The albums that stick with you create a reaction within your body upon first listen that you will always have a memory tied to from that moment forward. It might be love at first listen or you might hate something so much that you count down the seconds until it is over (if you even go the distance). With the new collaborative album Brass, from New York City-based MC Billy Woods and Philly noise-musician and poet Moor Mother, the experience is more akin to a molecular shift or delirious episode of high strangeness.
“What the fuck just happened,” you might say on first listen. And by the time you have reached the end of the album’s fifteen tracks, you’ll be compelled to retrace your steps. But given how aggressively and masterfully both Woods and Mother address the current state of affairs and the injustices that have been swept under the table for the sake of America preserving a cruel status quo, it’s the appropriate response. And on Brass, they practically demand it.
The album leads off with its initial single “Furies.” Producer Willie Green creates an abstract beat that sets the table for the rest of the album with distorted and murky hand drum samples. The two trade lucid verses that discuss the evils of the human race through their adventures in time and how they relate to human behavior today.
“Madame Bovary with the good hair I shoulda stopped right there,” Woods raps in his verse, “But a trick is a trick, like Flaubert.” Elsewhere, Mother describes her and a band of witches traveling back to 1930 on broomsticks “hustlin’ coke, poppy field, weed smoke” when they end up outside of a concentration camp “looking for a light.” It showcases how the industrial spirit has always clouded moral judgement when atrocities are being committed in broad daylight.
Green along with an eclectic cast of producers such as Child Actor, the Alchemist, Preservation, Messiah Muzzik, John Forte, Steel Tipped Dove, Olof Melander, and Navy Blue were able to create a fish-out-of-water element for both Woods and Mother that ultimately brought the best out of both of them. While Woods is generally at home with an off-kilter, laid back feel to his instrumentals, Mother generally finds her footing in the avant garde — as is evident with her 2020 free-jazz spoken word odyssey, Circuit City. The team of producers work together to cross the venn diagram for both artists, creating an album full of beats that satisfy the most purist lo-fi head-nodder’s dreams while never letting things get to pristine
No other song exemplifies this push and pull better than the standout “Giraffe Hunts,” which starts with Woods commenting “that’s beautiful” as he hears the song’s classical flute sample just before the beat shape shifts off of it’s axis into a queasy nightmare.
The album’s centerpiece “The Blues Remembers Everything the Country Forgot” — produced by Green with additional instrumentation by Sons of Kemet — is packed with fiery verses looking to shake off any sort of complacency or false disbelief that racial divisions and discrimination still muddy the waters all over the world.
“The blues remembers everything the country forgot. Hands in the rot,” Mother raps. “Slots in the swat. Lynch swingin’ on the block. There goes the neighborhood. Here comes mama with the Glock.” Woods takes the baton to address how the desperate need for police reform has led us to our current moment. “We waited and watched,” he declares. “slow meat in the pot.”
With the collaboration of Mother and Woods, the pairing has created a fluid partnership resulting in an essential hip-hop release for any fan of the genre. What a beautiful meeting of the minds.
*Edited from original to add production credits*
Essential Tracks: “Furies,” “Giraffe Hunt” and “The Blues Remembers Everything the Country Forgot”
Prerequisites: Billy Woods’ Dour Candy, Moor Mother’s Circuit City and Milo’s So The Flies Don’t Come.