#Bandcampgold-Hiding Places by Billy Woods x Kenny Segal
Biographers live in the world of their subject for years. Can you imagine? In depth talks with family, old letters, review of their work, nailing down different periods of life and what they meant. The subject has to be important enough to fuel the biographer. If that spark flames out it’s a world of bad for everyone. I could be the biographer for Billy Woods & Kenny Segal’s new album Hiding Places. Over the past week I’ve been deep in lyric reading and song re-listens pulling at different sections of what it all means. I could do two years research on the end of A Day In A Week In A Year when Woods says:
“I read the play, hatchet job, but you work with what you got/ Life is just two quarters in the machine
But, either you got it or don’t that’s the thing
I was still hittin’ the buttons, “Game Over” on the screen
Dollar movie theater, dingy foyer, little kid, not a penny to my name
Fuckin’ with the joystick, pretendin’ I was really playin’
Pretendin’ I was really playin’
Pretendin’ I was really playin’ “
Pretending to play when you don’t have the money is a central memory for kids of a certain generation. Being able to go full thrust with your imagination and the screen regardless of what was working against you forms the basis of an artist’s mind. The joy of playing v. the ability to get in the game this is why it connects back to the hack play, dedicating yourself to your art when your art sucks is still pretending to play.
And that is just one fragment of one song. All the songs are built from these incredible impactful fragments that come together to form a singular emotional realization part poetic beauty part violence drizzled in lots of frustration. My favorite song is a minute and twenty eight seconds long. It is called Steak Knives and it is not simply about how horrifying a life of crime is but about how painfully destructive living in poverty can be without the endless fight for money we hear rappers talk about. As Woods says in the song “it’s sick but banalities might as well be death threats/Let it sit/ there’s the threat of sepsis” He opens the song by a roaring fire about to make love to a woman who specifies she does not want a relationship and ends it flippantly acknowledging ,in a passive aggressive way, that he doesn’t have the breathing room to help those not as driven. Second place is steak knives.
All the songs are lyrically rich threatening and evocative. I need to spend some time complimenting Kenny Segal who walked a tight line. Producing for a dense lyricist is a heck of a trap: keep it simple and your doing what most producers could do and it sounds boring, make it weird you might throw the MC off their flow. Songs like Houthi are masterfully open; ready for a lyricist to shine BUT it shifts drops out cuts in and alternates in a hypnotic way that keeps it from being stale. Production is consistent but fragmented. When you think you know a song it undulates in a different direction. Listen to all the subtle changes going on in Spider Hole before the guitar slams in at two minutes and twenty one seconds. Menacing does this sound design disservice. It’s not just menacing its thick and deceptively expansive. Central sounds build neighborhoods to live in.
I was looking for the one line Billy Woods said that scorched my heart and left my eyes Simpson size. These bars define the entire Billy Woods experience and I’ve had them bouncing around my head since the first listen. That moment happens in the first verse of Speak Gently “I’m a bad penny/I’m the feelin’ after you killed ’em and seen the safe empty.” That image is something no MC has ever left for me. Standing in front of a body, mind racing, only to look up at an empty safe all of it for nothing…left with the shame of my actions and the taste of monetary failure. Sick with everything wrong about this world at once. That’s Billy Woods superpower. He’s in total control of that feeling. No hero stuff he’s the viciousness of reality cutting through all the layers of defense you keep in front of it. Every verse makes your eye water like Listerine just before you spit.
Stream or purchase Hiding Places below: