Review Summary: "Who am I to judge how you terror manage?"
Listening to Billy Woods spit routinely makes me clamor for both a thesaurus and an encyclopedia; weaving webs of wordplay over beats that undergo constant metamorphoses, Woods could make a strong case for being the most well-read MC in hip hop right now, with his allusions maintaining an earthy and urban feel while still reaching mythopoeic proportions. The man is also working at a feverish pace; Church
is his second full-length of the year, following hot on the heels of April’s critically lauded Aethiopes
, itself an intricately destabilizing sucker punch of an abstract hip-hop record. Church
predominantly opts to pull from the same bag of tricks as Aethiopes
in terms of its sonic identity, although I’m willing to go against the grain and vouch for Woods’s newest release as his most realized and rewarding project of 2022. Its callbacks to Aethiopes
are emotionally gripping and peel back new layers of narrative meaning present in some of that record’s strongest moments. The strongest example of this would have to be Fat Ray’s guest verse on “Schism”, an alternate perspective of the yarn spun on Aethiopes’
stunning “No Hard Feelings”, punctuated by an awe-inspiring beat switch based upon the very same sample from that track. The new ground paved here can largely be attributed to Woods’ decision to collaborate with producer Messiah Musik on the large majority of this tracklist, his fingerprints being observable through Church’s
more percussive and less amorphous attitude. Infectious cuts like “Fuschia & Green”, “All Jokes Aside”, and the stirring “Pollo Rico” demonstrate Woods’ capability to touch his listener emotionally while still dizzying them, a juxtaposition that Messiah’s production does a considerable amount of heavy lifting to make a reality.
Of course, the main attraction on any Billy Woods project is the bars, and the man has delivered for the second time this year. In the first 30 seconds of Church’s
runtime alone, he’s able to link his heartbreak, the newly minted journeyman status of NBA star James Harden, and the greed of the streaming industry to “Paraquat”’s central metaphor of being slowly poisoned to death by urban poverty and watching his loved ones drop like flies around him. This lyrical wizardry continues throughout the record, with Woods utilizing powerful and dreamlike imagery from Biblical sources, 19th-century purges of Mormon settlements in the American Midwest, and even batshi
t insane visions like a ship full of skeleton slavers or a hookup failing to express interest in Solzhenitsyn’s writing. Woods’s flows are universally strong throughout the record’s runtime, with the tracklist progressively getting stronger as it approaches its conclusion. While the lion’s share of songs on Church’s
tracklist don’t necessarily diversify themselves from one another, the album makes it mark as a consistent and disorienting slab of abstract hip-hop that rewards repeated listens to uncover the hidden gems that Woods has nestled neatly within his words. Just make sure you have your encyclopedia handy.