If you’re not familiar with the artist I’m about to talk about, now would be a great time to acquaint yourself with the ever-so-dope Billy Woods. The DC, by way of NY, MC is one of those guys that are rather difficult to put in a box. His career has been devoted to releasing eccentric hip hop based deeply in experimentation, but his overall sound is hard to nail down with words. He’s got an impressive back catalog consisting of two solo albums, Camouflage and The Chalice, as well as three collaboration albums with Privilege as Super Chron Flight Brothers. Back catalog out of the way, let’s talk about his latest masterpiece entitled, History Will Absolve Me.
I’ll start by saying that, right off the bat, I felt these were some of the best beats that Billy Woods has gone over. I did feel that him and Bond made a dope combination on Camouflage, but I think Woods was put on this Earth to rhyme over these types of beats. From the second Crocodile Tears came in, I was blown away. The production is, for the most part, dark, gritty and grimy, but what you’ll also notice is the beats have that sound that harks back to albums like Cold Vein, Fantastic Damage or The Other Side Of The Looking Glass. Most of all, the production (and album overall) reminded me a lot of Masai Bey and BMS’s 2007 collaboration album, C87. (If you don’t have that album already, pick it up.)
His stream-of-consciousness style hasn’t skipped a beat in the eight years since his last solo record. He’s still extremely nice with the pen, writing lines that actually force the listener to think rather than simply sit back and tune the MC out. With lines like “Pen game equivalent to Thomas Paine/ Pen name the ambivalent Mark Twain/ Intelligent Gucci Mane” you can tell that Woods is no novice when it comes to lyrics.
Woods has a slightly more serious approach to his lyrics on this release tackling issues like failed relationships (Blue Dream), hit-and-run throwaway rappers (Duckhunt) and he even talks about piracy and the music industry on DMCA. He compares illegal downloaders to “considerate rapists” and then reduces the reason America was founded down to the simple idea that white people didn’t want to pay taxes on tea. After which he gives his opinion on paying for samples with the line “when I take your shit that’s the American way.” This dude is a monster.
As far as accessibility, I think of Billy Woods as the Jandek of hip hop. He’s rather elusive, he doesn’t do a lot of interviews and very little is known about him. He also doesn’t do much with social media so you’ll never see him tweeting about what he had for dinner or giving his opinions on the latest Kim Kardashian drama. His most obvious resemblance to Jandek would be how some find his style either pure genius or absolutely terrible. He has a disjointed rhyme style that sounds offbeat while totally being on beat (it’ll make sense when you listen to it). His sound isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.
Overall, I think History Will Absolve Me is a top-notch addition to Billy Woods’s already impressive catalog. So far, it’s actually my favorite release of his and, to be honest, I can already see this album being a strong contender for my top five albums of the year. If you’re truly missing the days when indie rap was strong, challenging and rebellious get this album. If you want something to take you back to the days of Rawkus, Anticon and Def Jux, get this album. If you’re in the mood for truly original hip hop with beats and rhymes that are dope while being unconventional, get this album.
Some standout tracks were Crocodile Tears, Body of Work (even though, as much as I like Roc Marciano, he didn’t sound great on that beat), Freedman’s Bureau featuring Elucid, Headband and Dunk Hunt (which you can check out above).
“I’ll Delonte West your old earth and still keep is discreet. Dude, your whole style is wash, rinse, repeat.”
Last minute edit: I feel the beats on this album are so dope that the producers definitely need their credit. The production handled mostly by Willie Green and Marmaduke, but the album also has beats from A.M. Breakups, Man Mantis and Essex Dogs.