Album Review | billy woods – Aethiopes

This album was released on April 8th this year. I’m gonna be honest; I’m excited as fuck for this album. I’ve always liked billy woods, but, after relistening to his discography, I have concluded that he’s actually one of the greatest rappers of all time. I like all of his albums more now than I originally did on my first listen. I reviewed Hiding Places & Terror Management in 2019, and I enjoyed both of them at the time, but I love them even more now. Hiding Places is amazing, and Terror Management is dope as hell too. History Will Absolve Me is still my favorite record from woods, and I’m not sure if that’ll ever change, but I’ve seen some people saying that this latest project is his best work, so I’m really excited. It’s fully produced by Preservation, who I’m a fan of. Preservation had one of my favorite beats on BRASS, woods’ collaborative album with Moor Mother. That’s another album that grew on me a lot after repeat listens. I would’ve been excited for this album just based off the production from Preservation alone, but seeing the additional features from guys like Fatboi Sharif & Mike Ladd only strengthened my anticipation. I think this is about to be a strong album of the year contender. All of my friends who have heard seem to love it, so I think I’m gonna dig the hell out of this record.

The album begins with a highlight entitled Asylum. I think Preservation’s production is really goddamn great here, but it’s the writing from woods that pushes the song to the next level for me. As always, I kind of have no idea what any of the lyrics mean, but somehow I was still hooked. I mean, it’s one of those situations where I feel like I have an idea of what he’s talking about, but I don’t wanna be wrong and sound dumb. The lyricism is really cool though. I actually think the storytelling is surprisingly easy to follow, at least on the first verse.

In the morning, the maid brings coffee from the kitchen
Some nights strange music plays, I lay in bed and listen
Downstairs I hear my mother breaking dishes, my father trippin'
It's been quite bad lately, high tension
Galvanized steel security fencin'
To get through the day, give myself a mission
Anything what get me out the house a blessin'
His bodyguard chews khat, spits black in the rhododendron

The lyrics in the hook are really cool too. I love the way the beat kinda builds up throughout the runtime of the track. It starts off really soft, but kinda crescendos during the hook. The way the saxophone comes in during that part is really cool, and the weird background vocal that comes in about halfway through the first verse is crazy. On my first listen I really enjoyed this song, but now I like it even more than I originally did. The song is dope as hell. The following track is called No Hard Feelings, and I think it’s even better. This is one of my favorite songs on the album. The way the preceding track transitions into this one is fire, and the production here is absolutely fucking incredible. It’s seriously one of the best beats I’ve heard all year. The writing from woods about that homeless guy smoking crack had me hooked too.

Black boy burned crisp, pursed black lips
Black marionettes dance limp, over the pit
The kindly ones distant as the winter's sun
A mad woman whistlin', you can hear it if you listen
That's that empty pipe hissin', that's him crying and twitchin'
That's the vanishing point in the distance
Between us just the glass thickness
Cracked mirrors flash rictus
Skin pulled tight to the skull, that's the sickness
Seepin' through my leaky windows and broke fixtures

I don’t know whose performance I’m more in awe of between woods & Preservation. They both knocked this song out of the park in my opinion. It’s dope af. The following track is another highlight entitled Wharves. I absolutely love the strange percussion from Preservation on this track. The beat is fire. Unlike with the preceding of couple songs, I actually feel like I’m completely lost when it comes to the lyricism. I still find it pretty entertaining despite not knowing what exactly billy woods is trying to communicate through this track.

Sweep water out with the dipper
Salt in the mouth of a river
Mangrove thickets, man's soul was broken mirrors
False witness, wolf tickets
Nowadays scavengers come before the wolf's finished
Teeth bare, bristlin', they not scared, somethin' different
The huts was empty, coal still warm in the kitchen

I can appreciate billy woods’ performance from a technical perspective. The actual rhymes and the way he was flowing was dope. I like the hook on this track a lot too. The song is dope as hell. Track 4 is another major highlight entitled Sauvage. This track opens with a glorious verse from Boldy James.

