August 11, 2014

Paul Thompson leaks Mott Street noodles out his mouth when he talks

“We never really stopped,” says Elucid. “We already had the groove.”

Armand Hammer is New York’s new perpetual motion machine. After a 2013 that saw both a mixtape (Half Measures) and a critically acclaimed album (RACE MUSIC)—not to mention a solo record from Billy Woods—the duo is back, crowns polished and ski masks laundered. Their new EP, furtive movements, is sparse, brooding, and excellent—a smoky room with villains perched in the corner. “RACE MUSIC sounds like a New York City winter,” Elucid explains. “furtive movements is late summer, a hazy August.”

This is no exaggeration; furtive movements is nothing if not cohesive, a marked departure from the noisier full-length. “The project had a little evolution,” says Woods, whose Dour Candy utilized Elucid’s growl in a variety of roles. “At one point, we had a few remixes we were sitting with, and they had gotten further away from [RACE MUSIC] than we had intended. I thought that maybe we could put them together with a new song and put it online, but Elucid was making more and more beats.” Elucid’s production (and his work in tandem with Messiah Muzik) proved to be a turning point, the sparser backdrops allowing for the focus to shift squarely onto the two vocalists. Woods continues: “Any one of these beats could have fit onto RACE MUSIC, but taken as a group, these seem very different.”

Woods and Elucid took full advantage. The latter’s razor-sharp freeform runs up against the former’s Rorschachian word association, making for an intoxicating mix. Armand Hammer is anti-revivalist rap. The veterans have the grit and authority that wafted from the five boroughs in the mid-‘90s, but eschew the conservative rigidity of their more past-obsessed peers. Each has the unique gift of blending the political with the immediate, the personal: Woods employs Rhodesia’s dissolution and casino surveillance cameras in service of similar points. The Blockhead-produced “F.U.B.U.” is as indignant as it is unhinged, the most fun you will ever have reading a bleak personal plea. (Elucid: “I don’t feel your truth, I’m far removed/On the move/That satellite balloon, Earth transmission, nom de plume/Elucid who?”)

There is, however, one instance when the gaze turns backward. “Touch & Agree” is an affecting, thoughtful letter to Elucid and Woods’ 16-year-old selves. (Woods: “Say something to your father before he leaves/That’s the last time you’ll ever see him/And that’s not a lot of money, fam, that’s a couple Gs.”) Elucid remembers his earliest romances—“At 12, kissed your first blonde/That story never made it past your lawn”—and offers the sagest advice of all: “Rappers are fucking idiots/And nah, that’s not a knock on their brilliance.” And while Elucid is usually the one who prefers to catch the muse as it comes (“I prefer to just go in and write—if it’s dope, it stays”), he plotted out “Touch & Agree” from the beginning. “The concept was defined, then executed exactly as we discussed it,” recalls Woods, while noting this was unique among the cuts on furtive movements. For example, “’Soft Places’ had a bunch of different things happen to it; it still came out as one cohesive project, but it deviated from the initial idea.”

This meandering route to the final product is a function of the duo’s process. Most of the record was recorded at Elucid’s home studio, as opposed to booking time in a professional environment. Says Elucid: “You definitely work differently when you’re on the clock, when you’re in crunch mode.” Such was the case with opener “CRWNS”. Before he began recording his verse, Woods repeatedly mumbled “They are who we thought they were”, the refrain from Dennis Green’s famous tirade from 2006. (Green’s Arizona Cardinals, 1-5 at that point in the season, blew a 20-point second-half lead against the then-undefeated Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.) Woods considered having Elucid simply sample the dialogue, but when Elucid enquired about the quote, he saw its potential: “I just thought about that line, and how there was a whole story there that could be twisted to fit where we were going.” He eventually fleshed out the idea into the fuller hook that made the final version. “It’s unlikely that furtive movements in its current form would exist had we still been working [in a professional studio]”, says Woods.

Ticking clock or none, Armand Hammer moves forward, ceaseless. Two years, three projects, nary a misstep—and with Elucid’s solo LP on the horizon, there is no braking in sight. At one point, the conversation drifts from furtive movements back to the duo’s biggest musical influences. This, in turn, leads to a long tangent about P.M. Dawn, specifically the famous incident in January of 1992 in which KRS-One and some BDP cohorts threw the one-hit wonder group off of the stage at the Sound Factory in New York. When asked what would happen if a rapper tried to do the same to Armand Hammer, the two laugh, and Elucid offers the natural response: “He better watch his back.”

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