FME MVP HONORABLE MENTION
No matter what the run time is, a Billy Woods song is a meal. You can spend some real time lost in his lyrics. Read the only full verse from the last song(Stranger In The Village) on his second album of the year, Terror Management.
Came through atop a half dead mule
Pale urchins put the swoosh on his pointy shoe
A slew of rare pelts, helm a skull of caribou
Blood on the ice shelf, snares is simple loops
Trinkets that bitches think is cute
Dirty pictures that he keep outta view
Minor riches looted from who know who
Piano wire on a spool, thread for the loom
Dog eared first edition of Barracoon
Jah Goo mix grabba that’s the jet fuel
Ivory mouth, skin so black it’s blue
Ain’t never been south, never seen the dunes
Regale ’em with tales of Khartoum/Eyes big enough to drown
Gather round, gather round
The song is two minutes and two seconds and full of the pen game that made Woods top soloist of 2019. He has a real talent for snarling powerfully succinct messages that knock the listener back ” Trinkets that bitches think is cute” and contrasting them with dizzying head-scratching word usage or poetic and HIGHLY literary imagery ” A slew of rare pelts, helm a skull of caribou”. It can feel like you’ve gone from rap song to novel to essay and back again.
If you’ve read my interview with Woods (preceding post) you can tell his answers push back on singular assertions. From Pessimism v. Optimism to his own lyrics, he sees the world from lots of angles. This is not just present in his lyrics but in the form of his songs. Listen to Lauren Kelly Benson singing at the very beginning of Blood Thinner in a withdrawn and trembling delivery. You can hear her lightly hum in the background but she doesn’t do a “hook”. The song ends with an audio clip. Fielded really stretches out over the soulful beat on Western Education Is Forbidden. She comes on at about two minutes and thirty four seconds and takes us all the way to three minutes and fifty seven seconds, closing the song. Every guest star is very well served in placement. The way he structures these songs are so different so strange compared to what I have taken in as accepted normal. On his verse that starts the song Windhoek(Terror Management), he steps off the plane and explains that he is “Calm and cordial, overly formal.” But adds “I regret to inform you this is the new normal.” The guidelines for a rap song are totally artificial.
My favorite song from Billy Woods this year could be Steak Knives (Hiding Places) which is under a minute and a half. I never thought I would love a rap song that short. The end of this song is the total Woods experience. Someone has been asking after him and he doesn’t know why. Here is how the song closes.
Facial expression lookin’ silly
Kept askin’ me how he got away with all them dealings
I replied I been goin’ through this same things that he had
But that was a lie, I could see he doin’ bad
Second place is steak knives, he said, “What you say?” (What?)
I said, “Nah, it’s just a line” (It’s just a line)
It’s just a line
Earlier in the verse our narrator dropped an album with a thud. Now Old Doug is comin’ to his Mama’s house asking around for him and he’s in his head about what this could be about. By the end he’s left with the realization that Doug is doing so much worse but he’s not going to help. It’s a mirror that reflects at all of us because it’s not written with the gentility of a “meaningful” song. He spits it like Chuck D on Fear Of A Black Planet but he writes it like Ada Limon writes about gardening. Great MC’s, great writers in rap music are like parents in our mind. They teach you things when you won’t listen to anyone else. The line that made me gasp out loud was “Shorty can’t eat no book/ what I told Ta-Nehesi Coates.(Western Education Is Forbidden off Terror Management)” It was Coates in a recent interview, when asked about rappers, who stated hip hop had provided the best writers of recent years and he had learned from them more than other sources. I couldn’t help but wonder if a Coates v. Woods discussion really happened. Either way, I know Coates is somewhere listening as hard to Billy Woods as I am.
Billy Woods release schedule this year:
Hiding Places 03/29/2019
Terror Management 10/04/2019
Bookmark Billy Woods bandcamp and buy. That link is https://billywoods.bandcamp.com/
You can also go to his label and stock up.