Real observant
In split-second decisions, quick to kill a merchant
Child of God, might stray away at times, though I'm still a servant
In the hood with the hoodlums where the killers purgin'
Niggas workin' with the Agency, makin' me really nervous
In the hills so far, can't even get no service
Out of range, learned the tricks to the trade and all the inner workings
Dug down in my soul and did some soul searchin'
All I found was a police report for a missin' person

His flow was fire, and his voice sounds perfect over this dark beat. I love the way woods comes in right behind him too. I actually don’t know who had the better verse. They both killed this track.

Switched schools, the rumors was gettin' loud
Men hate women, make up lies and spread 'em around
I grew up on the line 'tween north and south
I-95, two airports, triangular trade routes
E'rything we say mispronounced, flipped and bounced
Use the wrong word on the phone? SIM cards are switchin' out
Superstitious, cut my face out the pictures
Apartment complex a speed bump for the stick-ups
E'rything smooth but the gun just hiccuped
Central American ubermensches in the bed of a pickup
Building prefab duplexes, human traffic like Department of Corrections
Godless savages, fishbone necklaces

The hook from Gabe ‘Nandez is really nice too. There’s nothing about this song that I don’t like. It’s another one of my favorite tracks on the album. The following song is called The Doldrums. I think this song is really dope, but it’s not really a highlight amongst the other songs on the album for me. I think the beat is really cool, but it’s just kinda slow & quiet compared to a lot of the other beats on the album, so it doesn’t hold my attention as much. The real selling point of this song for me is the lyricism from woods.

In tight spaces I learned not to speak
Submarine skirtin' mountain peaks
Fernando Po's Black Beach
Yemeni traders off the coast of Mozambique
Packed bodegas, akh in the weeds
Gold shimmerin' in the reef
African water in the lengths of the piece
Tha Carter III pour out a double parked Jeep
The rain starts the minute I leave
At the corner the water waist deep

The hook didn’t really stand out that much to me, but it certainly isn’t bad. I think the song’s dope. Track 6 is a highlight called NYNEX. It’s a collaboration between Armand Hammer & Crown Nation. The opening verse from billy woods is fucking amazing.

Quinine powder and alcohol, stir until dissolved
The future isn't flying cars, it's Rachel Dolezal absolved
It's autonomous computers sendin' shooters back in time
At the behest of defunct message boards
Translucent man-of-war, the tentacles caress my paramour
Implored the bitch to be sensible
The slave master's children all looked identical
True, the future is children
But whatever future you buildin' already look misеrable
Natural beauty, Savage Fеnty, we strip mined the minerals
The trailer is the movie, Bobby Digital

The way the beat drops after he finishes his verse and starts the hook is fire, and Elucid fucking murdered the second verse. Denmark Vessey as an artist hasn’t really clicked for me in the past, but I actually really enjoyed his performance here. I do think his verse ended kind of awkwardly, but overall it was really dope.

Got infrared Jesus posted jumpin' out the prism
Primary colors for prescription
I prefer my blunt smothered in addiction
Subjugation is the mother of invention
Someone's pain is some other motherfucker's pension

The closing verse from Quelle Chris is also fire. I think woods definitely had my favorite verse, followed by Elucid, then Quelle Chris, and then Denmark Vessey last. They all did a really good job here though. Quelle Chris’ verse is awesome.

Ooh, delicioso, fresh madness, steamin'
Right up out the pot, no seasonin'
E'rybody wanna be the next big thing to pop out Mother Nature's gato breathin'
Spells, chants, incantations, readings
Yeah, nigga, it's all that
Niggas thought we was writin' raps and we manipulate seasons
That's no cap and all caps at the same time
Heard Maasai walks the same line
Canonically and sonically, I was in the same mind
Don't need four or five g's to call shots like a land line
Straight from the spine, handle mine
Sidesteppin' like it's hammer time
Deep cut so fire that it cauterizes

The song is dope as hell. The following track is yet another highlight entitled Christine, and it features Mike Ladd. I love the kind of reserved, cinematic production from Preservation on this track, and the opening verse from billy woods is absolutely stunning. I wish I could just transcribe the whole verse here.

