Review Summary: Wake up and smell the sativa
On ‘Keloid,’ what begins the fiftieth minute of Known Unknowns
, the Armand Hammer member relents: “You won’t never get no answers,” he spits, without the slightest hint of defeat in his stammer. If we were to wax pedantic, we might argue that “never,” “no,” and “won’t” form a double-(triple?)-negative. But dishonest facetiousness aside, and still: forgoing form – as a result of and in spite of technical skill – little is revealed through the rapper’s at once blunt and verbose manner of speaking. ‘Washington Redskins,’ a loaded title, builds meaning atop a glossolalists wet dream – or perhaps not, though its sibilance mimics a sort of perseltongue. “Sold it till it’s sold out, sold the house / Soul long since sold out, so it’s no doubt,” he rambles. A criticism of intertwining ethics and capital. Or not: the track details a narrative of football teams, debtor's prison, and a judge spitting, "nigga, listen." Woods' seamless abstraction at once obscures and emphasises something rich. In its opening couplet, "new boss, same as the old boss / he who holds the sky aloft," 'Snake Oil' makes comment on Washington, the people's dedication to idolatry, and the pervasiveness of religion in the democratic system.
In this sense, Known Unknowns
is deceiving. It flirts with the inconsequential, and dedicates itself to abstraction. Yet its skilful confrontation of the insurmountable is rich and profound. 'Keloid' goes so far as to showcase a lack of truth: or, rather, it claims with knowledge a lack of knowledge. It undermines all of the album's attempts at reaching meaningful conclusions. Yet the attempt is made, over and over. 'Unstuck' samples an explanation of earth's historical precedence, and Known Unknowns
is packed with references to various philosophers and greater thinkers, poets and novelists alike. Woods himself explores a number of narratives.
I suppose it’s not all smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles. I'd be amiss, however, to be in denial of the album's immediate aesthetic and atmospheric appeal. Woods welcomes back frequent collaborator Blockhead, who handles a good deal of the album’s production. His dedication to the genre's history is apparent in his frequent sampling of hip-hop's hall of fame. And whilst his production techniques often times come close to convolution, as he throws sound at sounds, canvassing used beats, the extent to which this entanglement complements the rapper's own vines, is masterful, even at its worst.