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Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Backwoodz Studioz is an independent Brooklyn-based Hip Hop record label founded in 2002 by rapper billy woods.

“Since 2002 we have been on an oft-delayed mission here at backwoodz studioz, to punch a hole in the rap game big enough for all of the talented cats we know to crawl through. We are not there yet, but the hole is definitely a lot f***ing bigger. So look and listen your way around this site, read some interviews, wander through the stacks and you might catch a contact.”

billy woods is a rapper who defies easy categorization; he claims Washington D.C. as his hometown but has spent much of his life in New York City. He was born in the U.S. but spent much of his childhood in Africa and the West Indies, the second child of a Jamaican intellectual and a would-be Marxist revolutionary. On the mic, woods is no less of a conundrum, possessed of versatile flows and an ability to not only tackle topics other artists wouldn’t dream of, but also to bring unique perspectives to the familiar ones.

Long before building the modest-but-loyal cult following that came with the Flight Brothers, woods made a name for himself with a left-field debut album and one intriguing ensemble project after another. A longtime associate of Cannibal Ox, he came into the game on the back of a collaborative record with Vordul called Camouflage (2003), a low-budget, ultra-indie release that set the table for woods’ particular brand of blunted dissonance and lyrical tight roping. Camouflage was quickly followed by his first, true solo album, The Chalice, in 2004. It would also be his last solo work for a long time as woods threw himself into a series of group projects, first as a part of East Coast rap “supergroup” The Reavers, with Akir, Karniege, Vordul Mega, Hasan Salaam, and a host of other on-the-cusp MC’s in 2005. Then came the Super Chron Flight Brothers; between 2006 and 2010, woods and Priviledge released a trilogy of critically-acclaimed concept albums – Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007), Indonesia (2009), and Cape Verde (2010), wrapping cogent sociopolitical commentary in a potent mix of racial humor, weed rap, and pop-culture references.

After the now-defunct Super Chron Flight Brothers, woods struck out on his own with 2012’s audacious mission statement, History Will Absolve Me. An album two years in the making, History…was a molotov cocktail of sarcastic fury, with production to match its uncompromising vision.

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

A decade in, History Will Absolve Me was the album that really established Backwoodz Studioz. woods himself viewed it as his “make-or-break” record: “I thought to myself, ‘If HWAM flops, the label is done. I’m not sure if I would’ve quit rapping, but I was kinda prepared to.” History Will Absolve Me didn’t flop. It may not have been a mainstream success, but it was an underground hit – enough to signify a new start of recording excellence for billy woods himself, but also a stepping stone for acts like ELUCID, Willie Green, Curly Castro, PremRock, Fielded, and Armand Hammer (billy woods with ELUCID).

Presented here are HHGA’s 25 favorite projects issued on Backwoodz Studios to date (no EP’s, compilations, or instrumental albums are included) – check out Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums. 

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

25. Super Chron Flight Brothers - Indonesia (2009)

Super Chron Flight Brothers’ second album is one for the hardcore fans only. Priviledge and billy woods’ rhymes are in the same vein as the ones on their collaborative debut Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007) – going from political statements to comical weed-raps to emotional storytelling – but this time around the musical backdrops are somewhat different, and not better. Marmaduke took care of most of the production for Indonesia and the sound he came up with for this project is something like grime-influenced electro, which makes the album harder to sit through than both its predecessor and its successor Cape Verde (2010) – the beats and the rhymes just don’t click. Indonesia is not bad perse, but it is inferior to the two other Super Chron Flight Brothers albums.

24. The Reavers ‎– Terror Firma (2005)

The Reavers was a supergroup consisting of Vordul Mega of Cannibal Ox, Dom Pacino formerly of Wu-Tang affiliate Killarmy, Kong & Spiga of Monsta Island Czars, Akir, Karniege, Hasan Salaam, Keith Masters, Goldenchild, Priviledge, and billy woods. Their one and only album Terror Firma is a strange beast. It’s a double album billed as a concept album, but what the concept actually never becomes clear – this looks like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen that run the risk of spoiling the soup. Not that this particular soup is spoiled – Terror Firma has enough high points (like “Slums,” “America,” “Shadows”, “Warrior”, and “Dusted”), but it’s also kind flat and soulless at times, despite (or maybe because of) the roster of talent that got together. At the time The Reavers were sometimes compared to the Wu-Tang Clan, but unlike the Wu-Tang Clan, The Reavers don’t come off like a cohesive unit but instead more like a cobbled-together crew each of whom simply do their own thing on the record. All that said: this Nature Sounds / Backwoodz Studioz release is a project to take note of. Despite its flaws, there is a charm to the whole thing, enough to check it out if you can find it.

