On their captivating collaborative album, Moor Mother and billy woods deliver a time-traveling odyssey, flipping the West’s historical atrocities against Africans and the diaspora into an Afrofuturist, avant-garde rap record for the ages.
billy woods is a prolific underground D.C./N.Y. rapper, who’s one half of the group Armand Hammer. While creating their stellar 2020 release, Shrines, the group featured Moor Mother on the posse cut, “Ramesses II”. Moor Mother is an uncompromising activist, poet, and musician whose recent work blends spoken word with punk and hip hop. She is also one of the founders of Black Quantum Futurism – an artistic and musical Afrofuturist collective. Together, they released “Furies” in July 2020 as part of the Adult Swim singles series, and now “Furies” is the opener on BRASS, the new full-length project from Moor Mother & billy woods.
On “Furies” Moor Mother delivers a radical attack on the myths of western history in a dense verse about the struggles of the disenfranchised, and with a skeptical glimmer of hope, she adds:
‘I just want to make it right
Fly like LeBron in the night
But they don’t want me to shine
Because I remind them of the fight’
Produced by Willie Green, a regular at Backwoodz Studioz, “Furies” features eerie percussion, a gentle clarinet, and vague chanting swelling in and out of the mix, all with a sprinkle of reverb and hiss. It’s a gorgeous track.
The entire record is dark and spooky. Slow, hazy percussion is surrounded in flutes and saxophones, organs, African vocals, and any number of unidentified bangs and crashes, all distorted in one way or another. Surprisingly, with such a peculiar sound, the LP features an array of underground and mainstream producers including Willie Green, Preservation, Navy Blue, and The Alchemist. But the sonic pallet remains consistent throughout, and the results are sumptuous.
Moor Mother and woods complement each other well. Moor Mother’s raps explore the mystical and the bizarre. billy woods mines obscure historical references offering some balance. woods – who spent much of his childhood in Africa – delivers references to history’s injustices, from King Leopold chopping the hands off Congolese farmers in “Giraffe Hunts”, to more recent ‘Peter Sellers in the club, my black face the elephant in the room’ on the standout “Gang for a Day”. Moor Mother gives us Afrocentric mysticism via ancient mathematics and African philosophies. She uses her ominous drone to great affect with the slightest of inflection to punctuate the rhythm. She sounds at home in this soundscape.
On “The Blues Remembers Everything the Country Forgot”, we get gorgeous guest vocals by Wolf Weston and an impassioned verse from Moor Mother, pointing out the cruelties the country has forgotten. The focus broadens as the LP progresses, with both MCs tackling African colonial history, consumerism, and racism, journeying back and forth through time, and painting a picture of an Afrocentric, post-free world dystopian future. On “Scary Hours”, billy woods raps:
‘Xenophobia in Wakanda
They’ll truck you to the Botswana border
And tell you you’re deported
You get one warnin’, get one warnin’
They found Dian Fossey face down in the mornin’
Wet market, hagglin’ over human organs
Cordon sanitaire, the west sick and swollen’
His reference to cordon sanitaire is a clever little turn of phrase alluding to the lockdowns of 2020 – one of the few present-day references on the album – but also using it as a metaphor for the West’s ‘sick and swollen’ ideologies which need to be contained and defeated. He follows with a plea to help future generations; ‘inoculate the babies / It’s too late for y’all, just inoculate the babies’.
While the subject matter is heavy, and the tracks sparse and dark, and with the exception of the jarring instrumental “Mom’s Gold” – which sounds like Tom Waits circa Swordfish Trombones if it were recorded 100 years in the future – the vibe of the LP is actually quite smooth. And there are lighter moments; a meditative change up on the backend of “Maroons” offers a moment to catch your breath and process, and touches of flute and piano soften the mood on tracks like “Chimney” and “Furies”. On “Giraffe Hunts”, a light and airy flute over boom bap drums is uplifting for billy woods, and replaced by a much more sinister organ over the same drums for Moor Mother. The beat switches back and forth as they trade verses, almost like a split-personality.
There are several guests on the LP. Navy Blue offers production and a guest verse on closer “Portrait” while Mach Hommy has one of the project’s best verses on “Chimney”, and woods’ Armand Hammer partner, ELUCID, appears on “Arkeology” and “Tiberius”. But it’s really the chemistry between woods and Moor Mother that makes the record. They feed off each other’s quirkiness, delivering stream-of-thought montages that are bold and abrasive. The recurring themes of anti-colonialism, anti-consumerism, and anti-racism are layered into a collage of Afrocentric identity.
It’s dark and disturbing, and it’s gorgeous.