Named for the extractive, oil barren, Armand Hammer the enigmatic hip-hop duo Elucid and billy woods have teamed up with the protean producer supreme The Alchemist to construct a penetrating study of the conditions of living, just barely getting by, and living while dying in the form of a new LP, Haram. Haram is the Islamic term for things that are forbidden. A fitting title for a project that shaves up the thin veneer of society’s self-justifying myths to glimpse the spirit-draining void howls beneath.
Last year, Armand Hammer released Shrines, an album that referenced the Brooklyn Tiger King in a meditation on feelings of captivity, heightened in quarantine, during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Haram, the specificity of the album’s themes are less apparent, but still undeniably Armand Hammer. A sense of dread and anxious anticipation hangs over a lucid dream-like recitation of all the bad omens and dark fates that the sober-sounding MCs receive visions. Eruption of augury that invades the mind while observing a boarded storefront from a bus window as your rushes past, while contemplating the pile of positions heaped next to a woman as she pan-handles at the entrance of a free-way, or as reflected in the eyes of a gas station attendant while purchasing an iced tea. An onrushing glimpse of the past, chain and bound to the present and pulled screaming into the future. A window that opens through the mundane which unveils a bottomless regression of prison-like conditions, nestled in one and other as if enclosed in the chambers of a Russian doll. Reflecting the world as it is, in the grips of absolute control. The realization of nightmares that would keep Michel Foucault awake at night, recounted with Don DeLillo’s moral clarity.
Armand Hammer combined flow and content have been described as apocalyptic, which is funny in a way. It’s more revealing of the critics who make such comments than of the music they are assessing. Not everyone can feel the deep, malicious hum that resonates up to the surface of everyday life. A panic-inducing murmur emanating from the blood-oiled machinery within the walls and floors of our social imagination and self-conception. Although, I guess you could consider Armand Hammer’s work to be apocalyptic in the original meaning of the word, as in a great revelation. Something that allows you to see or know something that you didn’t before. But in terms of contemporary parlance, it doesn’t fit. Armand Hammer aren’t talking about the end of time, or even the end of one’s own life. Their speaking to the feeling of living itself.
To make Haram the duo have teamed up with The Alchemist, one-time hit make, now an underground rhythm architect. The Alchemist allegedly learned about Armand Hammer through Earl Sweatshirt, who guests on sun-bleached and brine sculpted “Falling Out of the Sky.” I learned of the Alchemist’s work through his production work on Trash Talk’s 2014 album No Peace, and while that album may not be the most dynamic example of his work, it speaks to his verticality. The most defining aspect of The Alchemist’s contribution to Haram is his unobtrusiveness. He is able to meld due respect for jazz and soul with starkly psychedelic and arid sound-scapes, to open a space in the mix that permits the perpetual tightening yank and wrench of Elucid and billy woods’s rhymes and retorts to be your primary guides through the shadows that close in around you. It was the right move. This album already has a ferryman, two actually, what it needed was a River Styx to shuttle the listener down, and The Alchemist is demonstrably capable of providing just such an abiding current.
You can stream the entirety of Haram below via Bandcamp: