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Baker's Dozen

Origin Story: Billy Woods' Favourite Albums
Zachary Lipez , May 24th, 2023 08:25

As he releases acclaimed new album Maps alongside Kenny Segal, underground hip hop mainstay Billy Woods takes tQ through the thirteen records that have defined his life, from Goodie Mob to Ghostface Killah


Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back

This is the origin story for me and hip hop music, really. At the end of 1989 we’d moved back [to the United States after spending part of his childhood in Zimbabwe] and we were staying with some family friends, Jamaican Americans, in the DMV area right outside of Washington, D.C. They went to the video store and got movies, and one of them was Do The Right Thing. We watched it and I was just blown away. Though I was born here, it was really me finding out about America on the fly. The movie was just really powerful, and then the music, of course. At the end of the VHS version it had a video, I think shot in Fort Greene, for ‘Fight The Power’ with Public Enemy marching in the streets and doing the song. Flavor Flav, the Nation of Islam… I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ After that, I was like, ‘I have to hear this.’ I had heard of Public Enemy before, actually, when I was younger. I had been in Amsterdam, going back and forth from Zimbabwe and I had wanted a Public Enemy T-shirt. My mom was like, ‘No, I'm not buying you a t-shirt with a gun sight on it.’ And I was like ‘Aw, man!’

So, the first piece of music I ever got with my own money was a Public Enemy cassette. I didn't even check it, you know, I just knew it was the new Public Enemy. I bought the cassette, I walked home, put that joint on, and started looking through the liner notes. They had the lyrics, which is part of why I try to put those in my records because that really helped me acclimate myself to rap music. So I'm looking into the liner notes, and I realise that ‘Fight The Power’ isn't on the album. It was a song they did for the movie that actually ended up being so successful that they put it on their next album. But I listen to the whole thing and I was like, ‘This shit is crazy.’ ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’, ‘Night Of The Living Baseheads’... I was like, ‘This is great!’ It was political, it was angry. It was sonically unlike anything I'd ever heard before. And so perfect, you know? And, just having become a teenager, you know, here was a very angry, politically groundbreaking, discordant sound.

It was like exactly what a teenage boy wants out of the first piece of music they ever buy. Fuck the system. And then the juxtaposition, obviously, of Chuck with all his politics and Flavor Flav just clowning. That was it for me. From then on I was just into rap music.