July 5, 2022

“Europeans determined what Blackness was.” That’s one thing that billy woods informed The FADER in possibly the one interview that woods has accomplished behind his new album Aethiopes. Within the context of the interview, that’s much less a thesis assertion and extra a tossed-off remark, but it surely’s nonetheless a helpful method for trying into Aethiopes, yet another gorgeous piece of rap music from a profession stuffed with them. Over the course of his profession, billy woods has discovered lots of of sidelong, indirect methods to take a look at a bloodthirsty, hostile actuality. His music is filled with apocalyptic imagery, late-capitalist inhumanity, and visceral reminders from centuries upon centuries of white colonialism. Aethiopes, an album named after an archaic European time period for Africans, digs deep into the numerous ways in which historical past informs the best way folks dwell their lives within the here-and-now, and it’s wealthy and layered sufficient to go away your head spinning.

Each solo and as half of Armand Hammer, billy woods has been liable for a number of the finest rap data I’ve heard lately. I don’t discover it particularly helpful to pit the person’s works towards each other, so I can’t say whether or not Aethiopes is the finest billy woods album. I can, nonetheless, inform you that Aethiopes has gotten below my pores and skin greater than another album I’ve heard, in any style, in fairly a while. Aethiopes is a dense textual content stuffed with bursts of language that demand critical thought and evaluation. You can transcribe all of woods’ lyrics on the album and promote them as a poetry ebook, and on paper, they’d minimize deeper than a lot of the (admittedly little or no) poetry that I’ve compelled myself to learn through the years. However this isn’t homework. It is a rap file, and it’s an important one.

billy woods made Aethiopes with Preservation, a producer whose voice and elegance are as distinctive as what woods does with phrases. Preservation has labored as Yasiin Bey’s tour DJ, and his final launch was Japanese Drugs, Western Sickness, a 2020 album the place numerous underground-rap greats — Roc Marciano, Mach-Hommy, billy woods himself — went in over samples of obscure Chinese language data that Preservation discovered whereas residing in Hong Kong. Seven years in the past, Preservation teamed up with Ka to file Days With Dr. Yen Lo, an idea album organized round The Manchurian Candidate, each the ebook and the film. Aethiopes appears to have its personal inspiration, and it’s Kongi’s Harvest, a movie that Ossie Davis directed in 1970, adapting the work of the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. Kongi’s Harvest tells the story of a dictator attempting and failing to modernize an African nation. Ultimately, he dies. Between songs, samples from Kongi’s Harvest string the tracks from Aethiopes collectively.

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Africa looms massive on Aethiopes, however then, I suppose Africa looms massive in each piece of rap music ever made. It looms massive in all of common music, since nearly each style that we take pleasure in right now is a byproduct of the African diaspora. billy woods spent a lot of his childhood residing in Zimbabwe. On “Asylum,” the primary monitor from Aethiopes, woods wonders whether or not the neighbor residing within the fortress subsequent door is Mengistu Haile Mariam, the previous Ethiopian dictator who nonetheless lives in Zimbabwe after his insurance policies led to the deaths of lots of of hundreds of Ethiopians. The tune is tense and discordant, with no central pulse to its beat. As a substitute, over enervated clusters of piano, woods shares chopped-up shards of images: “Razor wire like a Slinky/ Rumor is parcel bomb took the secretary proper eye and pinky.”

Aethiopes is filled with chilly, laborious visions. On one tune, white folks pull as much as the African coast for “cannibal excursions”: “They got here on all fours/ Waterborne, eyes like Jaws/ Bones litter the seashore, gnawed.” On one other, woods equates Black American legal life with the damaging boredom that settles in when sailors’ ships are adrift within the doldrums: “Horses thrown overboard kick quick, then sluggish.” When woods visits a museum, he finds himself on the mistaken aspect of the glass: “Fireplace within the cane fields, generational trauma/ On the museum, eyes glassy from the ache capsules, me and her within the diorama.”

All through the album, woods sees that very same darkness in Black American life. Due to the fixed menace of bodily hazard, households aren’t allowed to perform as households: “Some couldn’t wait to kick they youngsters out/ Others needed to do it ‘fore gangs shot up the home.” One child, thrown from a dirtbike, dies twice on an working desk earlier than coming again with a limp and a cranium dent, and he counts himself fortunate when police solely give him home arrest. The individuals who promise deliverance and promote desires are a part of the issue: “The sport thick with con artists and hucksters/ Flip a cardboard field, three-card monte social justice.” The individuals who suppose they perceive class battle are normally the beneficiaries of it, they usually don’t know shit concerning the sheer boredom and drudgery of working-class life: “Spare me the Hallmark Karl Marx/ I used to be within the Greenback Tree breakroom enjoying playing cards with quarters.”

