This post was written by our great friend Jeremy.
I challenge any musical outfit in the world to create a more thought-provoking and challenging piece of music than Armand Hammer’s We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, because I haven’t heard one this year. Just as their past three albums have, this release makes me feel like I’ll need to listen to it a thousand times in order to adequately peel back the meaning behind the lyrical layers that woods and ELUCID have laid. That’s the kind of challenge that puts them among my favorite musical artists of the present moment, ever brooding and exuding political acumen. In my opinion, their uniquely bold style and flows make them the most interesting rappers around.
In this release, they continue to demonstrate a deep understanding of the bleak and corrupt environment created by the powers that be, though they do it with personal anecdotes and poignant lyrical tact. Much of their language is subtle enough that we’ll need to rely on the Genius community to help us decode it little by little (despite woods’ line in this album that says “SMH Rap Genius improbable readings”), including the many apt historical and pop culture references. They’re anticolonial and anti-establishment in the most informed way. The title itself provides a clear critique of the greed involved in the American healthcare system.
With an all-star producer cast, the album presents an even more complex and mind-blowing soundscape of beats than their previous releases (which is saying a lot). Despite already having successfully “Scar[ed] the Hoes” this year, JPEGMAFIA appears as producer on tracks throughout the album in all his glitched-out majesty. Aside from Peggy, El-P and DJ Haram bring the biggest and most memorable beats. In addition, heralded woods collaborators Messiah Musik, Preservation, Kenny Segal, Jeff Markey, and Moor Mother also contributed their production skills, bringing the distorted, off-kilter, and abruptly changing sound that keeps me coming back to Armand Hammer albums again and again.
The album opens with a sound collage of lo-fi and sometimes backmasked spoken-word clips and dreamy echoes. These types of sounds resurface throughout the track list, complementing the unrelenting and dour raps. They blur seemingly mundane details and observations into deeper concepts with obscure references. Fans will recognize certain refrains from their previous work (i.e., “You don’t work, you don’t eat”). Whether they’re callbacks to past tracks, or simply their own mantras, you could never mistake woods and ELUCID for anyone else. You can feel that there’s deeper meaning in their haunting verses, but you don’t need to be able to interpret every word to appreciate their inherent poetic value and relevance.
Some of my favorite tracks are as follows, though there isn’t a dull track on the album:
- “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die” is JPEGMAFIA at his best. woods paints a surrealistic picture of life that matches the vibe of the backing track: “Life’s a trip, if you live long enough you gon’ see it all / Life’s a blip, I flew in under the radar / Beat up spaceships, sliding under the light of a dead star / Still made my shift, appropriately lit for the graveyard.”
- The aptly named Trauma Mic brings the sickest and most austere rumble from DJ Haram, complemented so well by ELUCID’s confrontational verse.
- The Gods Must Be Crazy just has the best beat with the best groove (from El-P), and every verse flows so well with it. ELUCID references the novel 1984 with the line, “Why I still gotta dress for a thought crime?”. woods, who I can’t quote enough, raps, “White women with pepper spray in they purse interpolating Beyonce”.
- Y’all Can’t Stand Right Here is a biased favorite due to the MF DOOM sample. woods includes one of his best verses: “Passed my own crime bill / It said if you scared, go to church, you could still get killed / Life’s hell / Natural life, If your lies put somebody in the cell / Ten years for trading stocks, enhancements for brokering deals / CFOs pleading out junior traders flipping / Flip you for real.”
- On Empire BLVD, Junglepussy and Curly Castro’s features complement the sinister bassline and dark tone of a track that ends up being a banger. woods’ verse blows my mind on this one, and ELUCID absolutely destroys it as well, spitting fire at the end of the track and including the line “If you can’t be used, you’re useless.”