Oompa Williams '14 leans on the hood of a yellow mustang showing a peace sign.

Oompa Williams '14, English and education

December 13, 2022

by Katie Williard

Oompa Williams '14 has used her art to become unbothered. Photo by Yazi Ferrufino

Bucknell is the place where I learned that I could actually be an artist out loud.

At Oompa Williams '14's performance at the Boston Calling music festival in May, she had a crowd of Bostonians chanting "Lebron" — the title of a track from her most recent album, Unbothered — hours before the Celtics faced off against the Lakers in an NBA game. Getting a throng of Bostonians to laud their fierce rival ahead of that kind of matchup demonstrates the power Williams holds as an artist.

Named Boston Music's 2022 Live Artist of the Year, the Beantown native was labeled "a force in the city" by Boston.com ahead of her May performance. She was recognized as one of NPR's 2020 Slingshot Artists to Watch, and has been featured in the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and the Huffington Post. An established fixture of the Boston music scene, Williams' work combines honest, sensitive lyric writing with a mainstream rap sound. The release of her third album, Unbothered, is the culmination of the work she's done since leaving Bucknell.

A double-major in English and education, Williams' experience differed from the majority of her peers. "I'm very much from Roxbury in Boston. I'm very Black, very queer, very loud, very woman."

At Bucknell, she sought to make more space for students of color on campus and built a community for herself through her academics and her art. She performed at open mic nights and worked with the student radio station, and "was able to find mentorship and rigor in the English department with [Professors] Sarah McCullum and Carmen Gillespie," she says. "Academically, I was super challenged and engaged. The expectation was always to go high, and I did it. I respected the fact that, academically, nobody was there trying to save me. That always felt beautiful."

Since graduating, she has used her music to define her experience — both at Bucknell and in the world at large — and acknowledges the challenges she faced along the way. "It wasn't perfect, but Bucknell is the place where I learned that I could actually be an artist out loud and not just in my room," she says.

Williams' first album, November 3rd, debuted in 2016, and "laid the foundation for what I needed to process." Her second album, Cleo, dug further into the complexities of her life. Still, Williams questioned her work's impact.

When the pandemic hit, she stepped away from music completely, focusing instead on self development. To fill the gap, Williams' joined a small urban Catholic school in Boston to serve as their music teacher. "I think working with young people is one of the ways that I continue to be humble," she says. "My kids are very daring about what they imagine and the possibilities they see. I never want to forget that for myself, and I never want them to forget."

The success of Unbothered coupled with a run of dynamic Boston performances in 2022, she's focused on a future of growth through music. "I'm continuing to explore subgenres, and I'm interested in writing some R&B," she says. And while she's still climbing, she's preparing to help other artists find their place too. "I've been slowly rolling out this cultural agency that I'm building aimed at supporting other local, up-and-coming artists," she says. Through the agency, Williams hopes to lift up others who may be searching for what she's found. "In order for me to participate in and create the future that otherwise seems impossible, I have to imagine it," she says.

Ultimately, her career and her personal growth are deeply entwined. And while she recognizes that there is still work to be done, she says she has "nothing but gratitude for where I've come from and where I'm going."