By Thomas Johnson, September 7 2018 —
Rome, last year’s collaboration between Brooklyn-based underground stalwarts billy woods and Elucid, was the densest hip-hop record in recent memory. Under the Armand Hammer moniker, the duo has been responsible for some of the most caustic dismantling of modern elitism and status division since Karl Marx wrote his manifesto. Paraffin, their latest effort, further pushes a biting critical agenda, ruthlessly tackling the powers that be. It cements Armand Hammer as two of the most vital voices in modern music.
Heroes don’t determine themselves, and proper protest songs operate under a similar understanding. Listening to Elucid and billy woods is demanding as they have no qualms about leaving listeners in the dust if they can’t keep up. On one hand, it can make Paraffin, like the rest of their catalogues, unapproachable. On the other hand, there’s an element of reciprocal respect embedded in the music — Elucid and billy woods expect listeners to engage in their craft and the enjoyment you take from Paraffin will mirror what you put in.
Traditional musical reward systems like a low-hanging melody or punchline are still present, though dramatically few and far between. Paraffin — a reflection of the way things are according to Elucid and woods — is bleak. This means that beneath the near-impenetrable armour, there are still sparse moments of striking beauty present. You just need to take them where you can — the beat switch-up halfway through “Alternate Side Parking,” the guitar riff buried beneath the locomotive cadences on “VX,” the twinkling synths on lead-single “Vindaloo,” the melancholic Frank Ocean sample to close the album.
Armand Hammer have never staked a claim as role models. If their modus operandi didn’t make it clear enough, they have seemingly no interest in pandering Hallmark pseudo-woke bullshit. The songs that comprise Paraffin aren’t protest songs and Armand Hammer aren’t performative revolutionaries. They’re just pissed — and this is their manifesto.