23. billy woods - Camouflage (2003)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Starting off a very distinguished career, as well as being the very first release on the Backwoodz Studioz label, billy woods’ debut album is an important document in Hip Hop history. Camouflage is overlong and at times kind of sludgy, but it’s also surprisingly consistent at the same time. With input from Cannibal Ox’s Vordul Mega and its typical dark and edgy NYC early 2000s underground vibes, this record sounds like it could have been cooked up in the Def Jux labs. Even if he would improve on later albums, billy woods’ lyrical talent was already on full display here. Best tracks: “The Things They Carried”, “Amazing Grace”, “Dirge”, and “Undeclared Wars”.

22. Vordul Mega – Megagraphitti (2008)

As one half of Cannibal Ox, Vordul Mega is responsible for one of the best Hip Hop albums of all time: the Def Jux classic The Cold Vein (2001)Megagraphitti is Vordul Mega’s second solo album. The top tracks on Megagraphitt are “AK-47”, “Stay Conscious”, “Megagraphiti”, “Opium Scripts”, “Trigganomics”, and the El-P-produced “Keep Living” (with billy woods) – but most of the album is strong, a couple of weaker songs (like “Light” and “Beautiful”) cannot ruin Megagraphitti  Not on par with The Cold Vein, but this is a dope project nonetheless.

21. billy woods - The Chalice (2004)

Billy Woods – The Chalice

On his sophomore album, billy woods doesn’t hit the lyrical heights yet he would reach with his 2010s material, but The Chalice IS a dope album nevertheless. It could have benefitted from some ruthless editing (at 72 minutes the album is overlong), but there are plenty of early billy woods gems on here – tracks such as “Mind Control”, “Gourmet”, “Pit & The Pendulum”, and “Magic” all are excellent. Like his debut album Camouflage (2003), The Chalice is a bit rough around the edges – which actually is part of its charm. The Chalice is underground in all its aspects, an album that like its predecessor would have been perfectly at home at Def Jux too. billy woods noobs shouldn’t start here, but will sure to be gratified when circling back to The Chalice after the 2010s part of his discog has fully been absorbed.

20. Curly Castro - TOSH (2017)

Curly Castro is a great lyricist by any measure: storytelling abilities, wordplay, technical skill, flow – he has it all. And the production on TOSH is excellent. TOSH is heavily reggae-influenced (the album title references reggae legend Peter Tosh) and Curly Castro references and uses Peter Tosh’s hooks as his own. Even when TOSH is not explicitly reggae-sounding, the influence is there in the deep and dubby bass-heavy beats. TOSH is an album worth returning to.

19. billy woods - Terror Management (2019)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

billy woods’ second release of 2019 is almost (if not quite) as good as Hiding Places, his collaboration with Kenny Segal is. Read the description from billy woods’ own website:

On his new album, Terror Management, billy woods weaves past, present and future into a dark tableau as hilarious as it is macabre. This is a place where skeletons spill from closets, lead pours from faucets and the punchline is the whole joke. This is the sound of the police not coming, of garbage trucks in reverse, of glaciers shearing off into a black ocean. But these are also tales of perseverance, compassion, and love, however quixotic. Of snatching one’s humanity from the fires that rage all about us.

Terror Management features production from Preservation, Blockhead, Willie Green, Messiah Muzik, Small Pro, ELUCID, Child Actor, Steel Tipped Dove, Uncommon Nasa, Jeff Markey, and Shape. Together they create a backdrop of seamless fragmentation perfectly suited to these times—this era of cognitive dissonance. Mach Hommy, Fielded, Pink Siifu, Akai Solo, Lauren Kelly Benson (fka L’Wren) and The Funs all make guest appearances.

If you’re familiar with and appreciative of billy woods’ earlier projects you will enjoy Terror Management without a doubt. If you’re a billy woods noob Terror Management is not a bad entry point (even if it’s not his best album) – the album is characteristic of woods’ left-field sound and style, but it is a bit more accessible than some of his other works are.