Some had the trap in the trunk of the bimmer
Some kept thе cracks up front so they could eat 'em
Somе went through the windshield, some went to the precinct
Some got yapped out driver's seats in parking lots and left bleedin'
Some things only make sense in their time
I paid a hundred for the whip, so when police took it, I never paid no never mind

I mean, I guess I could quote the entire verse. Nothing’s really stopping me. I just feel like that would kinda spoil things though. Anyway, the verse is fire. I love it. It’s one of my favorites on the album from woods. His second verse on this track is arguably better though. He seriously fucking killed this track.

Asleep at the wheel
Gently over the guardrail, flipped heads or tails
One died, she survived
Asked why, I replied, "God's not real"

The closing verse from Mike Ladd is also very good. I wasn’t really that impressed by his flow and vocal performance, but the writing itself was very good.

Jump to imperial Benin, fifteenth century, trade routes heavy
Break the bank like Musa, mint the gold, truth aplenty
We still feed on dreams in need of remedy
Trauma not an enemy
Perverse German woodcuts could've been truer
Three heads on a jackal, fantastic creatures in Africa
Universalis Cosmographia
Sebastian Münster, lying bastard
Wolfman in a Speedo, Cyclops and Chest Master

The track is dope as hell, and it segues really smoothly into the following track, Heavy Water. This might actually be my favorite song on the album. It features Breeze Brewin & El-P, and all three of the MCs trade verses on this track beautifully. I love how chaotic and energetic the production on this song is. It’s really exciting, especially coming right after such a low-key song. In my opinion, Breeze Brewin had the best rhymes, El-P had the best flow and vocal delivery, and woods had the best lyricism.

Clarence 13X had the white girls sick
Shimmy down the steps with a wink
Yakubian experiments, gain of function in the kitchen sink
The stage plot was a hundred and eight mics and two centrifuges
A HEPA filter glove box, brand new offline computers

This is easily the most exciting track on the album for me, and it didn’t disappoint at all. The song is dope af. The following track is another highlight entitled Haarlem. Once again, the cryptic lyricism from woods had me hooked.

King of all blacks, I eat human hearts
I let things fall apart, motorcars rustin' in the garage
Granadillas wild in the yard, vines climbin', burglar barred
The roof fell in, on gods it's full of stars
I swam in the dark, sun fled, the moon large
Fire leap from Perry's Black Ark
Slash and burn, the past is never far
Reaching with chopped arms, lopped hands, no spare parts

The first beat on this song is pretty good, but I honestly wouldn’t love the song nearly as much as I do now if not for the beat switch that occurs after about 2 minutes. The second beat is so fucking weird, but it’s incredible. That might be my favorite beat on the album to be honest. It’s one of the best beats I’ve heard all year. It’s the most perfect spot for Fatboi Sharif to feature too. He wouldn’t have fit as well on any of the other songs in my opinion, but he makes perfect sense for this track. I can’t think of a better MC that could’ve been featured here. His feature is kind of short, but he makes every word count.

Church faculty sniper bullets close to the king and moshpit
Bleeding marksmen
Bloody footprints, ran from crime scene, crooks involved
The carousel ring backwards, exorcism, possession of the cookie jar

Again, the first part of the song was cool, but the switch-up is what really pushes it to the next level for me. I think the song’s dope as hell. It’s followed by yet another highlight entitled Versailles. Once again, I was highly impressed by Preservation’s production, and the opening verse from woods is fantastic.

Somebody made a killing, I just dug the grave
Capital gains and gains
Skim the indictment for old, cold names
Little Sambo grinning on a can of pomade
Dueling banjos open the stock exchange
Paper chasing, it's hard to stay on the samе page
"No hard feelings" the turn of phrase Twain adaptеd for the stage

However, it’s really the guest verse from Despot that pushes this track to the next level for me. He fucking killed this track. His flow and delivery were absolutely on point, and the lyricism was fire as well.

