Billy Woods released History Will Absolve Me in 2012, naming his album from a Fidel Castro speech and slapped a grim Robert Mugabe onto the front of his album. The DMV inhabitant showcased his language, a dialect that was built to astound the audience while leaving them distraught. On his most recent release, Dour Candy, he collaborates with Blockhead, already a production icon in his own right, and the union is beneficial for both. Woods takes advantage of a consistent source of production to lace together what amounts to a vigil for his past.
The candy is dour indeed, as Woods doesn’t flow so much as converse with himself over pensive beats. But the content isn’t as violent and vengeful as on History Will Absolve Me, indicating that if the passage of time won’t release Woods from his sins, it may mellow his soul. I understand that this album won’t appeal to most, as Billy is far from an easy listen, preferring to say what’s on his mind no matter the effect on the emotions of whoever stumbles across Dour Candy. Behind his gruff delivery, grief is central to his verses.
“Tumbleweed” sounds like a bizarro Kid Cudi song circa 2010, as Blockhead throws some clicks and a guitar over a droning choir and synth setup. Guest vocalist Aesop Rock has transcended the definition of cryptic once again and our host delivers chilling choppiness. Again, he doesn’t sound polished with a cadence closer to conversation than croon, but he makes me cover my laugh with a scowl for what it’s worth. “Hack” is a near-perfect manifesto on the commercialization of Hip Hop told from the point of view of a cabbie:
“I hate driving at night,
Just increase the chance quality of life gon’ flash in misery lights/
Stay home, write that Richard Price,
When the script don’t flip, right back at it
Like a neighbor on the pipe”
Blockhead comes through with a neo-noir soundtrack as Billy resists the temptation to “write the rhymes they wanna hear, right,” while sardonically condemning the music industry. Now, that’s nothing too new, but his take on the debacle between label and artist is what is original and it’s what gives the track some freshness.
My gripe while listening comes from myself rather than the music itself, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with the music. It’s thoughtful, contemplative and energetic, but I couldn’t imagine putting it on at a social setting. It’s such a personal album that it becomes an inherently personal listen and it’s not exactly uplifting. “Gilgamesh” features a really sweet sound that lopes from left speaker to right, starting with drawn-out drones and the twittering of birds. I can’t bring myself to walk into a room and put this on for other people, even friends, even with the respect I have for Woods, Blockhead and the guest list. I insist that this is insecurity and not an indictment of the album, just an observation that bears mentioning.
I take that back an inch: I would play “Fool’s Gold” for anybody on the planet, on the strength of verses from woods and Open Mike Eagle. The meaning of this song changes a little every time I hear it, getting better, more complex, like the Hip Hop version of Cobble’s Knot. Couple the top-notch rapping with a cymbal-heavy beat that revolves around a gloomy piano, and you have a confusing number that references MF DOOM’s inability to perform his own music and Malcolm X’s assassination, balancing the somber and the light-hearted with near-equal measure. It’s one of my favorite songs released this year and I’ve heard it enough to blow up Last.FM by myself.
I don’t like assigning a score to Dour Candy. Nobody can agree on what the number means and it means something else to each person, yet we bicker over it. The score is not the definition of this album, it is merely a reduction of my feelings about this album presented as a number equal or smaller to 10. Be blessed and based.