18. PremRock - Load Bearing Crow’s Feet (2021)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Load Bearing Crow’s Feet is an excellent project from New York-based artist PremRock, who had dope projects last year as a member of ShrapKnel and of Wrecking Crew. This solo album features all of PremRock’s regular collaborators like Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro, Elucid, AJ Suede, Henry Canyons, and Fielded. Production credits are shared between BrainOrchestra, Fresh Kils, Denmark Vessey, Small Professor, Willie Green, Messiah Musik, and PremRock himself. Load Bearing Crow’s Feet is a well-rounded effort, composed of compelling instrumentals and thoughtful bars. This is great music.

17. Willie Green - Doc Savage (2016)

top 40 hip hop albums of 2016

Doc Savage is an album from Brooklyn producer Willie Green, a hidden gem out of the vaults of BackWoodz Studioz. Doc Savage is a typical Backwoodz Studioz album – in style and quality.

“This album is the culmination of all my previous work, expanding on styles and production techniques I’ve explored before. It uses samples, live instruments, orchestration, loops; sometimes all at the same time. I wanted to make this album because while I’ve always had a vague idea in my mind what all these different parts of my experience would sound like together, now I finally had the capability of putting it together.” is what Willie Green himself says about this project.

Doc Savage features some of independent Hip Hop’s most celebrated voices; Open Mike Eagle, billy woods, Denmark Vessey, Milo, Elucid, PremRock, Henry Canyons, Junclassic & Uncommon Nasa amongst them.

16. billy woods - Dour Candy (2013)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Not as heavy and impactful as History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy is still better than most other Hip Hop released in the first half of the 2010s. In comparison to billy woods’ other releases in the 2010s, Dour Candy falls a bit short – mainly because the smooth instrumentals are just there, less effective in enhancing billy woods’ complex imagery compared to the outstanding soundscapes on History Will Absolve MeKnown Unknows (2017) and Hiding Places (2019). Make no mistake though: Blockhead’s production is more than solid, and as always Dour Candy first and foremost is all about billy woods’ perspective and personality, but the sum of the parts here is not as big as on some of billy woods’ other releases this decade. Dour Candy is solid billy woods nevertheless and even a middle of the road billy woods release is better than most rappers’ best.

15. Armand Hammer - Shrines (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Masterfully produced left-field instrumentals serve as claustrophobic backdrops for a barrage of dense and dizzying lyrics. By now we know what to expect from Armand Hammer. There’s never anything straightforward in the messages ELUCID and billy woods come with, and on Shrines, their lyrics are as fogged in metaphors and hidden meanings as always – it’s going to take a while to dissect these bars.

Shrines has vocal contributions from Quelle Chris, Earl Sweatshirt, Akai Solo, Curly Castro, Pink Siifu, and R.A.P. Ferreira – among others. A stacked features list, but a carefully curated one – none of these artists feel out of place here. They were invited because they are all perfectly in tune with the Armand Hammer aesthetic.

Shrines is singularly attuned to the grim political and societal realities of 2020. The cover art of the album (which is a real news photo of the subduing of a 425-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger reared and living in a Harlem apartment) is like a micro snapshot of the crazy world we live in, and the image reflects the album’s content. This is not a casual listen by any means, but an album that demands – and rewards – close attention and engagement. Shrines is another Armand Hammer master class in left-field Hip Hop, and a superlative continuation of their hot streak.

14. ELUCID - Save Yourself (2016)

Born in Queens and raised in Long Island, longtime Brooklyn resident ELUCID worked with some of indie Hip Hop’s most celebrated artists: Open Mike Eagle, Tanya Morgan, J*Davey, Beans from Antipop, milo, billy woods, Busdriver, Small Professor, and Rob Sonic, amongst others. He’s put out a few mixtapes and a couple of collaborative projects—as part of Cult-Favorite with A.M. Breakups, and Armand Hammer with billy woods – but never a solo album, until this one. While a couple of outside producers like Willie Green, Messiah Musik, and A.M. Breakups, make memorable contributions, Save Yourself is primarily self-produced.

Save Yourself is my most immediate and personal record to date. It’s difficult to articulate but handling the bulk of production may have had something to do with that. I didn’t really know what I was making. When the spirit moved, the raps poured out. I was talking about myself. My community. About where I came from and future possibilities,” ELUCID says on his Bandcamp page. “At its core, Save Yourself is about rebirth—of both self and community. An examination. An assessment. A shedding. I was working through personal issues that spilled over into the music. Events regarding police brutality and shootings of unarmed black folk dominated news headlines in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Liberation was on my mind. I reaffirmed myself in the idea that I couldn’t truly be free until we were all free.”

