Random Record Review: Billy Woods “Aethiopes”

There is this unspoken agreement among both fans and artists of hip-hop culture. That rap is at its core a form of orated poetry. Not really meant to be read but mainly heard. To be expressed and appreciated in the context of a song or a beat. While we have accepted this as the norm there has always been an exception to the rule. Especially when the infux of spoken word poets got into rap. A focus was being placed on not just the patterns and styles. There was more of an emphasis placed on word choices and vocabulary as well. Especially in the late 80s & all throughout the 90s.

Groups like Company Flow, Jugganots, Blackstar, and countless other underground acts. They all played their role in pushing lyrics to the forefront. I would even go as far as saying that this project while as a standalone is an important body of work, still pays homage to that era of rap. With cameos by El-P & Breeze Brewin, it’s fair to acknowledge Billy’s head nod to the era. A head nod that some would say is long overdue. So many of the artists involved in what some have dubbed “Renaissance” have yet to give the respect that is duly deserved to ones that came before, but I digress.

Since about 2018 there has been an uptick in rap that pays homage to this “Golden Era.” Whatever that means. If I’m being honest I hate that title. This idea there is this certain era when rap was at its best. I don’t think that really exists. I think as is the case with most art forms, there is an evolution. A cyclical process that allows for progress in subcultures as young as hip-hop. Styles are revisited and the culture basically moves forward. Continuing to show an eloquence in places not known for it. Rappers like Billy Woods give us more of a reflective mood to their story telling. Words aren’t just used to as tools to speak on crime cleverly anymore. Words writen like poetry can be spoken as such to a beat. Billy has this way of writing. His words would be just as poignant if read with no beat as they are with one. I don’t think the beat is really needed, but is a welcome texture added to the picture painted by the veteran emcee.

The black experience is so complex and subtly nuanced. Artists like Billy Woods are necessary reminders of the intelligent observers here to speak for those voices drowned out by the loud boastful raps we are too accustomed to. His project is “dense,” as Professor Skye described in his own review of the project. Laden with historical references, and samples from Kongi’s Harvest. The cohesive project places you in the landscapes created by Billy & Preservation.

There are parallels between Jazz & Hiphop. Billy & Preservation continue the tradition perfectly while also getting personal with descriptions of his youth. I love lyrics that are personal without being necessarily obvious about it, lyrics that make a statement without being obvious that either. Let’s call it intelligent discretion. Often in rap discretion is necessary because the rapper is usually referencing a crime or something that requires discretion when speaking on it. I think Billy in his way uses a similar discretion to both “protect the innocent” as they say, and to leave an aire of relatability to the stories.

His lyrics are more poetry than bars, more thesis than essay. There is a maturity to his subject matter and I think that’s great for the evolution of this culture. The hip-hop audience is growing, both in age and sophistication. For those of us who see things differently and think more deeply we have places we can go. Worlds we can explore thanks to intelligent writers like Billy Woods.

Shades of Black

As advanced as we are as a species, we still have a long way to go. Speaking both literally and figuratively of course. I mean where are the flying cars anyway? Didn’t Blade Runner take place in 2019? There is this utopian or dystopian (depending on who you ask) future that we are supposed be living in. Yet here we are riding in cars with 100 year old combustion engine technology and an infrastructure that is not all equipped to handle our modest technological needs. To be honest the tech may be the easy part to fix. The deep rooted cultural constructs always continue to resurface no matter how many times movements arise to “address” societies ills. These constructs and preconceived notions of what we are supposed to be seem inescapable. Tribalism and stereo types have a way of seeping into movements and dividing them.

The same can be said for art, music, and fashion. There is this need to place finite definitions of what, who, or it should be. Progress is a slow behemoth whose movements can’t be detected by the human eye. So while things are getting better, there is still enough room for those constructs to pop up again. To show us that with a culture that should be unified there is still division. This new found freedom on display these days often shows us exactly how deep we will have to dig to shake the false expectations we place on ourselves. Everyone wants to feel important, but that should not be at the expense of some else’s importance. The word inclusion is thrown around quite a bit, and yet the true meaning of the word is often ignored. Clicks and circles operate binary. Orbiting one another but never touching. Never connecting or giving a chance to bond. It’s like in horror movies there is the dark side and the light side. In these movies everything good is in the light and everything bad is in the dark. In these social circles they are the light and everything is sometimes dark. To preserve their importance they stay in the light and everything else is the dark. Unseen in the blackness.

Black is the culmination of every color in the spectrum. It is all encompassing and all inclusive, but made to seem negative. The shades, colors, and nuances that make up black are no different than the diversity that exists in us all. There would be no greens, no orange if not for yellow. Just like there would be no black if not for all the colors in the spectrum. Diversity is the catalyst for growth and evolution. To not nurture and appreciate diversity could slow down the behemoth. Progress could cease, and the norms would become more boring than they already are. The rainbow is beautiful but it would not exist if not for the black. The dark parts of the spectrum we try to hide. Not all differences are bad and not everything black is negative. Differences are important.

The Pollution Problem In Fashion

Sometimes humans are as a species arrogant. Well maybe more than sometimes. In that arrogance we do things. Some of these things seem menial or simple. Like it’s not a big deal. Little do we know this simple thing has a great impact. It’s not so much the act itself, as mush as the scale that we do it. Remember the story of the person that died from Hydro Intoxication. Apparently too much of anything can be a bad thing. A friend told me once, “All things in moderation, even moderation.” Sometimes it’s hard to moderate how we over do things like clothing.

Everyone wears clothes, garments, & fabrics right? Everyone loves the feel of new clothes. The look of that never washed piece of freshness. That crispy piece of denim really puts the outfit together after all. Therein lies the problem. That denim doesn’t stay crispy forever, and that outfit goes out of season eventually. Our need to stay up to date is the reason the clothing industry is what it is today. It’s like the industrial revolution has morphed into a completely different animal. Long gone are the days of gray skies and layers of soot on buildings. Instead we have endless piles of fabric in warehouses and storage units. Landfills and sweatshops all accumulating piles. 

No one is innocent. Especially in the west. It’s just too easy to buy new shit. The fact is (the collective) we have a consumption problem. While new clothes are nice, making an effort to buy resell is a great option. Buying new is nice but some norms need to change. Actually, it is changing. The need for retro pieces and bespoked thrift store finds are becoming a norm. We’ve said it before, and we still believe bespoke is the future. There is a value in the idea of something sized just for you. It’s import that we have options to breath new life into the old. I mean we can’t just keep on this path of over production. Something’s gotta give. We see it so many other places in our society. We see the pitfalls.. Those same pitfalls lie in fashion. So we have to be responsible in our consumption. I read alot of articles speaking on those other areas of consumption but not ALL the areas. The big picture is important. 

How we adjust to this world of pandemics, social injustice, and environmental changes should be in the conversation right now. How we consume is just as important as how we interact. The focus on what we buy has been in the conversation a very long time. While where we spend our money should be a focus, how we spend it should be one as well. We have to be intelligent consumers. Because we control cool. We should do it responsibly.