Home Music Armand Hammer/The Alchemist: Haram

Armand Hammer/The Alchemist: Haram

Of all the words used to commonly describe the music of rap duo Billy Woods and Elucid, A.K.A. Armand Hammer, none seem as misleading as “paranoid.” Describing the layered verses of these two artists as paranoid implies that what they’re feeling may be unfounded in reality. But the more one listens to Armand Hammer, it becomes apparent that these men simply exist in a world that we as listeners are too far removed from to even comprehend. But based on how obtuse their writing tends to be, it seems like a safe bet that even they have trouble coming to grips with it.

Their newest album, Haram, finds Armand Hammer collaborating with legendary producer The Alchemist, representing a vast departure from their modus operandi of featuring a plethora of producers across the tracklist. This isn’t to say that Armand Hammer ever suffered from sounding scattered, at least on the production front – and if they did, it is almost certainly a deliberate decision. That being said, their sonic direction here is focused while still providing plenty of variety. Opener “Sir Benni Miles” fades in with pulsating synths, easing the listener into the hazy and dingy atmosphere with which the album drips. From the smoke emerges Woods and Elucid, setting the tone of the album perfectly.

On Haram, both rappers hold true to what Armand Hammer fans know them for. By this point, it should be expected that Elucid’s verses are going to take at least three listens each to even grasp what he’s saying, given the off-kilter flow that he has now mastered. However, from time to time he still manages to produce some beautiful poetry that catches you off-guard, one particularly bone-chilling example being “Learned to swim in a pool where a boy drowned last year/ Wax in my ear/ I heard voices I couldn’t make out in the deep end/ When I dipped my head under, ‘Come again?’” Woods, while easier to follow, still has a way of storytelling that is convoluted while remaining compact, evoking the emotions one would be experiencing in the situation without explicitly telling a linear narrative. This leads to endless quotables, such as “Genuflected when I heard the weed price/ White boys with the weed pipes.

Alchemist does not hold back, giving Armand Hammer some of the most unorthodox beats they’ve ever rapped over. The only true head-scratcher is the beat “Peppertree,” which is too busy for Woods to ever find a good flow on, and since the song is so short, it never even has a chance to develop into anything tangible. Some others, particularly “Squeegee” and “Robert Moses,” do a good job of maintaining the tone of the album, but unfortunately are built around relatively simple loops that don’t live up to the inventiveness of some other beats on the album.

Apart from these few examples, Alchemist lays down some of the best production of the year. The prominent rock drums and murmuring drones on “Aubergine” and Euclid’s aggressive delivery simultaneously contrast and reinforce Fielded’s haunting vocal accompaniment. Beyond Fielded, it is safe to say that every single feature across Haram significantly raises the quality of whichever song they appear on. Earl Sweatshirt matches the lazy synths of “Falling out the Sky,” and Curly Castro bodies “Wishing Bad” with bars like “Fuck Puff, survivor’s remorse should keep him fucked up/ Riding out on a warhorse, leave dummies dumbstruck.” Nothing on the album, however, matches the cinematic scope of “Chicharonnes,” with it’s siren-like synths and descending bass dragging us by the ankle, deeper down the rabbit hole. There is a sense that by this point in the album, we have reached the absolute rock-bottom of society, far too deep for any natural source of light to reach. Quelle Chris shines on his verse and chorus with some lyrical highlights like “We let BLM be the new FUBU, we ain’t bros/ Wake up like Dap, hollering at HBCUs.

“Stonefruit” serves as the album’s closer, and genuinely might be the best hip-hop song of the year. Alchemist’s elegant and bittersweet production beautifully complements Euclid’s impassioned singing, and Woods raps one of the best verses he has ever recorded. “She left what was left in a ditch, she dream of the sex/ She finished on top and howled in the crook of my neck/ She dragged the bones home and built a bed/ She drank rosé out the skull but held it gentle as my living head.” These are the shouted lines that close out his final verse on the album, ending the listening experience on the highest possible note one could imagine.

In many ways, Haram is just another Armand Hammer project with an Alchemist-colored coat of paint. All of the conventions are here, simply elevated by some superior production. The thing about Armand Hammer releases, though, is that they are almost guaranteed to be one of the best hip-hop releases all year, and this time is no different. Yes, some verses are intimidating to approach given the multilayered nature of the two artists writing. And yes, some of the beats don’t quite click, or they blend into the background. But if you can get past these ankle-high hurdles, this album is a must-listen for anyone who calls themselves a hip-hop head.

If you can get past some ankle-high hurdles, this album is a must-listen for anyone who calls themselves a hip-hop head.
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