The concert formerly known as Ivies (if we’re calling it Bowchella) has been announced. An email sent out to the entire student body—with the subject heading on the email as “No Bamba”—announced the lineup, with Lion Babe playing Thursday, April 25, and Jamila Woods and Mick Jenkins playing Saturday, April 27. The previously mentioned “No Bamba” is a reference to the smash Sheck Wes hit, “Mo Bamba,” which took the nation and small liberal arts campuses alike by storm this fall. Many students speculated that Sheck Wes was set to play Ivies this spring, but Bowdoin’s E-Board decided to take a different route and recruit other artists. Justine Skye, ex-girlfriend of Sheck Wes and singer, actress and model, accused the rapper of physical abuse and stalking, which led to E-Board dropping out of talks to bring Sheck Wes to campus. To say that this is one of the most controversial Ivies situations to date would be an understatement. This year’s performers, to say the least, are wildly different from Sheck Wes, and individually talented and creative in their own right.
Kicking off Ivies season with Thursday’s time slot is LION BABE, the dancey singer-producer duo of Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman. Their 2015 debut album, “Begin” placed LION BABE in the middle of a swarm of R&B up-and-comers dropping stunning early projects, including SZA, Ravyn Lenae, Anderson .Paak and Ivies-mate Jamila Woods. Though LION BABE has mainly stayed on the periphery of that renaissance, their contribution shouldn’t be overlooked.
Unlike all of those artists, LION BABE is a duo, and that duality is felt in their music. Hervey’s talent is undeniable: her voice has earned her endless comparisons to soul legend Erykah Badu but is perhaps even punchier than the R&B great, fitting right in with Goodman’s dance-oriented production. Which brings us to Goodman, whose presence is felt throughout “Begin” with beats that feel funkily stitched together. The grainy sample of “Treat Me Like Fire” provides a pleasant backdrop for Hervey’s Erykah-esque ruminations on love and pain. But when the beat picks up (as it does on most of “Begin”), the duality of LION BABE shines its brightest. Childish Gambino stops by for a verse on “Jump Hi,” but he certainly doesn’t carry the song: Hervey struts her verses fiercely and Goodman comes up big on the instrumental, sampling Nina Simone to make a gritty funk jam. The duo carries the same energy on songs like “Where Do We Go,” which toes an electrifying line between trap and pop funk. Like many LION BABE songs, it feels engineered to rock a dancefloor, with Hervey’s vocals hitting as hard as Goodman’s beat.
Though LION BABE is years removed from their debut album, Bowdoin might have caught them at the perfect time. Their sophomore album “Cosmic Wind,” released just last week, added a slew of new material to their potential set. With an R&B sound crafted so fittingly for dance (and Hervey’s got stage presence too: she first pursued a career in dance music), LION BABE has the power to light up Smith Union.
Essential Tracks: “Jump Hi,” “Rockets,” “Where Do We Go,” “Western World,” “The Wave.”
Headlining Ivies is Jamila Woods, the Chicago singer-songwriter who has made some of the most innovative soul music of the past decade. You’ve probably heard Woods’ voice before: it’s warm and unmistakable, appearing alongside Chance the Rapper in “Sunday Candy” and “Blessings.” Woods came from the same Chicago scene that raised Chance, Noname, Saba and countless other artists pushing the industry forward as independents. For fans of that crowd, there’s a familiar energy with Woods’ music too: rich in black empowerment and a tireless search for joy.
Woods finds plenty of joy on her debut album “HEAVN.” With a bright-eyed nostalgia reminiscent of Chance, she paints a vivid image of Chicago, telling stories of hand games and jumping in puddles without losing sight of the injustice happening down the street. “VRY BLK,” captures that whole image, as Woods uses a playground melody to critique police brutality: “My brothers went to heaven, the police going to … hello operator.” Along with its prideful hook, “VRY BLK” features a quirky beat that bumps hard, produced by fellow Chicagoans oddCouple and Kweku Collins. Just as much of a jam is “LSD,” a windows-down ode to Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, and one which shows off Woods’ voice in a chorus of soaring harmonies. Like “VRY BLK,” it’s a song that captures Woods’ complicated love for her hometown and for herself, and all the emotions that go along with it: “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 / You gotta love me like I love the lake.”
Students should look forward to Woods’ words of self love on Saturday afternoon, especially on the triumphant “Holy,” where she lets out the refrain, “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me,” as if she’s convincing both herself and her audience to love themselves. With a full band coming in support, Woods is the 2019 Ivies headliner we needed.
Essential Tracks: “Sunday Candy,” “LSD,” “VRY BLK,” “Holy,” “Bubbles,” “GIOVANNI”
N.B.: To avoid Bowdoin students mass-mispronouncing yet another Ivies headliner (it was DRAM, like “mom”), it’s Jamila like “Ja-mee-luh.”
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the artists coming to play Ivies this year. The one that was the most on my radar was Mick Jenkins, and I can honestly say that I had never in my life felt any urge to listen to Jenkins. That’s not saying that I thought his music was bad—his feature on BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Hyssop of Love” is a highlight of their album “IV”—but I never felt super compelled to listen to him more than anyone else. So going into this review, I knew very little about the sound that Jenkins goes for on his albums, his flows, etc. I was essentially unaware of his entire discography.
When people discuss Jenkins, the word lyrical often pops up. This can be both a derisive comment and a compliment, depending on the complex. Many artists who get dubbed with the lyrical rapper tag come off yearning for past days of hip-hop, often coming off sounding corny. Others are lauded for their meticulously crafted lyrics, like Jenkins’ peers such as Noname or Kendrick Lamar. While I’m not as much of a Jenkins fan as I am a fan of the two previously named artists, his lyrics often come off as intelligent and insightful (his “drink more water” lines on the other hand, are pretty corny).
As is often the case with rap music, good production drastically changes songs. Jenkins’ music is no different. He has fantastic songs with producers and groups like the aforementioned BADBADNOTGOOD, Kaytranada and Black Milk. On these tracks, lush instrumentation creates a perfect atmosphere for his variety of vocal styles. Jenkins will rap in a straightforward near-baritone and croon in a falsetto in the same song, and, surprisingly, it pays off. That being said, all the Jenkins songs I really liked were the ones with higher profile producers, and he benefits from working with artists with like-minded taste. I think his style of rap—heavy on lyrics and intricate rhyme schemes—will create an atmosphere similar to the Milo concert at Ladd House last semester. Jenkins isn’t going to have outright bangers like previous Ivies artists (Waka Flocka Flame and A$AP Ferg come to mind), but it will be exciting to see the show he puts on.
Essential tracks: “Hyssop of Love,” “Drowning,” “What Am I To Do,” “Padded Locks (feat. Ghostface Killa).”