Billy Woods: Church Album Review


In 1947, US minister William Marrion Branham claimed he had been visited by an angel who had granted him the gift of healing the world from disease and decay. This began the worldwide revival of Branham’s healing after World War II, where he became a quintessential cult figure. Journalists and other ministers accused him of being an impostor, he initiated and validated the violent ministries of Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer, and he spread a doctrine based on the restoration of archaic Christian values ​​and apocalyptic predictions. Branham’s voice, taken from a 1954 sermon in Washington, D.C., acts as a bridge between the second and third songs of Billy Woods’ final album Church. It’s measured, hard-hitting against instrumental fading. “Let him be above all else. Then, hunger, deep. As David said, “When the deep calls to the deep, at the sound of your waterspouts,” he barks. The line invokes Psalm 42:7, a lament that signals a call to God, as the psalmist seeks confidence and hope in the face of trials and tribulations. The grainy recording gives the impression of being buried deep in Woods’ subconscious: here, the lessons of faith etched in his memory are brought to the fore, delivered through the voice of a false prophet.

Church comes just months after Woods’ stellar solo effort Ethiopias. With ChurchIn Fat Ray’s short list of collaborators, Armand Hammer’s AKAI SOLO, Fielded and Elucid appear on 12 songs), his voice comes in relative solitude. It gives her the space to unravel a dense memory, meditating on love, memory and faith. There’s a heaviness that envelops the album: producer Messiah Muzik’s mutation of obscure box gems like Roger Bellon’s 1977 “Blaknite” makes the whole project feel like a fever dream that gets out of control. But this chaos and darkness suits the woods; with his incredible ability to fuse raps with fractured beats, Church is a sprawling personal story, which ensures that his status as a master of his craft remains unchanged.

woods has already changed his writing perspective in the blink of an eye, treating his lyrics like puzzles for the listener to piece together. This time he writes from his own perspective, using powerful imagery and nimble similes to recount his experiences, often focusing on dark themes. On “Paraquat,” Woods compares his relationship failures and lack of self-esteem to James Harden’s stints on two different teams, then castigates his brother’s spiritual and moral hypocrisy in the next four bars. In the next breath, as the beat shifts to taut piano and saxophone seemingly straight out of a seedy 1950s Harlem jazz bar, Woods veers into political commentary: “Whitey hit Hiroshima, then he doubled / Black rain baptized, black skies / I’m still waiting for the thunderclap, ”he raps, chomping at the bit to put the warmongers on trial with his words.

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