Save Yourself is yet another dope project coming out of the Backwoodz Studioz camp, if you’re into billy woods and/or Armand Hammer, or ‘experimental/abstract’ Hip Hop in general, picking up this project is a no-brainer.

13. billy woods - Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Where most of billy woods’ other albums are lengthy explorations of consistent themes, Today I Wrote Nothing is comprised of short stories and vignettes that thematically leap back and forth, on songs that are mostly short: 2 minutes on average. Taking influences from sources like HBO’s “The Wire” and Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”, woods lets go his typical brand of stream-of-consciousness type lyrics. The brevity of the songs and the broadness of themes, and woods’ fleeting but vivid imagery can make this album feel incohesive, but the common thread binding the 24 tracks on Today I Wrote Nothing is woods’ conversational rapping style and scalding wit. Like all other billy woods projects, Today I Wrote Nothing has an incredible amount of depth and requires multiple listens to unravel just what exactly woods is meaning to say. That said, the experience is ultimately rewarding – and even if this is not even the best album billy woods has released in the 2010s, it is an essential part of his catalog and it helps cement his status as one of the decades MVPs.

12. ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Curly Castro and PremRock are ShrapKnel, the formal pairing of two longtime friends and artistic collaborators. It was a shared affinity for emcee/producer ELUCID’s beats that sparked the ShrapKnel project. Curly Castro and PremRock debuted as a duo with Cobalt, their 2019 debut EP. Just like on Cobalt, the chemistry between Curly Castro and PremRock is evident and the instrumentals here are awesome – all beats were crafted by ELUCID, in conjunction with Backwoodz-affiliated producer Willie Green. ShrapKnel is more accessible than most of ELUCID’s projects are, but the beats are still unorthodox enough to set this project apart from most other Hip Hop releases.

ShrapKnel features guest appearances from Castle, Zilla Rocca, Googie, Henry Canyons, and billy woods, adding to the lyrical variety brought on by PremRock’s smooth delivery and Castro’s more aggressive growl. The way they trade rhymes is dope as f, the boom-bap rhythms and deliveries fit with ELUCID’s more industrial/experimental touches. ShrapKnel‘s all-around vibe is reminiscent of the best releases in the heyday of DefJux around the turn of the millennium, a great recommendation of course. The album starts off strong with the brilliantly titled “Ghostface Targaryean” and doesn’t let up

11. Super Chron Flight Brothers - Cape Verde (2010)

Cape Verde is billy woods and Priviledge third and last album together, and it’s just about as good as their debut Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007) is with the same kind of multi-faceted artistry. Like on Emergency Powers, billy woods and Priviledge have a lot to say – and their clever and ironic wit is thought-provoking and fun from start to finish. The layered beats have just the right experimental edge, and in conjunction with the rhymes, the content totally captivates (even if the instrumentals at times overpower the vocals). Informed, hilarious, and thought-provoking – with Cape Verde Super Chron Flight Brothers went out on a high note.

10. Curly Castro - Little Robert Hutton (2021)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

“Curly Castro’s new album Little Robert Hutton is a pæn to the radical imagination. Over the course of fourteen songs, the Bajan-American artist fuses his vivid wordplay with a historical continuum of black revolutionary thought and the result is an AfroFuturist vision in 3-D IMAX. This is Castro’s rawest and most uncompromising work, the heat from a thousand ghetto uprisings smoldering in every bar. Lyrical gymnastics take a backseat to the power of the word and the concussive energy of the beats. Little Robert Hutton is hard in every sense of the word, speaker rattling banger after banger. That production is handled by Quelle Chris, Messiah Musik, Blueprint, August Fanon, Locust, DOS4GW, and Jason Griff. The album also features guest appearances from Breezly Brewin, Mr. Lif, PremRock, billy woods, Zilla Rocca, Marcus Pinn, ALASKA, SKECH185, Candice Murray, and Margel the Sophant.”

Curly Castro has been on our radar for a good while now. His ShrapKnel album (with PremRock) is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2020. His solo debut FIDEL (2013) was our favorite Curly Castro LP up to now, but Little Robert Hutton is even better. Lyrically profound and fun in equal measures, and musically adventurous with captivating soundscapes from start to finish – Little Robert Hutton is an intense album you shouldn’t sleep on.

