Life Out Loud

Oompa Williams ’14 uses her art to become unbothered
by Katie Williard
At her Boston Calling music festival performance in May, Oompa Williams ’14 had a crowd of Bostonians chanting “Lebron” — hours before the Celtics played the Lakers in an NBA playoff game. Only a true artist can sway that kind of crowd. called her “a force in the city” ahead of her May performance. Named one of NPR’s 2020 Slingshot Artists to Watch, and featured in the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and HuffPost, Williams is an established fixture of the Boston music scene whose 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.

Oompa Williams on hood of original Ford Mustang
Photo: Yazi Ferrufino
“Bucknell is the place where I learned that I can be an artist out loud,” says Oompa Williams ’14.
A double-major in English and education, Williams found that some aspects of her identity clashed with University culture. “I’m very much from Roxbury in Boston. I’m very Black, very queer, very loud, very woman. Bucknell felt like it wasn’t quite ready for all of that, even if it wanted to be.”

She established her community through academics and art. “I found mentorship and academic rigor in the English department with [Professors] Shara McCallum and Carmen Gillespie,” says Williams. “But there were definitely challenges — feeling like the institution was learning at our expense.”

Since graduating, she has used her music to define her experience.

Williams’ first album, November 3rd, debuted in 2016, and “laid the foundation for what I needed to process in real life.” 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 to focus on self-development and filled the gap by joining a small urban Catholic school in Boston as a music teacher. “My kids are very daring about what they imagine,” she says. “And they keep me humble.”

Unbothered shows Williams in a place of acceptance and gratitude for her journey so far. With that record and a run of dynamic Boston performances in 2022, she’s focused on a future of continued growth through music.

While she’s still climbing, she’s preparing to help other artists find their place. “I’ve been slowly rolling out a cultural agency to support establishing artists,” she says.

With her career path and personal growth deeply entwined, Williams says she has “nothing but gratitude for where I’ve come from and where I’m going.”