What's Good: The Weekly New Music Newsletter is a new publication by Pitchfork’s founder and former Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Schreiber. A companion to his long-running weekly playlist of the same name, What’s Good outlines the week’s most essential tracks and albums, with a special focus on new and emerging artists. It's available on Tidal, as well as Apple Music and Spotify. If you like what you see, go ahead and subscribe. (It's free.)
billy woods — Aethiopes
It’s been two long decades since New York rapper billy woods shared much of the spotlight of his 2003 debut, Camouflage, with Vordul Mega of Cannibal Ox, the flagship underground hip-hop duo of what was then one of underground hip-hop’s flagship labels, Def Jux. Back then, El-P’s Def Jux imprint, along with Anticon and Rawkus Records, propped up an indie rap scene that sold records, concert tickets, and t-shirts in spades. There was real money in the game for oddball rappers twisting the genre inside out, but woods struggled to gain a foothold beyond NYC, quietly self-releasing on his own Backwoodz imprint.
2012’s prognostically titled History Will Absolve Me turned more ears in his direction, growing his fanbase to a moderate but extremely loyal few who, during the next several years, would rally behind each release until he finally hauled off and hit a triple. 2019’s Hiding Places, and his two following collabs with Elucid as Armand Hammer, were so undeniable that the shockwaves catapulted him into the headphones of rap fans across the globe.
In retrospect, his solo output during the last decade feels like one of the most epically impressive runs in rap history. To put it all in perspective, he’s been hacking away at the marble since Denzel Curry, Little Simz, and Brockhampton were barely grade-schoolers, and that diligence and determination have honed his abilities to craft sculptures like no other. He’s e.e. cummings via MF Doom, radically restructuring rap’s relationship with language, deploying knotty narratives that can take several listens to solve. He’s in his own orbit now, and Aethiopes is his victory lap from the moon.
Aethiopes just might be the very best album in a discography that’s gradually revealed itself as one of hip-hop’s most striking. Here, he imagines himself tearing down the American dream like Nebuchadnezzar II— a reference that pops up in “Remorseless” among a dazzling interplay of swirling organ and flute from producer Preservation. That’s the album’s penultimate track, and the crowning triumph of Aethiopes’ second half.
“Sauvage,” featuring Boldy James and Gabe ‘Nandez, marks another career highlight. Boldy kicks things off, forgoing his typical tight, precise flow to unfurl bars in poetic meter, mirroring woods’ approach to Joycian free-association. woods’ verse lays out the track’s prevailing narrative with visceral childhood flashbacks: “Dre shot his uncle for beatin' his mom/ Beat the case, started eleventh grade like nothin' was wrong,” he recalls, before summoning a line that illustrates his staggering depth of skill and focus: “E'rything smooth but the gun just hiccuped/ Central American ubermensch is in the bed of a pickup.” It’s the type of abstract brilliance no one but woods could conjure, and the sort of fabulist perspective on reality that animates Aethiopes’ best moments.
Vince Staples — “WHEN SPARKS FLY”
Vince Staples’ last two albums, FM! and Vince Staples, were more or less full-length collaborations with producer Kenny Beats, turning Staples’ music towards a sunnier, pop-leaning direction. That style often worked against the incisive, critical lens through which Vince views the world. Thankfully, his latest, RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART, returns the Long Beach rapper to one of his greatest strengths— beat selection— while re-centering the clear-eyed intensity that made Summertime ‘06 and Big Fish Theory such knockouts.
One of the project’s centerpieces, “WHEN SPARKS FLY,” is an old-school throwback, with a classic boom-bap beat and Staples nodding to Nas’ “I Give You Power,” firing up a codependent dialogue between a man and his gun. Vince raps from the firearm’s perspective, showcasing a lyrical brilliance he plays up to maximum effect: “I don't wanna use protection with you/ But the glove'll keep you safe if you ever get loose.” That’s a triple-entendre, for those counting, and verse two is just as crazy, as the weapon attempts to determine where its handler has gone. It’s Vince at his absolute best, an intoxicating marriage of concept and visceral realism.
Syd — “BMHWDY”
Broken Hearts Club, a new collection of grief-stricken missives from The Internet co-founder Syd, is full of smooth R&B jams and space-disco epics that almost make the pain sound worth processing. Standout cut “BMHWDY” features a lo-fi, early-’00s-style beat from Steve Lacy while Syd picks up the pieces of a relationship that seemed rich with potential until it didn’t. The former Odd Future staple sings, “Can't deny, I miss ya/ But I deleted all your pictures/ You wanna stay friends and that's big of ya/ But girl, I can't get with ya,” capturing that mix of anguish and sorrow that animates all great breakup songs.
