Here is my interview with the brilliant and prolific billy woods. This interview and much more can be found in our Spring/Summer Jugo and Rada Zine. We worked really hard with lots of artists to make a cool Zine. Get your copy for only $5. We are also trying to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Afrorack Chicago through these amazing shirts. Please help a great cause.
billy woods and Elucid (Armand Hammer) released the critically acclaimed album, Shrines on June 5. Cop it here. I wanted to pick billy’s brain about the current state of our country, releasing an album during a pandemic, and his influences as an artist and label runner. He has established one of the most consistent hip hop record labels in the world, Backwoodz Studioz. The artists on the roster are eclectic and diverse in sound but all fit. I highly suggest visiting their website and giving it a chance. Lyrically, few are on par with this roster. Aesthetically and musically, they are refreshingly unique. I am super proud of getting a chance to talk to billy woods. Enjoy.
1. You and most of the artists on Backwoodz seem to get a lot of your writing and inspiration from what is going on in society. In this time of turmoil, is your reaction to try and produce art immediately about it to respond or do you take time to write? Or is this something different entirely?
Hmm. Well, I can only speak for myself but I would say that I get inspiration and ideas from what is happening in my life. It comes from the people, places and circumstances that I encounter, from the art that I am see or hear, the ideas that I am exposed to. So, part of that certainly falls under the umbrella of “what is going on in society” and occasionally there are specific events (big or small) that I could tie to a particular song, but I don’t watch the news, sit down and start rapping.
2. Can you tell us the process of releasing an album during a pandemic? We saw many artists delay their releases, why did you think it was important to still release Shrines?
Well, it was important because I can’t tour with this happening but I still have bills to pay. And beyond that, what would be the benefit of waiting? I try not to rush things out but this was not rushed, we had our vinyl done, we had videos ready, so I would have needed a compelling reason to call it off. Without knowing when this would be over, or what things will look like at that time, we felt it best to stick with our schedule.
3. I can try guess your influences based on delivery and sound: Cannibal Ox, the Def Jux Records crew. That could be wrong. If wrong, who inspires you currently or who has influenced your sound?
Vordul Mega and I had a personal relationship that predates anything rap related, but he was a huge influence on me as an artist, simply because he is the one who convinced me I could do it. There are so many different types of “influences”, it’s difficult to answer this question because there are people who I listened to a lot growing up i.e. Public Enemy, Redman, The Coup, Black Sheep, Goodie Mob, The Wu, etc. Then there are people whose styles I admired or tried to learn from when I was starting to do music like Ghostface,Cam’Ron, MF DOOM, Bigg Jus. Then there are people who I actually was around, who I learned things from, like Vordul or ELUCID.
4. Do you pay attention to music reviews? How does it feel to know that Shrines is being considered one of the best albums of 2020 so far?
Yes, I do. It feels like there are lots of months left in the year.
5. There are several features on Shrines. Can you give some insight on how an artist like Earl gets on your album? Do you reach or does he? Or do you guys have “people” that do that?
Each situation was different. Earl and I had actually connected some time ago, kinda through Mach Hommy, actually. He was the one who was like yo, I gave Earl your contact info. Probably 2018, I’m not sure. Moor Mother is someone who already had a working relationship with ELUCID, and then we all did a show together, and built on it more. Curly Castro is my friend and we have all collaborated many times. Andrew Broder just reached out, basically because he dug Hiding Places and I talked him into contributing to this project. I still have never met Nosaj, ELUCID made all that happen.
So yeah, there was no one way that these collaborations happened.
6. A few months ago, we decided to launch our record label (Jugo + Rada Records). As someone who has grown your label into something we aspire to be, what advice can you give? Please don’t tell me to quit like others have said.
Jesus, that’s a tough one. I would say, figure out what you are trying to do, what your aesthetics and sound is, what type of business you want to run…and focus on doing those things the best that you can.
Thanks again for your time and your art. It is inspiring and I thank you.
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