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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Terror Management, the second LP of 2019 by rapper billy woods.
For the second time in 2019 — and the sixth time this decade, under his own name — billy woods has constructed a full-length that decodes and re-encodes the fragments of a life, forever haunted by the many dimensions of external and internal struggles in a human experience. woods, at once, can maneuver even the most compact syllable turns to write the longest inside joke and serve his pumping heart in a styrofoam through bulletproof glass. The box is riddled with you-had-to-be-there for survivors to savor; the flesh meat’s seasoned to taste, seared and charred from the if you know, you know framework. This year’s first in the woods canon — the acclaimed Kenny Segal-produced Hiding Places — thrust its listeners into a foggy archive of unfortunate events and bittersweet victories.Terror Management works on similar timing, leaning toward the scatterbrain default of modern life to weave life’s tensions together through the minutiae of fear. Where it appears, when it threatens to control someone, when it’s used for good. It’s a certifiable Act of God when billy woods sharpens his blade, a confirmation that lightning can strike twice in proximity.
Terror Management was completed on the heels of woods and Segal riding the initial Hiding Places post-release wave. Calling on an East Coast All-Stars lineup of producers to assemble the next claustrophobic sonic universe, woods remains a superhuman force and a deeply intriguing MC who continues to find avenues to offer his flesh to the audience. Find him more crisp in his intention, more paranoid of what’s to come, and (somehow) more humorous, despite the darker turns. Funny in the way woods can “forget white people is born police” once the local butcher attempts to confirm his rapper identity, then weighing whether or not woods will need another butcher. Or funny in the sense that one would never anticipate a billy woods song ending in a quip about him sending a dick pic as his phone vibrates. The brevity fares rather well in encompassing woods’s unending depth, capturing the pacing of his internal monologue while granting him the opportunity to stick-and-move through his musings with more potential for landing among the uninitiated. Chalking the latter up to unintended consequence, Terror Management envelops the listener in its quicksand reality without sinking under the pressure of anyone or anything else. Like any woods record, it pays dividends for repeated listenings as he rattles off long-dead designers, forgeign architects, and yesterday’s terroristic threats in the name of U.S. imperialism. (Did he mention how you can’t rap?)
Unlike many woods records, the feature curation elevates Terror Management on every cylinder. Take note of the vocalist FIELDED, who appears thrice with a ferocious pen and tempered grace that brightly contrasts what woods does with his deeper, permanent-yell register. There’s also another stellar guest verse from Mach-Hommy, one of the hardest Pink Siifu verses I’ve ever heard, and a well-placed clip of Nikki Giovanni’s conversation about lying and love with James Baldwin. As woods rummages through his lost files, his despair functions as mood: even the good news comes with bad news. Find his inflections caving into a near-howl, a near-childish affect, and his specialty OG near-condescension when he reminds the listener how their favorite rappers can’t afford to go broke. Terror Management’s primed to become the soundtrack for brisk (and brick) walks between train stops, and standing over the stove as the vegetables stew. Par for the course for a billy woods album, a weekend cannot adequately describe how singular a talent he is or how arresting his new vision will prove to be in a far-shorter runtime. This is an album for sorting whatever’s lingering in the recesses of one’s mind; it’s audible fight-or-flight music, sponsored by curry goat (or Escovitch fish!) and the impending climate apocalypse. Allow this album to keep oneself warm, to fight with it as one fights through it.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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