Amidst all the madness and chaos being fueled around the world by incompetent politicians and wanna-be dictators, there are still voices of reason and understanding within the creative, artistic space. For Philadelphia-based musician, poet and activist Moor Mother, truth comes in the form of sonic and aural visualisation, presenting itself with interdisciplinary events and sonic muses that shape much of the work she’s done as the member of Black Quantum Futurism. The collective imagines new futures and possibilities for Black people within America and beyond, creating inspiring spaces for events and exhibitions to take place. It’s an essential aspect of her artistry and obviously, from a personal perspective, it’s more than obvious that these issues are of upmost importance to her and the people around her. From the pro-black messages both within her creative space and her art as a whole, to the stark, energetic yet mystical aura of her creative spirit, her music is such a tour de force, it’s impossible not to be taken aback by her art. Her confrontational and challenging lyrics, especially on this abrasive and haunting album in particular, makes for an unforgettable listen, and it just comes to show how free spirited and unapologetic she is about her own identity.
billy woods on the other hand, is more of an elusive figure. His activism stems from his words and poetry throughout densely created and curated sequences of tracks that speak about black empowerment and freedom. I’ve been a fan of his since his his 2013 masterpiece Dour Candy. To me, since that project onwards he established himself as a cult hip-hop figure, an idiosyncratic emblem of the hip-hop underground. His presence is as captivating as fascinating as the words he puts on paper. His 2019 gem Hiding Places with producer Kenny Segal was a career highlight for him, attracting more attention from folks who resonated with his desolate, abstract and uniquely poetic lyricism. The enigmatic emcee has continued to sharpen his pen and bring out more politically conscious and urgent raps that are usually complemented by dark, cacophonous beats that sound dense and incredibly claustrophobic, giving his words more poignancy and weight. There’s always something to digest with his music, and on BRASS, his symbiotic creative relationship with Moor Mother has amplified his lyrics to new heights, with both poets coming through with memorable verses that capture the hellish, dark and eerie reality of western civilization.
BRASS begins with the tribal drumming and heady opener “Furies”, a reflective and dark track that sees both Moor Mother and billy woods provide heady verses around the birth of new life amidst the darkness of our planet, combining eclectic references such as Madame Bovary, a novel from highly influential French writer Gustave Flaubert, with contemporary references in Beyoncé and LeBron James. This dychotomy in themes and references makes it such a fascinating and challenging listen. “Rapunzal” features one of my favourite billy woods verses on the album, as he kicks the track off triumphantly with the following lyrics: “Occluded moons / Black flowers at the tomb / Speakers hiss in empty nightclubs, the city hum / Tinnitus / Flyness on your eardrum / Mosquitoes biased / Sickle Cell have him hesitant to try it / Solomon and Midas / Assassins need tyrants, the virus / Circling planes with no pilots, no drivers / Trains runnin’ riot / Yellowin’ ads for new diets.” The vivid display of realism and the sharp descriptive nature of this opening verse makes it such an essential listen. The jazzy, off-kilter production on some of these tracks, like on “Gang for a Day” featuring Franklin James Fisher or the subsequent “Mom’s Gold” is disorienting and frantic, beating through the album with a deep sense of urgency. “Chimney” featuring Mach-Hommy is another highlight, with literary and biblical references that are heady and difficult to digest, especially if you’re not familiar with the literature. The beat on “Rock Cried” (produced by Olof Melander) is incredibly hard-hitting, while the ethereal Navy Blue produced “Guinness” brings a more peaceful tone to an otherwise dynamic and hellish-sounding album. “Tiberius” featuring ELUCID features my favourite Moor Mother verse, as she proclaims at one point “You can’t say Moor Mother without future / You can’t say black future without Moor Mother, muhfucka”. She oozes confidence, bringing not only intellect but history to her heady and emphatic raps. The Alchemist-produced “Giraffe Hunts” is a stunning moment on the album, probably my favourite record on the album. The dense and layered beat is complemented by incredible rhymes from both billy woods and Moor Mother. The instrumental duality between billy woods and Moor Mother show the duality between men and women, or rather two spirits battling for their right to reign supreme. The ClindActor-produced closer “Portrait” is a reflective and emotive end to the project, aided by an optimistic and soulful feature from the always incredible Navy Blue. billy woods’ closing remarks are “Bow my head, one eye open / Give thanks, bredren, we did it for the culture”. This encapsulates billy woods’ and Moor Mother’s legacy. Their constant willingness to empower and educate their people is inspiring as it is important. The intricacies of the sounds on this project, coupled with billy woods and Moor Mother’s incredibly vivid lyricism makes this a stunning, memorable and incredibly poignant listen.
BRASS is simply flawless. The cohesive nature of the album, with its short but dense and at times cacophonous sound, makes it a desolate, eerie listen. Moor Mother and billy woods’ desire to create a carefully constructed project, with each verse, each story and each bit of history being an essential part of the puzzle, is so powerful and inspiring to hear. With every brush on the canvas, both artists are able to articulate their feelings, whether fears, introspections about their own experiences or socio-political observations on the world around them. It’s a truly incredible body of work that feels heavy, but ultimately necessary and refreshing. BRASS might be one of the better albums I’ve heard in quite a while, and definitely an album worth revisting again and again.