billy woods and Elucid are barreling their approach by means of fever desires involving exiled Ethiopian presidents, boxing matches with daytime TV judges, and damaged guarantees from God, as a crowd of round 800 folks appears on, transfixed. At this New Jersey set in the course of the doldrums of winter, a part of a pageant supporting DIY tradition organized by the punk band Screaming Females, woods paces the stage dressed just like the underground-rap lifer he’s, his lengthy locs stuffed right into a hoodie beneath a maroon windbreaker. His booming voice provides dimension to solo tracks that weave dry humor and hyper-specific political and literary references right into a tapestry of grave paranoia; Elucid, in a black zip-up sweater and cuffed khakis, follows together with his personal time-jumping astral projections. Experiencing their model of left-of-center hip-hop can really feel like doomscrolling whereas hurtling by means of whitewater rapids: It’s treacherous, disorienting, flowing, and entertaining unexpectedly.
By the point they begin operating by means of their songs as a duo beneath the moniker Armand Hammer, notably from 2021’s Haram, their collaborative album with the Alchemist, the diehard followers of woods’ long-running Backwoodz Studioz label really reveal themselves. A cheer erupts from the again of the room when the psychedelic beat for “Black Sunlight” churns to life, earlier than woods offsets the sleek instrumental with bars that zip from the disgraced funding financial institution Bear Stearns to Wesley Snipes’ taxes to KMD’s cult traditional 1993 album Black Bastards, like a deadpan Ghostface Killah. A number of folks let their rap arms fly, together with one within the mosh pit who’s rapping each phrase to the eerie “Scaffolds,” together with ominous parables in miniature like, “Males wrack our brains over previous deeds/Certainly the bottom’s chilly however the bones not deep.”
After their set it turns into even clearer how deep the fandom runs. The road for Backwoodz merch curls by means of one entrance and circles again into one other. By the point I make it to the entrance, sure CDs are utterly offered out. One loyalist who traveled an hour and a half to see Armand Hammer carry out carries a cardboard field beneath his arm full of Backwoodz vinyl, together with out-of-print albums and particular editions. When he will get to the desk, Elucid and woods gently sift by means of the stack, humbled at their very own historical past staring them within the face, and patiently signal each report.
Such devotion isn’t one thing woods would’ve anticipated when he first based Backwoodz Studioz in 2002. What began as a one-man operation has ballooned into an indie rap powerhouse with a rising roster of like-minded artists wanting to buck the system. For the reason that launch of woods’ acclaimed 2012 solo album History Will Absolve Me specifically, Backwoodz has been on a gradual incline when it comes to each revenue and high quality, garnering cosigns from rap names throughout the spectrum, from Earl Sweatshirt to El-P to Moor Mom. The label is a part of the lineage of unbiased New York hip-hop, standing on the shoulders of Fondle ‘Em Information, Definitive Jux, Rawkus, and Fats Beats, charting a path for uncompromising rap by itself frequency. “We’re on the level now the place we should be included within the dialog,” says woods, “even when it’s simply, ‘I hate them dudes.’”