God is watching but I guess he got a lot of cheeks to turn
Ain’t no shoulder colder once the fire die from bridges burned
Keep your mind off what is mine or you’ll be smilin’ on a shirt
It ain’t ever over ’cause the fat lady forgot the word
Rain or sleet or famine and disease, I’m in the streets steppin’
With a reason, somebody deceased dangling from each necklace
Stuck inside the belly of the beast, she forty weeks pregnant
Might pull out the hammer, hit your knees and check your reflexes

The song is dope as hell overall. It’s followed by Protoevangelium, which features Shinehead. This is probably the most danceable song on the album. It’s got a relatively groovy, accessible beat that I like a lot. The sung hook from Shinehead is very good too. The verses from woods are of course super well-written.

Life gave me lemonade, I pour in my spirit of choice
The trees weapons grade, it's not that I'm 'noid
UN inspectors upstairs, I'm tryin' not to make a noise
Wave one hand like, "all that gotta get destroyed"
I see how your man move, all them raps is null and void
The game thick with con artists and hucksters
Flip a cardboard box, three-card monte social justice
That's a no for me beloved and the rhymes are mostly rubbish
I get it

The second verse is even better than the first one. I like how aggressive woods’ vocal delivery is here. Overall, this song isn’t really a highlight for me on the album, but I still thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a dope track. It’s followed by one of my favorite songs of the year, Remorseless. This song is fucking beautiful. It really hits me in my soul. The production is so sweet sounding, and there are so many quotable lines from woods.

It's a freedom in admitting it's not gonna get better
Washing your hands of people you known forever
I'd be a liar if I feign surprise, a goat eats where it's tethered
Treat African proverbs like Vegas flyers, I float above the peasants
Too clever by half, halftime down twenty
I'm not that good at math, but common sense, I got plenty
In person, these rappers watches look temptin'
The chain say envy, but PTSD keep me countin', never spendin'
My accountant is a head full of bad memories and sad endings
It's all payment pending

I honestly think this is one of the most beautiful songs woods has ever released. Every single line hits, and the production is phenomenal. The song is dope af. The closing track is called Smith + Cross, and it’s another highlight for me. The breezy production is really goddamn nice here, and the verse from woods is superb.

Still got no quarrel with thеm Viet Congs
Speak sepia tonеs, everyone I know is gone
No stigmata, they put nails through arms
Temple Grandin keep the cattle calm
Side-saddle, took Carrie to the prom
Joanne Chesimard, windows open, nights warm
Power cuts, no ice, so the cuba libre's strong
Fire in the cane fields, generational trauma
At the museum, eyes glassy from the pain pills
Me and her in the diorama

I also really love the hook on this track. I think this was a fantastic way to close the album honestly. It doesn’t have the most complex structure, but it works really well as an outro. I like how grandiose yet simple the production is. The song is dope as hell.

This album is fucking amazing. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long ass time, and it’s easily my album of the year so far. This is the most I’ve ever enjoyed a billy woods album after just a few listens. Usually his albums have to grow on me, but this one blew me away immediately. I feel comfortable calling it my second favorite billy woods album behind History Will Absolve Me. Preservation’s production was consistently amazing throughout the album’s runtime, and billy woods’ pen is as sharp as ever. I don’t see how you can be disappointed in this album if you’re a billy woods fan. It’s easily some of his best work in my opinion. I feel like there’s a lot of appeal here for underground Hip Hop fans like me just because of the features he got here too. Everybody involved in this record did a really great job. I don’t have any gripes with the record at all. It’s all killer and no filler. It just solidifies billy woods as one of the best rappers we have in my opinion. I think it’s dope af. Check it out.

Favorite Song: Remorseless
Least Favorite Song: The Doldrums


Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.

Grade: A

Tell me if I'm trippin'

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