Album Review: billy woods x DJ Preservation - Aethiopes


I was first introduced to billy woods when he dropped Known Unknowns in 2017, but was first made aware of him due to the praise of Today I Wrote Nothing in 2015. Since then I've been up on his solo, collab and Armand Hammer (he and E L U C I D) work. I was first introduced to Preservation via Eastern Medicine, Western Illness dropping back in 2020 which I still believe to be one of the better releases of that year. Now both have come together to drop Aethiopes. I jump into the depths of this album below. 

Asylum is the opening track where billy speaks on appointing himself into his own asylum. He lives in his mind, finds himself locked his house where getting out is a blessing. He gives himself a daily mission in order to get through it. His mentioning of guests being doubtful of their absent host made me not only think of him but of the former president of Ethiopia that he mentioned in the beginning of the track Mengitsu Haile Mariam possibly being a person of power who was depraved and wanted his guests to love him, and this thought was pushed further by the clip from "Kongi's Harvest" (1970) where a man describes the joy of living in a cage but was given a different perspective from his handler. That further context (S/O Genius) now makes me think differently of what I originally took away from the song but it's still interesting to think of it that way where the person in power lives in their own cage. That President had his own political conflicts as is. 

The beat is looming, brewing and suspenseful on No hard feelings. After being hit with discrimination, profiling, a brother shakes it off like it's no hard feelings. He even finds himself waking up to a text reading "no hard feelings" after being stood up.

My main takeaway from Wharves is that it's a fitting track given how the chorus goes with the tribal, primal, seance-like beat. 

We see the first features of the album on Suavage ft. Gabe 'Nandez and Boldy James. This track is about savage lifestyles whether it's the emcees themselves' and/or/even the experiences of those they knew, ran with, etc. Billy touched on examples like Dr. Dre being a "savage" for shooting his uncle for being his mom and starting 11th grade like it's nothing, the lengths a girl went to have sex with him, savage upbringings, etc. It was boldy talking about being a savage in the game (both) and learning the tricks of the trade to get something for himself. Gabe painted the picture of (anti) savagery theme well on his verse, no savagery.

No collar on my neck, no secret (Sauvage)
Kamikaze jets, no leashes (Orage)
Domino effect, no sequence (Dommage)
Holla at me man, no meekness
No collar on my neck, no secret (Sauvage)
Kamikaze jets, no leashes (Orage)
Domino effect, no sequence (Dommage)
Holla at me man, no meekness

Doldrums had to be titled that because not much is happening with this beat. Nothing really happens til it do is what billy says. Not much really happening here but billy speaking of...well...shit just happening. Shit does happen, but for self, you gotta get up, get out and make something happen. You don't work, you don't eat.

Back to the features which lead to a plethora to follow in future tracks on NYNEX ft. E L U C I D, Quelle Chris, and Denmark Vessey. Things are happening here. The beat is lively and the energy from the emcees is there to match. Everybody want to be the next big thing is theme. 

Said he had a vision, said he had a system
Said he was the one true and living, said he had a mission
Said we in a prison

Mike Ladd is ft. Christine. This was like the "calm" after and before the storm. I cautiously say calm because it's calm after the storm of the last track but I'd imagine what billy deals with on the inside is far from calm given he speaks on his parents arguing, being in and out of good/bad dreams, run ins with the law, etc. The "calm" he maintains through all of this is admirable and serves before the storm to come that is Mike Ladd's verse. The beat itself towards the end storms up a bit, and Mike's intensity/attitude and detail storms up as the verse progresses while he still remains calm. 

We arrive at a track that I was an immediate fan of on my first listen with Heavy Water. The beat drew me in. This song features El-P and Breeze Brewin. I must admit that I'm only so in touch with what this track is exactly about. Given the title and the bombardment of info, subjects, and references, I'm going to go with this track serving as a heavy supply of water to drink. 

My man's Fatboi Sharif was ft. on the next track Haarlem. I came to find out that this track references the city of Haarlem located in the Netherlands. Par for the course given the artists, I'm getting an anti-imperialism vibe from this love. BASED. The 2nd half of the track where there is a beat transition really drives that vibe home.

Versailles was another track that I was drawn to on my first listen. It's anti-capitalism/tyranny here. For Despot to be featured is perfect. Great production from Pres. 

Protoevangelium ft. Shinehead is a bit of a standout track. Protoevangelium is a 2nd century infancy gospel telling of the immaculate conception. 

I see how your man move all him raps is null and void

[Bridge: Shinehead]
Who the cap fits
Let them wear it

Check it out
Now there's a bomb at the end of this fuse
And now we bringin' it to you live, Ghetto Network News
Live if you wanna live
Now you get what you want, do you want more?
Now you get what you want, does you want more?

The cold felt on the beat of Remorseless itself is remorseless, as well as how matter of fact billy is on the mic and the subjects he touches on are like talking about how cruel the world is and how it seems it just ain't gonna get better and that you may as well get what you want from/on this cursed earth yourself. 

Smith + Cross is a beautiful, well placed outro track. 

I must sit with this album and unpack it even further. When I'm more satisfied with my takeaways, I'll record my video review. With that said, in terms of where I am with it for now, this album stands as yet another appreciated conscious effort from billy and Preservation. Stream below.