But something has happened. Willow has consistently pushed the boundaries of young black womanhood through her aesthetic and musical inclinations. I took the time this past weekend to listen to all 15 tracks on the album. In “Not So Different” featuring Jabs, her frequent collaborator, I can hear some of the same emotions that I loved in Res’s classic “They Say Vision.” And as “F Q-C #7” builds to a crescendo, I can hear what I presume is the influence of Tune-yards “Bizness.” Beyond the beat, there are lyrics that speak to her appreciation of nature and investment in her personal independence. How many other contemporary artists of color are singing odes to the environment, Adventure Time’s Marceline — a fictional vampire girlfriend from Cartoon Network and stomping around in Nasa boilersuits and creepers in their music videos?
How did we get to this moment where a young woman like Willow Smith is not only featured in Marc Jacobs commercials but radically marching to the beat of her own drum. The pioneer that comes to mind is none other than Grace Jones.
All of her early releases were disco — incredibly danceable, palatable and mainstream. As disco decreased in popularity, Grace invested her energy in the burgeoning new-wave moment. With the release of Warm Leatherette, Jones extended the edge of what it meant to be a black woman in music at the time. Her aesthetic choices had always been boundary-crossing, but it was Warm Leatherette that opened up new avenues in her expression that rocked the industry and altered the gender terrain for black women.
While she diverges from Jones considerably as it relates to the hypersexualized adult that Grace has always been, Willow’s voice and her presentation say “I do whatever I want,” and perhaps more importantly, “I’m exploring.” The truth is that Willow Smith is gloriously unrefined. And her new album takes that to a totally different level.
It’s understandable that most of Willow’s critics lean heavily on the fact that the only reason we are hearing her album is because she is a 15-year-old millionaire. And I say, what does it matter? We are lucky because her work is advancing a history of black female eccentricity that is rare and needed.
For the female black eccentric creates space for all of us to evolve just a little bit more. And that is something to be celebrated.