There is nothing about this record that is easy. This is not a Sunday morning listen. Not something to have on while your cooking up dinner. Not something to put on in the car heading for a night out. This is an album that commands an audience and demands you listen — without the promise of melodic hooks or anthemic choruses or verses you can belt out.
All of that would be (and has been) a death knell for other well-intentioned albums, but billy woods and Kenny Segal pull it off because this record is so damn compelling. Hiding Places will never be that album you reach for when you want to just listen to something. It’s the album you reach for when you’re feeling serious about some serious shit.
Just from the first 15 seconds of the opening cut, Spongebob, you get a sense of what you’re in for. A woozy, warped and discordant guitar line is joined quickly by an uncluttered beat and and billy woods’ blunt, flat vocals, spitting out short, clipped raps. And, then more of the same — but to me even more visceral — in the third track, Checkpoints.
Throughout the record, Kenny Segal lays down beats that are sludgy, dank, and generally bleak-sounding. It serves as the perfect soundscape for billy woods lyrics, which, as another reviewer put it, “…[go] to great, jarring poetic lengths to capture the feeling of being broke and black in America, a land that’s long been hostile to the broke and the black.”
woods (like Segal, a veteran of the underground rap scene) has been writing and rapping about everything for years. Here, he’s bracingly direct and unequivocal in the stories he tells, his assessments of himself (“Win what? I’m just trying to beat the spread / Quit my job to kick raps instead”), his darkly comic take on things (“No surprise, the rich suggest you do more with less”), and the general disdain he feels for the world and most people around him.
All the while, woods treats us to a masterclass in songwriting, storytelling, and expertly-crafted raps. The album is littered with standout lines and exacting delivery, none more so for me than Houthi. Start at 1:27, right before the beat drops away, and just marvel at his writing; the images he creates, the cadence they’re set to, and the sounds the words make when spit in succession. “Gutterin’ candles, throw shade while we ate / All you heard was knife and fork on the plate / Grainy home movies of him home-rollin’ doobies / Pagliacci, how they piled in the fuckin’ hoopty / Loopy smile, I ran through the town like Houthi / Wave cap under the kulfi, the tea was loose-leaf.”
Hiding Places came out eight weeks ago and I’ve been sitting with it ever since. This is complex, powerful, professional stuff, put out by two artists at the top of their creative game.