9. Super Chron Flight Brothers - Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007)

Emergency Powers: The World Tour is billy woods and Priviledge’s first and best album. Emergency Powers is packed with intricate and intelligent rhymes about societal issues, nicely balanced with lots of weed raps and some straight-up braggadocio – this is a clever and witty piece of work that stays entertaining for its full 71-minute duration. The MF DOOM-Esque musical backdrops (DOOM actually produced one song) are dope as f too, rhymes and beats go together beautifully here. Emergency Powers is a striking debut, and one of the most slept-on albums of 2007.

8. Armand Hammer - Race Music (2013)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Race Music is one of the three excellent albums released by Armand Hammer in the 2010s. It requires multiple listens to unpack all subtleties and to begin to see through the intricacies of the project, as is always the case with releases from billy woods and ELUCID, be it solo or as Armand Hammer. Race Music is another signature dense experience, filled with the duo’s vivid and disjointed imagery. The soundscapes are crafted to fit the lyrics – heavy, slow beats laced with off-kilter electronics and synths. Not for the uninitiated, but for those who are into this particular brand of Hip Hop, Race Music is pure gold.

7. Moor Mother & billy woods - BRASS (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

BRASS is a collaborative album from experimental musician and poet Moor Mother and the rapper billy woods (½ of Armand Hammer). After working together on Armand Hammer’s critically acclaimed 2020 LP Shrines, Moor Mother and woods released the song “Furies” for the Adult Swim single series in July. A whirl of interweaving allegories spun over producer Willie Green’s hypnotic flip of a Sons of Kmet sample, “Furies” was the burning arrow that both artists followed, the first crack of thunder in a blackening sky.

BRASS sees both artists joined by an eclectic array of friends, family, and legends- in some cases all three. John Forte, ELUCID, Amirtha Kidambi, Franklin James Fisher (Algiers), Mach Hommy, Imani Robinson, Wolf Weston (Saint Mela), Navy Blue, and Fielded all lend their voices to the project. Production by The Alchemist, Preservation, Moor Mother, Olof Melander, Child Actor, Navy Blue, Messiah Muzik, Steel Tipped Dove, and Willie Green.

BRASS is a moment where two great artists in their own right tap into a new frequency together. Even for those familiar with both, it’s an unexpected sound that, once heard, could never have been otherwise. It is both ethereal and utilitarian, timeless and timeworn. A cast-iron pot propped over a fire in the dark. A tropical beach shimmering with broken glass.”

This Bandcamp blurb tells the story of this project. BRASS is one of the most unique and intriguing listens of the year, a great feat in a year with A LOT of excellent ‘left-field’ Hip Hop albums. Moor Mother and billy woods have great chemistry together, and they recruited exactly the right artists for the guest spots on this project.

For people who like their Hip Hop experimental, dense, and challenging, the genre-boundaries pushing BRASS will be a quick favorite. For others, BRASS may be somewhat of a slow-burner, a project though that will reward multiple listenings. BRASS is a great album.

6. Armand Hammer - Rome (2017)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Rome is the second album by Armand Hammer, those familiar with the respective artist’s other work, you know what to expect: raw, cryptic lyrics and dark, grimy, off-kilter beats. Despite work on the boards from a host of different producers – Messiah Musik, August Fanon, Fresh Kills, High Priest, Kenny Segal, and JPEGMafia – Rome sounds entirely cohesive, also thanks to the as per usual intriguing lyrical performances of ELUCID and billy woods. Cerebal, stream-of-consciousness rhymes and stinging observations (“skimmed through your music, found no reason not to approve it/it was all relatively toothless, you’re just a guy”) – this is one of those albums with endless replay value, on which you can discover something new with each spin. Rome may be a dark and challenging listen, but it’s a hypnotically beautiful experience if you allow yourself to be grabbed by it.

5. billy woods & Kenny Segal - Hiding Places (2019)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Hiding Places has billy woods collaborating with producer L.A.-based producer Kenny Segal – a partnership that results in another typical billy woods release. Deep, dark, and weighty lyrics, sometimes bordering on surrealism but always intelligent and with substance – this is alternative Hip Hop at its finest.

4. Armand Hammer - Paraffin (2018)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Paraffin is sonically and lyrically as dense as you might expect from ELUCID and billy woods. The way the duo paints lyrical pictures is neither straightforward nor easy to decipher. But it doesn’t have to be easy – this is Hip Hop for thinking people. Both men’s cerebral lyrics are dark and heavy, but humorous here and there at the same time. Paraffin is amazingly produced and lyrically incredibly layered – Armand Hammer has something substantial to say for those motivated and intellectually equipped to really listen. Not for everybody, but for those who appreciate abstract, experimental Hip Hop Paraffin is a must.

