I recently wrote a piece for One More Robot, a Dublin-based Culture Magazine (part artbook, part DIY zine) that puts out terrific issues offering wide-ranging perspectives on mainly art, music, film, and at times, politics. Its editor, Dean Van Nguyen, has an affection for ’90s rap history which is displayed prominently throughout his work (read Dean’s piece on Mac Dre HERE). I interviewed Chuck D for OMR’s latest issue and Dean returned the favor with the following Q&A; a piece on Billy Woods, an at times enigmatic artist, whom he calls “the most slept-on rapper in the world right now.” – DM)
By Dean Van Nguyen
Making music for well over a decade now, Billy Woods learned his trade as a perennial figure in New York’s alt-rap scene, associating with Cannibal Ox’s Vordul Mega and various other members of his sizable crew The Atoms Family. Embarking on his own career as one-half of the double act, Super Chron Flight Brothers – alongside collaborator Priviledge – the duo crafted a series of records in the ilk of Cannibal Ox and other Definitive Jux signees, cutting the kind of discography that should have elevated Woods to the status of Underground King several times over.Instead, he is probably the most slept on rapper in the world right now.
Dealing with the break up of Super Chron, and frustrated with his inability to find a sizeable audience for his music, earlier this year the DC-based MC threw everything he had into what would potentially be his final record, the solo joint History Will Absolve Me. Reaching deep within himself, Woods produced one hip-hop’s standout releases of the year – a long, smart and brilliant piece of work that rounded several corners of human existence, all of which drew from it’s author’s own experiences.
Having only recently discovered Woods, I reached out to him in the hope of telling his story and unearthing the man behind History Will Absolve Me. I was not left disappointed. Like his lyrical style, Woods is upfront and thoughtful in an interview setting. Opening up about his family’s remarkable history, the satisfactions and frustrations of his career, and the creation History Will Absolve Me in length, Woods offers up the same bluntness that has makes his music so essential.
I came across History Will Absolve Me and I wanted to find out more information, but I found there wasn’t actually a whole lot out there. To start, can you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and how you got involved in music.
I was born in the United States. My mother was from Jamaica and my father, who is deceased now, was from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. At the time they met, Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. You know, I’ve never really considered if when they met was before or after Rhodesia declared – basically the white population of Rhodesia declared independence from the crown, in part because they had no intention of allowing black people to vote. There was like an apartheid. Obviously its right next to South Africa; it was like a less codified version of apartheid I guess. My father was in the US getting his PHD when they met.
I was born here and when I was very young my father was active in the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, and so when they won the war and reached a negotiated settlement, he went back for the elections and we followed soon after. I lived there for the most of the 1980s although I would come to Jamaica and the United States to visit my family and my mother’s side of my family on a regular basis. Then I moved back to the DC area when I was a teenager. I moved back to Maryland right outside of DC.
And how did you get involved in making music? Continue reading “Time Goes By: Interview with Billy Woods”