billy woods, “Aethiopes”
By Phillip Mlynar · April 15, 2022 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Aethiopes builds on Brooklyn rapper and Backwoodz Studioz head honcho billy woods‘s two 2019 solo releases, Hiding Places and Terror Management. While the former was recorded with L.A. producer Kenny Segal, the latter drew on an ensemble of beatmakers, including New York-based Preservation, who delivered a three-song suite that helped establish the tone of the album. The following year, woods returned the favor and graced Preservation’s Eastern Medicine, Western Illness. Now, Aethiopes furthers the duo’s creative partnership. Across the album’s scratchy sonics, Preservation employs minimalist percussion and bluesy loops to provide space for woods’s tenor. “Life gave me lemonade/ I poured my spirit of choice,” declares woods on “Protoevangelium,” digging into a seemingly endless stash of witticisms. “The trees weapons-grade, it’s not that I’m ‘noid/ UN inspectors upstairs, I’m trying not to make a noise.”

An assortment of supporting guests bring a collegiate—and at times reunion-like—quality to the album. On “NYNEX,” Denmark Vessey, Quelle Chris, and woods’s Armand Hammer partner ELUCID take turns embellishing Preservation’s funk, with the latter weaving in a reference to retro Travel Fox sneakers after woods issues a damning decree: “Quinine powder and alcohol, stir until dissolved/ The future isn’t flying cars—it’s Rachel Dolezal absolved.” As the buzzing dystopian sci-fi ambiance of “Heavy Water” whirls into action, Breeze Brewin and EL-P join woods with their compacted bars and pass the mic like they’re shoulder-to-shoulder in a ’90s cipher session inside New York City’s famed Fat Beats record store.

Ending the album on a sobering note, the redemptive gospel of “Smith + Cross” is anchored by funereal organ lines that support woods showcasing his knack of throwing out stark shards of personal memories and then branching into grander worldly philosophizing. “The emotional affair is the best/ Intoxicating/ Let’s not ruin it with sex,” woods says before reminiscing about hearts scrawled in wet pavement cement. While lamenting the fleeting nature of existence, woods signs off with an updated end days reflection: “Sugar molasses rum/ Sun-blasted bastard sons/ Some laughed, some slumped aghast at what we’d done.”

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