2022 FME MVP=billy woods

by Dan O

…the ability woods has to impact a song or an albums identity with a single bar is like no one else.

The crowd of people with their digital arms folded, eyes down, mumbling that billy woods isn’t really a rapper…more of a spoken word poet is thinning. The blanket they are using for comfort is old and full of holes. I’ve seen a lot of spoken word poetry (from the worst to the best) and this year I saw Armand Hammer live. The audience knew every word woods belted out. They yelled along with him in a way they don’t for Big Poppa E.

As a feature, woods took 2022 handily. An avalanche of appearances that feels like it started on the PremRock song Bardo. The Bardo guest verse develops the relationship between woods and the ex but it also develops her personality, her life. By the time they are leaving the Five Guys you feel like you’ve seen a short film that ends with a woeful narrator in the strip club. Once Tabula Rasa was released (from Earl Sweatshirt’s album SICK! ) the buzz reached a new level. Elucid kicks off that song like he is rapping for his life and after the clink of glasses woods slides in and says “bury me in a borrowed suit, give my babies my rhyme books but tell ‘em DO YOU!” the ability woods has to impact a song or an albums identity with a single bar is like no one else. When you mention that album the first thing I think of is the borrowed suit. It’s the right image in the right place and that’s why it holds. None of these are my favorite woods feature verse though. The feature that captivated my imagination were when woods popped up where I didn’t expect and lived in a new space. On Ordinary Magic (from Myles Bullen’s album Mourning Travels) completely understands an emotionally torn song. It’s a song about working hard to become a better rapper and learning to enjoy that work but at the same time it mourns all that effort/time lost feeding that effort. The first second his voice is heard affirms that he understands “It’s ordinary magic, avoiding the sadness.” Mailing in a ‘pretty good’ verse is tempting I imagine. Knock it out and move on. The way to avoid that is the way woods did, by only lending your voice to something that excites you enough to do something new. Whether its you waking with a thrown out shoulder or having your fanbase questioned by an ex at Five Guys.

In 2019 I named woods honorable mention for MVP and it’s haunted me since. My MVP was Griselda, I made a lovely chart of their releases but naming a whole crew MVP is a cop out and I never did it again. The combination of Terror Management and Hiding Places should have locked him into that spot. This is beyond a make up award. 2019 woods was fully coming into this artistic form from a solo artist perspective. 2022 woods has pushed that creative energy forward while showing true and unrivaled leadership.

All the years spent in this indie hip hop universe have put woods in contact with amazing talents folks significantly more talented than their visibility would indicate. That is the foundation of BackwoodzStudioz. This year it rose to on another level. We can talk about showcasing AKAI SOLO at the perfect time with Spirit Roaming and Body Feeling or making sure Elucid and ShrapKnel lifted off properly or the genius of the WHT LBL buzz but we need to go deeper than that. Look at the t shirt design and posters for I Told Bessie here. GENG PTP was pulled in all year to put his unique design vision into every merch roll out. This spotlight gave GENG PTP the space to push the aesthetic further than ever before. Backwoodz merch was never better. Alexander Richter has always been talented but the cover for Church is first of the highlight reel. Whether it was the Church cover or the I Told Bessie poster Richter was able to capture a grand sense of awe that Backwoodz needed to fly as high as the label did.

I told Messiah Musik that woods is my favorite game planner in rap. The way in which he gives everyone around him the best shot to succeed while tapping into the media in ways where he’ll remain comfortable has started to soak in beyond his circle. All year interviewing people in music they spoke about woods. They learned from his patient storytelling, his beat selection and production partnerships. I heard artists change the tone of their voice to boom louder. Rappers who wanted to dig into more literary or historical references started doing so without fear. Before they would be worried about losing audience but they know woods has one, so the customer base is there.

While I begrudgingly admit that Aethiopes is better than Church, nothing in 2022 matches moving from track ten to eleven on Church. I felt breathless, a voice in my head whispered “this isn’t one of the best albums of the year…its one of the best you’ve ever heard.” I was caught up in the vision of the director again cutting from his big screen blockbuster on colonialism to a slow thumping emotional album that felt infinitely more personal. It always feels like we are discovering something new in woods that was always there. That’s the advantage of controlling where the camera leads the audience. He sneaks in the jokes while we cry with him or sweat nervously with him as coded words line up a drug hand off. Backwoodz is developing a very loud group of believers and it makes sense. Of all the quotables I think about All Jokes Aside when he says “I’m squatting on stage hoping I never took more than I gave.” Woods is not obtuse, wrapping us in riddles we tape up on a big board to figure out. Above everything else the leadership woods expresses comes from a deeply earnest place. Wanting to do his audience proud, his label, his friends. When I interviewed Fielded I told her that my favorite thing about woods is how connected to his emotions he is. That’s how we get Remorseless to Smith + Cross. That’s always been the legend that helps me read the map.

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