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022 :: MAPS

022 :: MAPS
Aug 7, 2023 · 10m 56s

FEATURING Maps by billy woods and Kenny Segal, released by Backwoodz Studioz in 2023. / - - - - TRANSCRIPT Here's a little secret:...

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Maps by billy woods and Kenny Segal, released by Backwoodz Studioz in 2023. Listen / Buy direct


Here's a little secret: When I listen to music, the lyrics are typically what I hear last. I am drawn to the sounds and harmonies and rhythms; but the words often pass me by. Which may make a lyrical genre like hip-hop seem like it'd be a nonstarter for me. But of course it isn't; for how could you pass up music like this?

Though actually, maybe hip-hop is an easy sell for a listener like me, because hip-hop is about so much more than the literal words. Even before you can make out a single lyric, you can feel what this music is expressing. It's in the MC's voice, with its sure-footed delivery and breathless flow. It's in the DJ's production, with its languid boom-bap and far-off horns like sirens. It's tuned every aspect of its sound to create a feeling that is at once laid-back and confident and filled with a sense of underlying dread. And what could be more musical than that?

But this isn't just music that you can vibe to. This is lyrical music at the end of the day, and it's in its words that it truly distinguishes itself. Its verses are densely packed poetry, and even before you can start parsing their content, you can luxuriate in the pure sound of the language – the effortless flurry of assonant syllables ricocheting off each other in syncopated slant rhymes and the way each phrase seems to fall out in a natural rhythm as it rolls off the tongue. The words just sound good, independent of what they mean or what they're being used to say, showcasing the musicality that's always there in language, just waiting for someone to coax it out.

Or maybe this is just me, continuing to avoid actually hearing the lyrics, and picking up on every other musical element instead. Not that the MC makes it easy to follow along. Even with a lyric sheet out in front of you, it can be hard to decipher what's being said. Lines shift between perspectives and timeframes and locales, feeling less like a sequential narrative and more like a stream of consciousness, a pastiche of vivid images flashing before the mind's eye:

The sunset in the desert...
I sip Mexico's best slow...
Unbroken wild ponies...
Only the lonely big tree like a sundial

But the fragmentary quality of the lyrics is by design. Because if this record is about anything, it's about being on the road – and not just in the sense of living an itinerant lifestyle, but more deeply in the sense of the state of mind that that life puts you in: how the continuous bombardment of unfamiliar sights and sounds can make you turn inward and how the constant movement from one place to another can end up grounding you in where you're from. That's why we find the MC, in the middle of a crowded party...

Smoking alone in a cardigan
Thinking of home

It's that feeling of double consciousness, of being physically in one place while being mentally in another, of being uncommonly receptive to the world around you while being trapped in your own thoughts and interiority, of being on the road while feeling like you've never left.

It's a vibe, to be sure, but more than its particular vibe, what I appreciate most about this music is the power of its language: its specificity, its creativity, its evocative nature. Even when I'm only catching passing glances of the lyrics as they zip by, I feel transported by the potency of the imagery. These are words that you can see, taste, and smell. The MC isn't just telling us about being on the road; they're bringing us along for the ride.

But all odysseys must come to an end. And so, in this last song, the MC returns home – but as they take in the sights of their New York City streets, nothing is how they remember it. All they see are new people, new buildings, new shops, new goods – and all they can think of is how things used to be. As they say, "I'm home, but my mind be wandering off." Because home isn't a place you can actually go back to, or rather, home is only a place you can go back to in your mind. And really, this is how we've been travelling all along. It's not about the places we go; it's about where those places take us – the thoughts they occasion, the memories they bring up, the way they direct and divert our attention, and the poetry they help us see in the world around us.
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Author Willie Costello

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