A shameless personal note to start this one, i’ve often joked that me,MF DOOM and billy woods are all the same kinda person in that we’re all african-caribbean weirdos who read alot, overthink things and hate showing our faces on the internet. The difference with woods being that his reasoning is more out of circumstance rather than paranoia about about the internet.
That paranoia, the distrust, seeing friends go down paths where you know the conclusion of it all before they do. He can be as caustic and bone dry as Mark E. Smith circa 1984,whip smart but at the same time would advise you not to take him as some kind of wise sage. dead politicial figures,specters not only that but he’s got the kind of sports refferences that i know certain armchair pundits would lose their minds over. Hes like Gerard Manley Hopkins if instead of Jesuism was raised on historical geopoilitics,ESPN,Battle of Algiers and dark web listings of old weed strains.
The albums he did as one half of Super Chron Flight Brothers was filled with these kind of allusions,contradictions and dicotomies, it’s reflected through the concept of a day sat infront of the TV but that lens is warped and refracted to talk about the 2009 financial crash & memories the grimey,nasty days of 42nd Street pre-cleanup.
On “Stay Schemin” you get the sense from Rick Ross and co. that the fun and games of being bastards getting away with heists and crime capers is over, Ross’ doesn’t want to go to court but at least he can afford to get a good lawyer, at least French Montana can stash his krills up on the roof for next time, for the dealers in woods’s world they’re on pins and needles trying to make it to next week and if not they’re lost in the grinder of the system doing the same numbers under the jail that old Charly Wingate is doing.
That’s the beauty of his work it’s political but only in the sense that he talks about politics the same way somebody would talk about fixing the piping in your bathroom. Everything is covered in politics but not in the way Paris did with Sleeping with the enemy. There’s an acknowledgement of the wider world out there always looking slightly over the border, part of that is because he spent time in Zimbabwe as a child before coming to America so there’s always the slight tinge of the outsider looking in.
Thats not getting into his is ace in the whole as a writer,how he toys and jumps with perspective. In the same verse he can switch from being the friend in the passenger seat to t, DOOM did this but DOOM always kept it between his first and 3rd person “he talk to himself when he needs someone to hate on” woods will switch between the neoliberal plunderer ordering PRC’s not to open fire until he says so, the native whose home has been devastasted expansion polution.
Camoflague woods debut is very much a rap album of it’s era but its surprising to go back to now just in terms of how on the money it is about the crimes and seeds sown by the Bush administration as a result, “Dirge” is the first song where he touches on the death of his father but it isnt the last.
The Chalice admittidly is his most hit and miss album but the best songs on that album are some of the best songs of his career “B.B.C” sees him adopt the role of a news reporter pronounced English accent and all, omly for his perspective to switch to that of a elderly man solemnly adressing the devastation of his village. “Maryland” starts off with him reminisicng about him and a old friend trying to make money off mowing lawns and spending that money on weed cause they didn’t want to get jobs come for the novelty of somebody rapping over a Velvet Underground riff stay for the affecting advice and realisation on the impermanace of friendship. “Vacationland” talks about a place of no worries,labour or exploitation but there’s the feint sense of unease that says that this isn’t permanent.
The fact that he’s a long time friend of Vordul Mega out of Cannibal Ox shouldn’t be a real surprise because they’re both at their best and most strikingly vivid at their most focused. Despite all this the most appealing factor with woods is despite how gushing somebody can get about him is that at the end of the day he’s a guy who still has to get up and go to work in the morning.
There’s a old documentary video on youtube where these people spend time with the Def Jux alumni you have Pre- RTJ El-P making jokes about how we need to run and hide cause the apocalypse is coming, Aesop Rock talking about depression in a cramped flat,music equipment strew about the place. Once underground rap folk hero Vast Aire kicking a freestyle while looking like he’s shivering. It taught me more about the kind of people who make that music than all the “why isn’t this getting played on radio?” youtube comments and gushing reviews about certain rappers being an “antidote to mainstream rap” ever could, and thats what i get from woods.