Tardy Album Review | billy woods – Terror Management

This album was released on October 4th in 2019. billy woods had already released his best work to date earlier in the year, so when I saw this new album being teased soon after on Twitter I was pretty surprised. I’m always skeptical when artists plan on releasing multiple projects in the same year because 9 times outta 10 they get progressively weaker. On top of that, even though I loved Hiding Places, I don’t think I was as amazed by it as a lot of my acquaintances and critics were. The majority of the reception I’ve seen for this project has kinda confirmed my fears, but I know a couple people who love it, and some of them even say it’s just as good as Hiding Places, so I think there’s a slight chance that I’ll really love this album. I’m not expecting that though. I’m expecting to like it. I think it’ll probably end up being one of my least favorite albums from billy woods, but I’m obviously gonna try to go into it with an open mind. In a perfect world I’d have zero expectations so that I could judge it as fairly as possible, but that’s just not realistic. Who knows, though? Maybe this’ll end up being my favorite billy woods album yet. Stranger things have happened…

The album begins with Marlow, which has some really nice production from Small Professor. The beat sounds like it’s taken from the soundtrack of a vintage Crime or Thriller film. I love the hook too. billy woods’ arcane lyrical style typically renders me unsure of my own interpretations of his art, but even if it’s not accurate I’m glad I’m able to get something out of it; the verse on this track is pretty cool. To me, these lines kinda seemed like commentary on how black culture is always exploited by the Whites™ in the United States.

The hunted draws vultures, a sea of mea culpas
Hollowed out the culture, crawled inside
Skinwalker, they cast me out the tribe
Inkatha Freedom Party, I caught a vibe

Well, I suppose it’s not necessarily just the United States; Iggy Azalea exists, after all. Anyway, I definitely like the track to some extent, but I will admit that it’s not the most exciting listen sonically. It’s still pretty good though. The following track, Western Education Is Forbidden, is better in my opinion.

The production’s a lot more melodic & I guess cordial-sounding than I would typically expect for a billy woods song. It’s really good though. The first verse here is really cool too. Some of the lyrics are pretty humorous to me.

“Shorty can’t eat no book,” what I told Ta-Nehesi Coates
The room was thick with smoke
CD changer had a remote, remote battery low
I laugh ’cause sadly you think it’s a joke

The hook is really cool too. I was under the assumption that Fielded would be the one performing it, even though I’ve never actually heard any of her music. I thought she was signed to Deathbomb Arc for whatever reason, but I can’t find any of her work on the DBA Bandcamp page. I’m pretty sure she’s cool with Signor Benedick the Moor though. Anyway, the writing in the second verse is certainly interesting even if I have absolutely no idea what the hell any of it means or what the intent behind it is. All I know is that the song somehow relates to Boko Haram. Fielded’s vocals on the outro are pretty nice; they sound very smooth over the pleasant instrumental. The song is dope. Track 3 is called That Was Then. It really reminds me of the novel, That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton. I thought of that book as soon as I read the title of the song. The first verse is really dope; the writing isn’t super complicated, but it’s still vague enough to make me question my own interpretation. I feel like the second verse makes it clear that this song is inspired by the aforementioned novel, but I’m still unsure just because I never really know with billy woods.

A face for the crowd at the book signing, a rueful smile
We used to put the dro in vials
No doubt, that was then, this is now
I read it when it came out

I remember thinking that book was amazing when I was in middle school, but I was only like 11 or 12 years old when I read it. I don’t know if I’d still like it as much if I came back to it now. Anyway, I think I like this track even more than the preceding couple. billy woods’ writing always makes me feel completely lost though. It’s like I’m on the verge of understanding, but I can never quite reach it; it turns me into a musical hypotenuse. This shit is dope though; I definitely fuck with it. The next song is called Windhoek. It definitely has my favorite instrumental up to this point on the record; the beat is very murky and cavernous. The first verse from billy woods was cool, even though I still have no idea what the song is about. The second verse from Mach-Hommy was surprisingly dope; the overwhelming majority of material that I’ve heard from him in the past has been boring as hell and really uninteresting, but I actually liked his performance here more than that of billy woods.

Back when I was flipping Qs & Ps like dyslexia
Half a ounce’d make you move your peeps down to Chechnya
Big nigga, fresh out the can like Oscar the Grouch, but wild messier

The final verse from billy woods is pretty cool too. Honestly, even though I really like the beat, the writing is just too esoteric for me to really get anything out of it. I definitely enjoy it to some extent, but it’s far from a favorite of mine. Preservation‘s production on Long Grass is really nice. I really like the first verse from Pink Siifu as well. AKAI SOLO just handled the hook; he did an alright job I guess. It’s not really that enjoyable to listen to for me, but the lyrics are kinda cool.

Dusty boots, kickin’ up envy
People caught up in muffled mentals
Pantalones in need of bootstraps
The traps filled to cusp, overflowin’ cups

billy woods easily had the best performance on this song in my opinion though. I think his verse here is awesome.

