D.C. born, New York-based underground rapper billy woods specializes in music about poor city dwellers, sadistic police, and conniving landlords. Woods, who prefers his name to be all lowercase and his face never shown, raps like he’s omnipresent, watching an unlivable society from the sky; his music vividly evokes the moral confusion and feeling of living in a police state that New Yorkers now have.
Half of the acclaimed duo Armand Hammer, woods released an excellent solo record, Aethiopes, earlier this month. “Sauvages,” a standout track, features Detroit rapper Boldy James and Gabe ‘Nandez on the hook. James — an interesting matchup for woods because of his more sinister style — raps about coke, dope, and what both of those poisons did to his already turbulent life. James is in rare form here, giving us his soul as well as his psycho-criminal lifestyle: “Dug down in my soul and did some soul searching/All I found was a police report for a missing person.”
But, it’s woods who impresses the most with a cold-eyed storytelling verse about abusive uncles, stuttering classmates, and underpaid labor in a capitalist state. “Switched schools, the rumors was getting loud/Men hate women, make up lies and spread ‘em around,” he raps gingerly. Where other “socially conscious” MCs can tend to focus their rage on the system, woods is a writer who also cares about the politics of being an empathetic human, rapping about an unjust system while treating others with the respect and kindness of a Buddhist poet.