“Same old story I just changed a couple words,” spits Billy Woods on the track “Poor Company.” With this line, Woods encompasses the concept of his latest album, “Today, I Wrote Nothing.”
Woods is a rising emcee from New York who has been making waves in the underground hip-hop world, noted by his collaboration with artists such as Aesop Rock, Busdriver and Blockhead. March 31 was a happy day for Woods’ cult following when “Today, I Wrote Nothing” was released.
The album goes back to the style of his third record, “History Will Absolve Me,” in that Woods works with several different producers as opposed to a single one, as he did on “Dour Candy” with fellow New Yorker Blockhead. However, while his other albums were lengthy explorations of consistent themes, Woods’ latest is comprised of snippets that leap back and forth thematically. Some of these themes include institutional racism and the dark underbelly of the crime world (which is refreshing in hip-hop, as many emcees work to glorify the culture), but Woods widens his breadth by exploring new ideas like friends growing distant and love (where other records only really play on lust in their romantic tracks).
Lyrically, the album is chock-full of stream-of-consciousness rhymes littered with references to a variety of subjects, vivid yet fleeting imagery and dialogue, all related through Woods’ slower, conversational rapping style and biting wit. Woods embraces his reference-heavy trademark on this album, and in a way he satirizes hip-hop culture’s egotism by referencing himself extraordinarily often. In a way, this is a musical equivalent to a reflexive film such as “Purple Rose of Cairo” or “The Player.” We hear a lot of phrases from Woods’ other albums, an idea that Woods lightly touched on before but hardly to the extent that is present on this record.
Woods presents us with a swath of egotistical ideas, but at the same time distances himself from this idea through interesting decisions such as letting another emcee take the first verse on the album and being more self-depricating than glorifying.
The production on this record plays into the theme with a sample from the closing track on Woods’ side project Armand Hammer’s album “Furtive Movements” being worked into the opening track “Lost Blocks.” This gives us the idea that Woods is picking up where he left off. Most of the tracks are under two minutes long.
This album is quite diverse with some beats being grimy, others jazzy, some more pop-oriented (some of the production would not sound out of place on a Kanye West record) and others crafting their own sound within the field of left-field production. The diversity on the record sounds like a producer’s back catalogue of tracks that they have not gotten around to releasing yet.
The guest emcees on the record all bring their own perspective to the story. We see old friends of Woods pop up such as Elucid, L’Wren and Curly Castro while being introduced to a new guest emcee, Henry Canyons. Canyons is likely the most technically skilled rapper in terms of flow on the record, so much so that his infectious inflections are easy to get lost in without giving heed to what he’s saying. However, he has just as much layered intricacies within his rhymes as Woods himself.
The album has an incredible amount of depth and rewards multiple listens to unravel just what exactly Woods is trying to say. It’s not as if the record is inaccessible—in fact this is likely Woods’ most accessible record—it’s simply that the record has so much to offer.
Woods drops in several intriguing sound bytes ranging from a line from Madvillain’s “Accordion” (“living off borrowed time the clock tick faster”), scenes from The Wire, interviews with Cormac McCarthy and surprisingly Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
The record’s title is taken from a book by Russian writer Daniil Kharms whose writing style holds many parallels to Woods, especially in the context of this record. Kharms was a writer who worked mainly in short prose (comparative to the vignette structure of the record) in a non-linear surrealistic style interlaced with references to other authors.
“Today, I Wrote Nothing” has already found a place in the hearts of Woods’ fans, including myself. Along with “History Will Absolve Me,” I could see this as being considered a landmark record among the underground hip-hop community. Hopefully the future is good to Woods so that he can flirt with the mainstream similarly to artists like El-P or Aesop Rock so the larger hip-hop community can put “Today, I Wrote Nothing” on their list of five-star records.
Published April 15th, 2015