A rising tide lift all boats; oh, you don’t got a boat?
Niggas better learn to swim
To quote Save Yourself, “they won’t throw a rope”
Water at your chest, lies in your throat
You gon’ see when it at your neck though

I think it’s the best song up to this point on the record, but it’s not one of my favorites. I definitely fuck with it though; it’s dope. The next song is called Myth, and it honestly feels like an interlude more than anything. The beat is pretty cool, although it’s not particularly memorable. There’s only one verse on this song, and it ends just before the track reaches a full minute in length; the remainder consists of an audio clip of two men speaking to each other. Their accents actually sound Trinidadian to me, but I might be wrong about that. Anyway, I feel like I have a very vague idea of what certain parts of the song mean, but trying to interpret it is like searching for Waldo in a Jackson Pollock painting after having your pupils dilated. I do like it to some extent though. I think it’s pretty good. It’s followed by the first real highlight on the album for me, Blood Thinner.

I really love the dark production on this track. The vocals from Lauren Kelly Benson on the intro are nice too. I feel like this is the darkest song on the album up to this point, which might be why I like it more than the preceding material. The lyricism is a bit easier for me to follow and comprehend here too, although I still don’t really know what certain things are supposed to represent. The first verse kinda describes a creep who’s obsessed with a family of 9 daughters.

The grown man who just watch, nothin’ spoken
Eyes gropin’ thighs
If looks could, leers would force they thighs open
He scold ’em; the king of lies take any disguise

The writing here is super interesting and the imagery is certainly fascinating, but I don’t really know what conclusion to draw from it.

Ride the river to the mouth of darkness, but no further
Nine girls but if you touch a hair it’s murder
In town some joke, he keeping ’em for his self
Idle talk, he don’t indulge, when he come through they quiet as hell

I think the song is dope as hell overall though. It’s followed by another highlight for me, Dog Days. I really love Messiah Musik’s weird production on this track, and the first verse from billy is great.

The sun runnin’ hot, the tar boil
The children’s eyes shine like bits of foil
Pig par-broiled, thick lard coat the glass
Hard R on my N word, if you have to ask

I also love the hook, and the outro verse was cool too. The song is just under a minute and a half long, so I kinda feel like it starts and ends very abruptly. It’s still one of the best tracks on the album in my opinion though. It’s dope as hell. The next song, dead birds, is even better in my opinion though. It’s my second favorite song on the album even though it’s just under two minutes long. The production from Willie Green is great, and the additional instrumentation from The Funs is glorious. I really like woods’ performance here as well.

Early returns in, read ’em and weep
Fire burn n’ leap in the street
Wave heat, the wave’s thirty feet
The meek inherit a softly rotted peach

There seemed to be a theme of food and animals in this song, but I’m still not quite sure what it means. If I had to guess, I’d say that this song is about karma, which kinda explains the repetition of the “you know you done fucked up, right?” phrase during the break between the two verses.

Bread cast on water, come back poisoned
Film line the pot you boil water in
Spoiled meat dipped in bleach

The final verse has some of the most compelling lyricism on the whole album in my opinion. The haunting vocals from The Funs during the intense outro were just the icing on the cake. There’s really nothing that I don’t like about this track; I think it’s dope af. The next track is called gas leak, and it’s my favorite song on the album. The dark, industrial production from Uncommon Nasa & Willie Green is amazing, and woods’ lyricism is actually not too difficult to decipher for me. The way the beat switches to that weird off-kilter, yet pretty instrumental for the second verse is awesome. This track also has some more of the best writing on the album to me.

Black cop, inna the hour of chaos, took the day off
Summoned the ancestors with crack rock at the seance
Landrace sativas from the banks of the Mekong
Face like Madiba at Liliesleaf Farm

I think the song is amazing honestly. It’s dope af to me. The beat on Birdsong isn’t as good as the preceding two instrumentals in my opinion, but it’s still cool. billy’s verse is great too.

Ejected from the vehicle
Spit a sixteen or two in mid-air, Satanic Verses
That’ll rattle in your head like small caliber lead

I find it funny how Danny Brown & billy woods released albums on the same day, and both of them have lines referencing Contra. The second beat on this song from Blockhead is very pretty, and I think the sampled conversation that plays here is pretty interesting. I’m not sure if it’s from a movie or if it’s an actual conversation that took place, but the idea of wanting your loved ones to lie to you so that you can remain blissfully ignorant is pretty cool. Anyway, the song isn’t as amazing as the preceding few in my opinion, but I still like it a lot. It’s dope. The beat on Great Fires sounds like some circus shit; it reminds me of the instrumental from Busta Rhymes’ Woo Hah!! I really like the first verse; Again, I think I have an idea of what he’s rapping about, but I’m not confident in my interpretation at all. I don’t wanna say what I think the song’s about because I’m afraid of sounding dumb, although I’m sure many people already think I’m dumb anyway, so fuck it. The first verse sounds like he’s describing what it’s like when loved ones distance themselves, and you’re kind of grieving over your estrangement.