Doechii — “Crazy”
Doechii earned herself a coveted deal with TDE via her viral smash, “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” earning comparisons to avant-R&B stars Missy Elliott and Tierra Whack. “Crazy,” the Tampa-born rapper’s second single with her new label, has one of the most talked about music videos of the year, and combines the shit-talking confidence of Rico Nasty with the amped-up vulgarity of Spank Rock: “A bitch gassed like a Texaco/ I mean, a bitch offshore like a Mexico.” Whereas TDE staples like Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad mine cultural issues that span generations, Doechii just wants to get your ass on the floor. There’s beauty in both.
Quelle Chris — “Alive Ain’t Always Living”
Brooklyn indie rap staple Quelle Chris is back with one of his best-ever grooves. “Alive Ain’t Always Living” has a super old-school electric piano vibe that comes on like a super-chilled-out version of Scarface’s “On My Block.” A Wurlitzer organ, strolling and soulful, distorts as if through its own timeworn, built-in speaker. Over half-time drums and that organ sound so warm you could soak up its rays, Chris sings an infectious chorus hook: “I’m so grateful just to be alive, but alive ain’t always living, sometimes n***as just survive.”
Jamie xx — “LET’S DO IT AGAIN”
Jamie xx often seems to hold his Big Summer Club Anthems for right around this time of the year. Following 2015’s Popcaan and Young Thug-assisted classic, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” and his subsequent UK bass classic, In Colour, he stepped back from the spotlight, briefly re-emerging in 2020 with the stellar juke workout, “Idonktnow.” Now he’s come through with “LETS DO IT AGAIN,” a fairly traditional house cut featuring skittering synths and a melodic, looped vocal sample manipulated into a sequence of cascading peaks and valleys. He’s given better, but the vibe remains.
Joy Anonymous — “Joy (Love’s Not Real)”
UK dance producers Henry Counsell and Louis Curran of Joy Anonymous have made a habit of bringing absolutely incredible vibes to any club floor, and never has that been better evidenced than on their cheer-spreading new single. “Joy (Love’s Not Real)” is a classic house throwback with a dash of Daphni, packed to the hilt with hook-laden melodic samples that stack up on each other like a ladder to the roof of Berghain’s Panorama Bar. During the instrumental breakdown, the duo outlines a strikingly accurate mission for their project: “Once love gets in/ It grows/ And it grows/ And it grows/ Until you just can’t ignore it anymore.”
700 BLISS — “Candace Parker (feat. Muqat’a)”
Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) appears completely resistant to classification. Her latest work under the project alias 700 BLISS, a team-up with Jersey producer DJ Haram from their forthcoming album, Nothing to Declare, explodes with booming bass and searing electronics. Their intense, anxious Hyperdub workout, “Candace Parker” (inspired by the WNBA legend), recruits Palestinian DJ Muqata’a, too. As always, Ayewa comes out swinging hard: “They keep telling me to wait/ But I’ma bring it to their face/ I’ma spit it in their face.”
Ethel Cain — “Strangers”
On “Strangers,” Southern Gothic art-rocker Ethel Cain shifts a few degrees to the right of “Gibson Girl,” a song that, itself, shifted several degrees to the left of her 2021 EP, Inbred, drawing at least one notable comparison to the Weeknd’s House of Balloons. This second single from her forthcoming Preacher’s Daughter album sounds closer in spirit to her breakout single, “Crush,” but amps up the drama significantly. A dream-pop epic with expansive, reverb-soaked production, “Strangers” opens not unlike an early Lana Del Rey ballad before finally exploding into shimmering guitar overdrive and booming toms, like a synth-stripped relative of M83’s “Kim and Jessie.”
Arca has issued “Cayó,” a track recorded during the sessions that yielded her five-album KiCK saga in December, in celebration of the vinyl release of that series; Yung Lean’s new album Stardust opens with a fun collab with FKA twigs where she trades in her more reserved vocal style for a punky shout that could easily be mistaken for Grimes; 21-year-old DJ/producer P-rallel dropped an outstanding house cut titled “Can’t Get Enough” featuring rising London singer Rachel Chinouriri whose “Darker Place” cracked the top 50 of my favorite songs of 2021; Atlanta producer Solomon Fesshaye makes his Ghostly debut with “Star City,” a lovely instrumental that mines the fresh nostalgia of the early ‘10s with a sun-soaked Balearic beat and IDM-inflected synth lead; and I’m dropping in one more from Physical Therapy’s excellent Teardrops on My Garage EP, its killer closer, “Emotional Rescue.”
In the indie rock lane, Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen has released a gorgeous solo album, You Belong There, from which virtually any song could have qualified for this playlist, but I chose first single “Shadow in the Frame,” because it’s one of the very best and hasn’t been featured here yet; CFCF issued a deluxe edition of last year’s excellent memoryland with a comforting, lo-fi throwback titled “Indiesong” which appears to draw equal inspiration from 90s Sebadoh and Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine (especially that record’s closing track); and finally, you’re getting another track each from Duster’s latest, Together, and Wet Leg’s self-titled debut, specifically “Angelica,” which, in my opinion, is their best song that wasn’t among their first two singles.
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