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billy woods-Aethiopes ALBUM REVIEW

Written Before Listen

Billy Woods has returned with another solo offering. The last time he dropped a solo release was in late 2020 with “Brass”. This is the first time listening to one of his solo releases. I’ve heard about the past two Armand Hammer projects and ‘Haram’ was one of my favorites for 2020. I'm glad to review another one of his offerings as I liked the style of hip hop he does so without further ado, let’s get into it.


With a billy woods record, the layered meanings and lyrics Billy woods brings to the table are usually accompanied by production that not only works, but is enjoyable to listen to, and Preservation surely does that here. Right away, the beat for “Asylum” is filled with piano passages, crisp saxophones, and subtle kick drums. Following right after is “No Hard Feelings” where another drumless beat comes in but it's filled with distortion, chaos, and hypnotism. We then get the beats for “Wharves” and “Sauvage” which are beyond amazing. The kalimba sample mixed with this percussion loop is slightly wonky but it’s still abstract enough for it to fit Billy’s style. “Sauvage” is a mixture of weird one-shots and a simple kick and snare pattern and it ends up sounding like a very left-field Griselda beat. The beat for “NYNEX” is also a favorite of mine as it sounds like a pure cypher beat but it comes with blues harmonica and weird world percussion and “Heavy Water” is a similar vibe but with dulcimer and a continuous groove that sounds like Ghostface Killah would obliterate. Then, the two beats for “Haarlem” have different reactions. We first start with a beat that sounds like an old superhero cartoon. It then transitions to free jazz….It’s the most insane thing ever. The way that billy woods tries to rap over it is strange, to say the least. We then follow it up with “Versailles” which uses a dub sample but it's minimal and lo-fi enough to stick with its laid-back vibe. We then get the tracks “Remorseless” and “Smith & Cross” which are two drumless beats that shall remain drumless. They are hypnotic, they are psychedelic and they are amazing. Overall, I think the production is what made me want to listen to this more, but it’s the songwriting that makes this album great.


God….billy woods is one intelligent motherfucker. From the imagery of the protection and restriction on “Asylum” to the line about partying in Chinatown while smoking cigars across from Julius Erving on “Protoevangelium”, Billy is a mind-filled lyricist. Billy woods has opened up with some pretty absurd bars like living next to Mengistu Haile Marium, to the Challenger references on the following track. In “Wharves”, Billy discusses topics such as war, cannibalism, pollution, etc as it alludes to some of the trouble in Africa. “Sauvage” brings the Griselda vibe from the title but it is certainly more about the actual term and less like the cologne. There is also the insane billy woods verse as he straight up tells a story about a high school murderer and the thought process that goes through the kid's head. Throughout this entire album, billy woods boggles my mind as a lot of his lyrics take multiple and I MEAN MULTIPLE listens to comprehend, not fully understand but comprehend.


This isn’t the most feature-heavy record, but it comes with its highlights. On “Sauvage” we get an amazing Boldy James feature with a stone-cold flow with his usual gangster seriousness. On “NYNEX”, we get the strong team of billy, Lucid, Denmark Vessy, and Quelle Chris, and all 4 rappers come with Quotables, unique delivery, etc. On “Heavy Water”, we get verses from Breeze Brewin and El-P, and El-P, in particular, comes with great alliteration and tight flows. We get a unique verse from Despot on “Versailles” where he delivers a spoken word-like verse with quotables like “it ain’t even over cause the fat lady forgot the word” etc. Overall, this album is filled with great features some are recognizable names and some do a great job fitting with the vibe of this album.


I would also like to mention how connected billy and Preservation sound on this album. Preservation was someone I first heard about with his production on Mos Def’s ‘The Ecstatic” but he is here on this album and comes with multiple styles of production. The drumless beats are rather hypnotic or trippy and enjoyable. The beats with drums are dense, eclectic, and truly a charm to listen to. With these dark and surreal beats, billy woods are far from perfect to give dark, surreal lyrics to the album.


The only thing I can say negative about this album is that the song “The Doldrums” might be a little too drawn out for me. It’s a good song and the lyrics are meaningful and dense (like any other billy woods song) and the second part of “Haarlem” with its free jazz style beat is a little too abstract for my liking. Other than that, This album is fantastic.


Holy shit, there have been so many great albums to come from this year. Not even halfway through the year, Black Country New Road, Big Thief, Beach House, Soul Glo, and now billy woods have released albums that I consider heavy rotation choices. Albums that have blown my mind when it comes to ambition, artistic merit, boundary-pushing and overall enjoyment. I have a great feeling that this year will have a very competitive album of the year choice.



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