic is the ability to experience the greatest of tragedies and still keep moving towards something that justifies the heartache.
9. Jamila Woods – Way Up
Just cuz I’m born here
Don’t mean I’m from here
Being black in America is to never really feel at home. Something always feels like it’s missing and people are quick to exclude you when they talk about “real America.” The constant chants of “Make America Great Again” don’t sit well for those of us who never had it great in America. “Way Up” captures this feeling perfectly and the ability to use your #BlackGirlMagic to soar way up above it all.
10. Jamila Woods – VRY BLCK ft. Noname
Black is like the magic, and magic’s like a spell
Naturally, these two ladies had to do a track together. The rhythm reminds me of the hand games I would play with my friends on the playground as a kid. “VRY BLCK” is a mantra to blackness and the #BlackGirlMagic theme song. I’m very black, can’t send me back. We’re here and we ain’t going anywhere.