When I laugh miss you worse
Goin’ through loud like Mexican dirt
Somethin’ off, it’s like it don’t work
Sleep a steep fall, wake up like a stray dog
You wonder where she found the strength not to call

I really like the second verse as well. The lyrics in the hook are dope, but I wish it wasn’t so repetitive. I definitely like this song to some extent; I love it lyrically, and kinda dislike it sonically, but overall I think it’s pretty good. Track 13 is called cornstarch, and it has a really hazy atmosphere. woods’ flow is very slow and low-key; it’s how I imagine I’d speak if I abused cough syrup. The beat from Elucid isn’t particularly memorable to me, but it’s certainly not bad. Overall, this is another super confusing track for me. I feel like I understand certain excerpts of the verse here and there, but I don’t know how it all connects or what it’s supposed to represent.

When he got out, gave him the money
We both pretended it was a loan
Down the road, seen him lookin’ bummy outside the liquor store
Hurried past like I ain’t know him, somethin’ caught in my throat

This quatrain is easy to follow, but it doesn’t seem to have any correlation to the rest of the song at all. This verse feels like he wrote three different stories, and then pared them all into thirds, and spliced them together. I definitely like the song even though I’m completely lost. I like it more than the preceding track actually. I think it’s dope. The production on FNU LNU didn’t really grab my attention at all; I was much more focused on woods’ lyricism. The first verse is great.

Lure police to gingerbread trap houses in deep snow
Warned ’em, but whitey always swear he knows
So go ‘head, my overhead like Heathrow
Sense of entitlement is Deebo

Once again, I feel like I kinda know what he’s rapping about, but not really. If that Heathrow line means what I think it means, that shit is dope af. The second verse is even better in my opinion; I really like how the beat switches up for this point…

Housing court full of black women, black children
Fall down wells when CPS canvas the buildin’
I move like art model with it, liver spotted old lizard
They not even good, they just know where the game glitches

I really loved the quatrain at the end of the second verse in which he reference Joseph Kony as well. The song is dope. It’s followed by the last major highlight on the album for me, which is called Trivial Pursuit. I really love the dark production from DJ Mo Niklz & Steel Tipped Dove. The first verse from woods is fantastic too.

I got recognized at the butcher, like
“All due respect, are you woods or you not?”
(I’ll take the lamb chops)
Said he recognized the voice from somewhere
Listened to the tape and compared, over the years
I forget white people is born police, impressed
I guess I need a new place to buy meat, I dress
Fish collar with the lemon cheek
Just holler if you see the white sheets

The second verse in which he reflects on older artists continuing to make Hip Hop music was pretty nice too. I appreciated him connecting it to my favorite Open Mike Eagle album, Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes. This is definitely one of the best songs on the album in my opinion; I think it’s dope as hell. The next song is called Shepard’s Tone. I love the production from Child Actor, and the vocals from Fielded on the intro are very nice as well. The imagery in the first verse is super vivid and poetic.

A dead spider in the middle of it’s web
Sun spun gold in its threads
The sun set red in the west
Bled ’til it’s nothin’ left

Fielded’s vocals on the outro are really nice. I was hoping that there’d be one more verse; I wasn’t ready for the song to end, but I still think it’s very good, and it’s arguably the easiest track to understand on the album to be honest. It’s dope. The penultimate song is called Suzerain. The production is far more upbeat than that of the preceding song, and the opening vocals from Fielded even sound kinda poppy too. This is definitely one of the most accessible songs on the project in my opinion. The way the beat switches up for the final part of woods’ verse is really awesome. The verse itself is really great too. I don’t know what the description of this woman is supposed to symbolize, but it’s still very interesting to listen to.

She never drew his face, she never wrote the end
Just left a blank space, her knee never bent
Everything swim in her eyeglass lens
Erased the sun, left the world to spin

For me, listening to billy woods is similar to reading classic poetry in that I usually have immense difficulty coming to a proper interpretation, but I’m still captivated by the eloquent writing style. This shit is really dope. The closing song is called Stranger in the Village. The beat is pretty cool; it sounds like something I’d hear in an exotic, smoke-filled temple. It kinda fits in with the lyrical content from woods I guess. I’m not really sure what the significance of this story is though. The entire thing is just him describing the “stranger in the village,” who seems to be a merchant. He’s selling all kinds of random shit, including some potent kush. I think it’s a pretty cool track, but I’m just not really sure what the significance is, especially for it to be the last song on the album. I definitely like it to some extent though. It’s pretty good. 🙂

Honestly, I think this album is great. I still like Hiding Places slightly more, but it’s not like this one is that much worse. I think billy’s writing here is just as good as it was on his first 2019 release. I’m guessing the main reason people loved Hiding Places so much more is that Kenny Segal’s production was far more impressive. There were definitely more instances in which I was floored by an instrumental on that project. It’s much more grandiose from a sonic perspective. There isn’t a single song here that I don’t like though. Personally, I listen to billy woods albums for the incredibly unique and enthralling writing style, and that’s exactly what I got. This project has a few of my favorite songs that billy woods has ever released, so I’m not disappointed even a little bit. This shit is dope.

Favorite Song: gas leak
Least Favorite Song: Great Fires


Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.

Grade: B+

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