Quest digs deep into hiding places, a compelling hip-hop opus crafted by Brooklyn rapper billy woods and LA beat scene staple Kenny Segal…
“To be honest, when we started recording hiding places I didn’t fully understand billy woods lyrically yet,” says Kenny Segal, the Los Angeles-based producer whose full-length team up with the Brooklyn wordsmith backs the MC’s sharp declarative lyrics with moody, heavy duty beats spiked with abrasive flashes of guitar. “Of course, I caught the great one liners and quotables, but it wasn’t ’til about halfway into the project that I started grasping the bigger pictures he was weaving.”
Segal’s initial reaction to hearing woods rhyme isn’t unusual: As a rapper, woods chisels deep trenches of personal and political commentary into his bars, which he often laces with a wicked streak of humor. Case in point: The loose, bluesy guitar lines of album cut “checkpoints” prompt him to open his account by rapping, “If I haven’t heard a word in ten years, assume me dead/Or guest to the feds/Or cultivated a better class of friends.” Woods follows this up by weaving in references to classic Wu-Tang Clan skits and alluding to the FBI surveilling Dr. Martin Luther King. Like the rest of woods’s body of work—which also includes a run of critically-acclaimed albums cut in tandem with his rhyme partner ELUCID and released under the group name Armand Hammer—hiding places wills the listener to steadily unpack its verses until the emotional core of the rapper’s writing is revealed. “There’s interesting surface stuff to draw you in,” says Segal, “but then you start to realize how many intricate layers there are to decipher. I love working with artists like that—people that create entire worlds around their music.”
The genesis of hiding places was sparked by two of woods and Segal’s regular collaborators. After Segal heard a guest verse from ELUCID on art rap stylist Milo‘s 2015 so the flies don’t come album (a project Segal produced), he reached out to the MC and sent over the beat that became the otherworldly, static-swaddled “Pergamum” on Armand Hammer’s 2017 ROME project. “Once they sent me the lyrics for that one it totally blew me away,” says Segal. At the time of the collaboration, woods says, “I had still never met the guy, didn’t have any idea what he looked like, nothing.” But after Segal attended the opening party for the Soulfolks record store that Milo opened in Maine, he headed down to New York City for a few days and hung out with woods. They bonded naturally and Segal was soon providing further beats for Armand Hammer’s firebrand Paraffin album, before he and woods decided to pool their talents and craft a full length project together.
Hiding places has teased out something new in both the MC’s lyrics and the producer’s music. Segal’s beats are often bucolic affairs, locking into a dreamy, hypnotic groove; but taking a cue from what he calls woods’s “deep, gritty NYC type of flow,” Segal’s sonic backdrops on the album resonate with an alluringly sparse, spectral quality. The uncluttered style of production allows woods’s voice the space to shine, which in turn lets his words connect more directly—and more emotionally—with the listener. Woods says his lyrics on the project were written from “a very immediate place.” He adds that Segal’s music prompted “a different side in how I rhymed and where I rhymed. And to be certain, this record sounds the way it is, and has the mood it has, in large part because Kenny saw where I was going and pushed further.”
The chemistry between Woods and Segal becomes most affecting on “a day in a week in a year.” The beat is a lesson in tender restraint, hooked around a bittersweet piano motif that inspires woods to flashback through a bank of personal memories. The song culminates with woods in a “dollar movie theater dingy foyer” in Montgomery Country, Maryland. “Life is just two quarters in the machine/But either you got it or don’t, that’s the thing/I was still hitting the buttons, “Game over” on the screen,” he raps before reaching the climax: “Little kid not a penny to my name/Fuckin’ with the joystick pretending I was really playing.” It’s a poignant vignette that blends together metaphor and autobiographical detail, and it winds up conveying the heart of the whole album. As woods puts it in words that echo 2Pac, “It’s the realist shit I ever wrote.”
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