billy woods - Today, I Wrote Nothing - Album Review

★★★★ by Sketch tha cataclysm

One of my favorite artists of recent years is billy woods. Upon encountering the gentleman's work during his Super Chron Flight Bros era, I was struck by his voice immediately. The way he spits drew me in to his prose filled with a vast array of imagery and sharp one-off punchlines. He also has a real gift for musical backing choices. He's built fine working relationships with some of my favorite producers, as well as introduced me to some others that I had not been made privy to previously.

The year 2013 saw the release of two collaborative projects that built heavily on the catalog of woods: Dour Candy, entirely produced by Blockhead, and Race Music, the debut group album of Armand Hammer (with Elucid). I've spent the last two years replaying each, seeing the man tear down stages and getting deeper into his previous solo release History Will Absolve Me. All helped to get me amped for his newest project Today, I Wrote Nothing.


"Today. . . I wrote nothing. . . stared at the page blunted, light drizzle out crooked windows, sky color of an old pistol, alternate side parking, I didn't leave the apartment. . . " There are pictures painted throughout Today, I Wrote Nothing in brief spurts like the best short film festivals or a night binging on Adult Swim episodes. He puts you in rooms feeling isolated, in front of a booming narrator, or in a reflective mindstate, all within tracks that are around the 2 minute mark. The one song on the album that breaks 4 minutes ("Poor Company") is broken into separate movements doused with different scores and with different speakers espousing their soliloquys (Elucid and Henry Canyons), so it feeds the vibe of the album.

". . . put tape on this tape, dubbed over it twice, second childhood, neither was very nice, took it as a joke but didn't know, he never said 'sike', funny the things you remember your whole life. . . "- "Bicycles" billy has this way of landing rhymes past the point where you think a rhyme should be landing. Its an original delivery and one of the many things I enjoy about his projects.

"Zulu Tolstoy" was the first track I played back immediately on first listen; its tale working as a commentary on a certain type of current rapper. Often when I am listening to woods, I question how reliable the narrator is that is telling the story and this track put a great spin on that right off top. "Wrote a story about a rapper writing a story rap about a shorty trying to rap his way up out the trap. . . ". His humor appears in lines such as: ". . . everytime the phone rings might/could be Drake. . . "

The brevity of all of the tracks cuts down on room for anything super hooky but the refrains stay with you "blood in the water, you dead on the corner!" ("U-Boats"), "It be the same excuses every time!" ("Benediction"), etc. The usage of such a small amount of space is brilliant.

His Armand Hammer partner Elucid makes many welcome appearances on the record (the introductory "Lost Blocks", aforementioned "U Boats", "Carpet Bagger", etc.), each time offering another angle that compliments and works to enhance everything that woods brings throughout. Henry Canyons pops up twice with his former being a brilliant verse over the 6/4 beat during the third movement of "Poor Company": "No way no way, can't put the blame on me. . . shame on you".

". . . look how quickly it all ends"

BEATS ★★★★

The beat choices are always great with woods. Today, I Wrote Nothing features an array of awesome: Messiah Musik, Willie Green, Blockhead, Elucid, Junclassic, Steel Tipped Dove, DOSG4W, and Brother Hall.

One of the most immediately engaging standout backdrops on the album is the Aesop Rock & Busdriver collaborative work "U Boats". The synthline makes you pay attention immediately, the drums going from prominent to distant, lazer sounds punctuating the close of couplets, submarine sounds painting the refrain, etc. all serving as the perfect score to the Armand Hammer collaboration.

Steel Tipped Dove's work appears in the form of the one minute forty nine second "Dark Woods", his moody and spacial piece of reverberating loops, 808 kicks and truncated snares. Lumbering and beautiful.

The producer that carries the majority of the record is Messiah Musik. He brings the loop heavy "Lost Blocks" and "Warmachines", the marching keys and guitars of "The Big Nothing", and contributes to the multi-beat Elucid co-production "Poor Company". The aforementioned latter conjuring the spirit of Gangstarr's "I'm The Man" with its changing beats shifting to compliment each voice. DJ Mo Niklz contributes cuts to the "The Big Nothing" (as well as two other tracks on the album) and perfectly adds to the feel and vibe with his gruff style of cuts, a perfect match for the speaker.

Blockhead, who collaborated with woods on his last full length Dour Candy, brings in a new energy for the last half of the record with his three contributions "Bicycles", "True Stories", and "Goodnight"; all being completely different from each other. One having the energy of kids at a playground, one feeling completely sinister with its organs like the score from Scarface, and the album closer with its looping bassline and scattered drums. All work wonderfully to aide in displaying the worlds woods is painting.


I must be honest. My first run throughs of the album felt overwhelming. 24 tracks is a lot of songs and theres often a lot in a single billy woods verse, images and otherwise, for me to dig into. There's also audio clips from movies and such that took me on tangents (during one of my listens through, I took a break to watch an episode of The Wire haha). But, around the third time listening through, the picture became clear. I had to give it the time to sit with me so that I was listening with the right ears.

Today, I Wrote Nothing shares a title with an anthology of selected writings by Daniil Kharms. He was a Russian writer that delved into philosophy, poetry, and, most notably, children's stories with a lot of his stories being told in short bursts that take you on full journeys. If this isn't a conscious choice made by woods it is undoubtedly serendipitous, and apt, as this is exactly what he does here. Its like an audio book of a prose collection with great musical backing; the type of book I return to from time to time or that I'll recite aloud when the lights come on at the bar.

"Fuck last call. . . put my song on!"