As one half of the duo Armand Hammer, billy woods has been responsible for some of the best rap music I’ve heard in recent years, including the 2021 Alchemist collab Haram. But billy woods also makes some truly powerful music outside of the context of Armand Hammer — like BRASS, his 2020 collaborative LP with Moor Mother, or like the Kenny Segal-produced Hiding Places, one of the best rap records of the past few years. In recent months, woods has shown up on tracks from artists like Open Mike Eagle, Your Old Droog, and Earl Sweatshirt. Today, woods has released his first solo album in a couple of years, and it’s as great as you’d expect.

The new billy woods album Aethiopes was almost entirely produced by Preservation, the New York beatmaker who teamed up with Ka for the excellent 2015 LP Days With Dr. Yen Lo and who released his own great guest-heavy album Eastern Medicine, Western Illness in 2020. Preservation’s style is dense and haunted. Its atmosphere owes a lot to jazz, film scores, and psychedelia, and it’s rarely too concerned with drums. That style gives woods plenty of room to ruminate on the atrocities of 21st-century life, and there’s really nobody better at doing that.

In some ways, Aethiopes is a solitary, inward kind of headphones record. In another, though, it’s a look at the underground rap community working at the highest possible level. There are a ton of guests on Aethiopes, and all of them put in great work, including El-P, Boldy James, Quelle Chris, Fatboi Sharif, Despot, Breeze Brewin, Gabe ‘Nandez, Mike Ladd, Denmark Vessey, dancehall legend Shinehead, and woods’ Armand Hammer partner Elucid. This is a great record, and you can stream it below.

Aethiopes is out now on Backwoodz Studioz. You can get it at Bandcamp.