Today local label Vinyl for a Cause drops a limited-edition vinyl seven-inch called VFAC 004 in collaboration with Chicago-based online record marketplace Reverb LP. It’s the fourth Vinyl for a Cause release, and like the first three, it brings together two local artists to reimagine each other’s original creations—and half of the net proceeds go to a nonprofit chosen by the artists.
This seven-inch features soul singer and poet Jamila Woods on one side and poet Kevin Coval collaborating with R&B artist Tasha on the other. The nonprofit they chose is Young Chicago Authors, which runs the renowned Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam and has fostered the talents of countless rising stars, among them Nico Segal, Chance the Rapper, and Woods herself. Coval is the group’s artistic director, and Woods serves as its associate artistic director.
“Jamila and I are in continual creative conversation,” Coval says. “The discussion was open when we talked about this collaboration for Vinyl for a Cause. I forgot who chose whose song first, but I think we gravitated toward what felt right.”
On the record’s A side, Woods performs “Muddy”—a fiery, up-tempo track inspired by Coval’s poem “Muddy Waters Goes Electric.” Woods flexes her jazzy vocals and poetic songwriting style over a rocking instrumental, singing “Motherfuckers won’t shut up / We been in a war, my God / Some country shit won’t cut it / He need the blues he can plug in.” The lines borrow phrases directly from the opening stanza of the poem.
On side B, Coval flips Woods’s “LSD” (featuring Chance the Rapper) into “Snow Day,” a song dedicated to Chicago’s winters.
“I chose ‘LSD’ because to me, it’s an ode to the natural beauty of Chicago, its topography, and people,” he says. “I hear it as a summer anthem, centralizing the experience of the midwest and Chicago in particular. I wanted to flip it seasonally and write an ode to the terrible winters in this cold-ass city.”
The song begins with Tasha (another YCA alum) crooning over a light and soulful instrumental: “Pray that this night stretches on oh so long / Pray that this snow don’t ever stop us falling.” Then Coval joins in, painting the image of a Chicago winter day with his prose.
“I’m a giant fan of Tasha—I love her writing and lyricism,” Coval says. “I was thinking about a counterpart to my tone as well as someone I’d be geeked to work with, and she was the first person who came to mind.”
This collaboration between Woods and Coval is a first for Vinyl for a Cause—so far their records have featured mostly bands, and never an R&B singer or a poet. Coval believes that this interdisciplinary link—between music and poetry—is a natural part of Chicago’s arts scene.
“The story of arts in Chicago is one of deep collaboration—networks and crews of artists who build and collaborate and put on for one another,” Coval explains. “The Chicago creative community is rich and vibrant. If we stay open and connected and supportive of one another, we have the power to change the city’s future toward the more equitable and fresh.”