3. billy woods - Known Unknowns (2017)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Known Unknowns is one of our favorite albums of 2017 and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the 2010s, but it was totally overlooked by most Hip Hop fans and noticed only by those heads who dig deep or those who have always been following billy woods. Substance over fluff, creativity over genericness, intelligence over materialism – that’s what characterizes billy woods, and knowing that dumb sh** dominates the mainstream it means little chance on mainstream exposure for woods’ music. Known Unknowns is one of billy woods’ most easy-to-get-into albums, mainly because of Blockhead’s dope and reasonably accessible production (with also a couple of beats crafted by Aesop Rock).

2. Armand Hammer - Haram (2021)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

For Haram Armand Hammer joined forces with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. This is what the blurb says about the album: 

“Haram is a mercurial collaboration between incendiary rap duo Armand Hammer, and living legend The Alchemist. For the first time ELUCID and billy woods have crafted an album with a single producer and the result is extraordinary. With their unmatched penchant for stirring imagery and incisive storytelling, the two rappers dive into an ocean of Alchemist’s creation: warmly inviting on the surface, black and bone-crushingly cold at depth. Haram is a collection of the profane and the pure; a reminder that that which is forbidden is also sacrosanct.

The artists are joined by their friends and fellow travelers on this journey. KAYANA’s golden voice ups the wattage on “Black Sunlight,” while Fielded’s sultry alto gets chopped and screwed on “Aubergine”. Earl Sweatshirt makes a sun-soaked appearance, while Curly Castro and Amani mix like ice and salt on Brooklyn sidewalks, and Quelle Chris, as always, finds a pocket all his own. Still, there is a natural rapport that belies the New York-to-Los Angeles-and-back nature of the project, allowing Haram to be more than the sum of its parts, however impressive those parts may be. This isn’t just the genre’s most insistent contemporary voices paired with arguably its best producer. This is when you buy a beautiful house only to discover, hidden behind a heavy bookcase, a stairway twisting up and away into the darkness.”

Now, the question is: is Haram on par with billy woods’ and Armand Hammer’s earlier releases? The answer is: yes, Haram 100% met expectations – it may even one-up the stellar Paraffin as Armand Hammer’s best work yet. On Haram, the Islamic term meaning “forbidden”, billy woods and ELUCID explore all kinds of taboos – in their own cryptic ways. As always, it takes some effort on the part of the listener to penetrate the dense poetics penned by billy woods and ELUCID – there’s is so much to unpack and to think about here, it gives Haram endless replay value.

The Alchemist’s work on the boards arguably makes Haram a little more accessible than the four previous Armand Hammer albums are, but his atmospheric instrumentals are left-field enough to suit billy woods and ELUCID avant-garde rhyming. This is The Alchemist’s finest music in a while, even better than his much-lauded work on Freddie Gibb’s Alfredo of last year – in fact, we will go as far as to say The Alchemist crafted a masterpiece here.

Stand-outs include  “Falling Out The Sky”, with some incredible lyrical imagery also from guest rapper Earl Sweatshirt, “Wishing Bad”, “Chicharonnes”, with a bone-chilling instrumental over which billy woods and Quelle Chris tackle police violence and BLM, likening the whole culture to pigs on a spit roast, and “Stonefruit”, with a jaw-dropping last verse from billy woods to close the album out on a high note. Besides these 4 stand-outs, there are no weak tracks on Haram – everything on the album is well-thought-out and perfectly executed – even the gruesome album cover which serves to enhance the mood of the music, in an in-your-face kind of way, with no hint of artificial coolness. Haram is a confirmation of Armand Hammer’s status as one of the most intriguing and most consistent duos in contemporary Hip Hop.

1. billy woods - History Will Absolve Me (2012)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

History Will Absolve Me is billy woods’ 3rd full-length solo album, and his best. The cover of this album has a close-up picture of controversial former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe paired with one of Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s most infamous quotes – an album cover that clearly indicates this is not a bubblegum rap album. Musically this album could have been part of the Def Jux realm with its dusty and experimental-sounding musical backdrops. The beats set the perfect stage for woods’ staccato flow and thought-provoking lyrics; with his views on subjects as politics, race, sex, and class. History Will Absolve Me is a challenging and intense listening experience, but ultimately an extremely rewarding one. History Will Absolve Me is one of the best albums in 2012.

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