“…And I did it up!”
billy woods (all lowercase, no gimmicks) really is becoming one of my favorite artists. Much like his colleague Elucid, woods is an intriguing, reclusive emcee whose work is consistently engaging, experimental, and dope, challenging the norms of the genre and helping push hip-hop forward into new and uncharted territory, which is especially welcome in 2017. Five years ago I fell hard for his fantastic record History Will Absolve Me and since then I’ve been looking out for his music. This summer I’ve been putting plays on woods’ latest, Known Unknowns, the title referring to the famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld, and I’m convinced that it is one of the year’s most fascinating records. Woods is part storyteller, part conspiracy theorist, and part rambling visionary, with cryptic tales of street life, personal introspection, deep topics, and random asides. The album is a collage of moments, some poignant, some ambiguous, some dour, and some just there. There’s a lot to decipher on this album, and woods presents these moments through rap, rant, meditative chant, and almost spoken-word-style delivery. The production, hooked up by NYC producer Blockhead (their second album together after 2013’s Dour Candy) fits woods temperament perfectly, and only highlights the oddity and drives home the messages. It’s a trip.
“Police Came to My Show” is one of the album’s more surreal moments. It comes across like a loose vignette, something out of a show like Louie, with woods simply talking about a time where the cops came to his show and just…watched. It’s in this short track that we learn quite a bit, that woods is a dedicated emcee who may not sell out a venue but it’s cool, his partiality towards paranoia is warranted, he’s got a weird sense of humor, and…he doesn’t own a tape player. Sheeit, we don’t even find out why the cops showed up in the first place. It’s just a thing that happened, a relaxed, lighthearted, almost dreamlike moment in the middle of a cold, harsh, fascinating record. There’s also a wealth of funny moments here too.
And damn, no one bought any merch.