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Armand Hammer
Shrines Eden Tizard , July 27th, 2020 07:59

With references to david Foster Wallace, Toussaint Louverture and a 500 lb tiger, Armand Hammer find new space to breathe on Shrines, finds Eden Tizard

"Lord help me I feel like the RZA, like this what I get for helping you n**s?”

This is Billy Woods over a stunted lurch of a beat. One half of Armand Hammer, Woods has a voice that commands, a booming orator akin to no one but himself. Then there’s Elucid, prone to bars of labyrinthine complexity, a rapper who’ll declare “fuckboys deserve to be liberated too” as evidence that revolutionary rage and killer one-liners can coexist with ease.

Shrines sees a new kind of clarity takes shape, a departure from 2018’s monolithic Paraffin. Where production there was thick and volatile like boiled tar, Shrines is comparatively spacious, the density of the bars even more pronounced.

Right off the bat I was struck by the cover, and a quick dig online led to the story of Antoine Yates, a man who kept a five hundred pound tiger by the name of Ming in his Harlem apartment. In stark contrast to the goons that fill up Netflix documentary Tiger King, Yates expresses little desire to exercise dominion over nature. Instead, he seeked to create a kind of refuge divorced from the environment that surrounded him, somewhere he might find fulfilment.

Towards the end of ‘Pommelhorse’ you can make out Yates’ brother lay out his intentions. “My brother wanted to build a zoo, he wanted to build a utopia. Because when he looked around him, all he seen was destruction in our neighborhood.” How to treat survival as a state beyond “mere existence”? This is an idea raised by an extended clip on single ‘Charms’, and is the crucial question at the heart of Shrines.

Both artists are on top form here. Elucid raps as if to prove the parameters of the form are still up for grabs, while Woods is somehow both vivid and elliptical, able to undercut braggadocio with sardonic quips aimed squarely at himself. “Woods for peasant pope” he calls out on ‘Bitter Cassava’, while on ‘King Tubby’ he’s “Still waiting on the that commencement speech invitation / cash strapped HBCU but I’ll take it / Plagiarised This Is Water, no Foster Wallace but I’ll fake it.”

Stellar features from Curly Castro to Quelle Chris are littered throughout, but for me it’s Moor Mother who stands out most. As is the case for her work with Black Quantum Futurism, her words erase Western notions of linear progression. Time lapses as we dart from Warren Moon to Toussaint Louverture, history revealed to be a series of looping cycles, both positive and negative.

The presence of Moor Mother made me think back to ‘Flavor Flav’, a track that explicitly deconstructs the idea of standard time. “Shook the hourglass like a snowglobe,” goes Woods at his visionary best, matched by Elucid with the line; “Travelling fifty years back, I only moved the pen six inches.” Time becomes elastic through the act of rap itself.

As with Run The Jewels’ latest, the word prescient has been brought up a lot in relation to Shrines, both records released shortly after the murder of George Floyd. But to overemphasize the predictive power of either group brushes over the countless precedents that have led to this moment. Prescient infers that this is a now problem, rather than an always has been problem. On the subject of recent events, Armand Hammer are not predictors but recognisers of looping cycles.