Over the next month, I’ll be going long on some songs that have stuck with me for whatever reason. Here’s Armand Hammer’s “Microdose”:
Armand Hammer, the duo consisting of billy woods and ELUCID, dropped ROME in 2017, beginning what could be seen as a reevaluation of two established artists’ careers. woods got his start after a failed recording session with Cannibal Ox’s Vordul Mega before founding his record label, Backwoodz Studioz, and putting out his debut, Camouflage, in 2003. ELUCID was born in Queens and has been producing and rapping since 2008, with a massive amount of music on his Bandcamp. His debut solo, Save Yourself (2016), is a great place to start.
“Microdose,” featuring Quelle Chris and produced by August Fanon, finds the duo at their angriest, blending personal history with American history with political commentary with scenes of dystopia with paranoia. On the opening line, maybe the best opener of the decade, ELUCID raps, “I was born in the year of this country’s last recorded lynching/ my question is who stopped recording?” What follows is a snake-like verse, swerving and switching from this point, a commentary on exactly why we stopped caring about the murder of black people, to religious dystopia and questions of philosophy, to a classic rap boast: “The great deceiver, name names, son of the morning, I’m drawn in/ Hauntological, salute, spook you out your Yeezy Boosts, fuck that.” ELUCID raps about hauntology: nostalgia for a future that would never exist and a false utopia. He seems to be asking how we could ever hope to achieve a future utopia when America has failed to reckon with its history, going so far as to falsify it. How will we ever achieve utopia when people are told to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they’re Yeezy Boosts, and ignore the systems in place to subject them.
woods gets the final verse. Using his Nextel, he’s communicating with his ancestors to tell them they’re going to need more than bows and arrows to fight off the colonialists, before jumping to Jacob Zuma—the corrupt former president of South Africa—ripping money from him and ruining his dungarees, much to his mother’s chagrin. All of that is before he issues his mission statement to the rest of Hip-Hop:
“Your intro’s too long, you ain’t Ghost and Rae/ Charly Windgate in jail, you can’t just up and ride that wave/ it’s like n***as skipped track nine on the purple tape/ Chris like woods, you overlooking the fact they got beats for days.’/ I had to concede, the beats was indeed flames/ which only made it more of a shame.”
All in four bars, woods references the incarceration of Max B and the aftermath of people biting his style and it’s relation to track nine, “Shark N***as,” on Raekwon’s debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, a 1:38 rant in which Ghostface and Rae put the industry on blast for stealing their style.
The crux of Armand Hammer is their penchant for packing in as many allusions, references and allegories into each line of a song. It’s an r/hiphopheads’ wet dream; the kind of people who scour liner notes, and write down lyrics or go on Genius to parse through them love a song like this. Except, it doesn’t have to be that way if you don’t want it to be. You get out of it what you’re willing to put in. And it all sounds great, August Fanon’s production matches the claustrophobia of the lines, like the walls of a labyrinth closing in as you try to find your way through it all. There’s a lot to it, sure, but the beats are indeed flames.