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The music on Aethiopes is as unsettled as something that billy woods says. Preservation doesn’t actually make beats. As a substitute, he conjures moods. His tracks draw on summary jazz and movie scores. They’re haunted and off-center. Generally, there will probably be no drums. Generally, it’ll simply be a cymbal tapping time and again, unsettling in its insistence. Devices get lost the tracks — a stand-up bass, a zither, a lonely howling horn. I’m solely simply now getting began on Dan Charnas’ new J Dilla biography Dilla Time, however a lot of the ebook is devoted to arguing that Dilla’s particular sense of rhythm was a radical new evolution of our shared musical vocabulary. I saved fascinated with that listening to Aethiopes, since Preservation’s normal disinterest in time-keeping works as its personal departure. His tracks are uneasy stress-meditations, and he typically leaves woods and the album’s different rappers to search out their very own pockets.

There are a lot of rappers on Aethiopes; on some degree, it’s a household reunion of a sure nook of the underground. Many of the voices are raspy and world-weary: Boldy James, Quelle Chris, reggae veteran Shinehead. El-P reveals as much as rap a few sharply written verses alongside woods and former Juggaknots chief Breeze Brewin. I love Run The Jewels, but it surely nonetheless feels wonderful to listen to El again in his Firm Move zone. Nonetheless, each single guest-rapper on Aethiopes is within the tough place of inhabiting this frayed sonic environment that woods and Preservation have created. Few of them are wherever close to as snug as woods. Despot, the lifer who refuses to ever launch an album, will get off some slick traces amidst the ghostly dub skank of “Versailles”: “May pull out the hammer — hit your knees and examine your reflexes.” Boldy James finds a second of unhappy irony worthy of woods himself: “Dug down in my soul and did some soul-searching/ All I discovered was a police report for a lacking particular person.” However this isn’t a celebration, and it isn’t a contest. It’s billy woods mining damaged knowledge from a fucked society; all the things else is only a bonus.

Truthfully, it appears ridiculous to put in writing critically about Aethiopes as a result of I don’t think about myself to be wherever close to billy woods’ degree as a author. This isn’t false modesty. I crank out hundreds of phrases a day, and I feel I’m fairly fucking good, however woods could make your complete mind freeze up in ways in which I can barely comprehend. Take into account this line: “My accountant is a headful of unhealthy reminiscences and unhappy endings/ It’s all cost pending.” Or this one: “The play inside the play was G Dep as MacBeth/ Ashanti gold on Queen Elizabeth’s neck/ Scarification throughout each breasts.” Or, Jesus Christ, this one: “The long run isn’t flying automobiles, it’s Rachel Dolezal absolved/ It’s autonomous computer systems sending shooters again in time on the behest of defunct messageboards.” We’re fortunate that billy woods is working at that degree proper now and that his work is taking the type of rap music. Aethiopes is loads to course of, and it ought to be loads to course of. Nothing is straightforward, and nothing is simple, however getting misplaced in billy woods’ work is its personal reward.

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FURIOUS FIVE

1. Sauce Walka – “Harmful Daringer”
Sauce Walka is all the time nice, however there’s one thing particular about listening to him enterprise outdoors his consolation zone and spazz out on a lumbering East Coast beat like this one. It most likely wouldn’t make a lot sense for Sauce to forge any type of lasting partnership with Griselda’s in-house producer, so a monitor like this can most likely all the time be a wonderful anomaly. That’s high-quality. A wonderful anomaly is all the time welcome.

2. Jae Skeese – “Triple Submit Offense” (Feat. 7xvethegenius & Conway The Machine)
The rap blogger-turned-producer Large Ghost LTD made two nice albums with Conway during the last two years, and there’s loads to advocate about his new team-up with Jae Skeese, one other Buffalo rapper. This monitor is funky, and that’s not an adjective that I get to make use of typically sufficient.

3. NLE Choppa – “Sleazy Move Freestyle”
I hope nothing unhealthy comes out of the NLE Choppa/NBA YoungBoy beef, however proper now, it’s acquired Choppa rapping like this.

4. Younger Slo-Be – “Ouweee” (Feat. DaBoii)
Younger Slo-Be’s icy-mutter model doesn’t all the time work for me, however if you happen to put him on some gothed-out funeral organs, that voice actually lands.

5. BIA – “London” (Feat. J. Cole)
BIA seems like she’s by no means cared about something in her complete life. J. Cole all the time seems like he cares a lot. Collectively, they’re a research in contrasts.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO