Armand Hammer Engrossed Vancouver with Nothing but Their Beats and Rhymes

Fortune Sound Club, August 7

Photo: Jean-Michel Lacombe

Published Aug 8, 2022

Armand Hammer, the New York City hip-hop duo of Billy Woods and ELUCID, are having an incredible year — which is surprising, considering they haven't released any new music since their excellent Alchemist collaboration Haram, which came out all the way back in March 2021. Instead, the two are riding high off their masterful pair of 2022 releases as solo artists, Woods's Aethiopes and ELUCID's I Told Bessie.

Descending on Vancouver's Fortune Sound Club on Sunday, the group were poets operating at the peak of their powers, holding the attention of a small but engaged audience through nothing but their knotty and dense wordplay, some incredible beats, and a good bit of weathered charisma. The performance was unadorned but nonetheless attention-grabbing — no projections, visuals or fancy lighting to distract from the craft, and not even a DJ to queue up the tracks due to some unforeseen border-crossing issues. Instead, Woods and ELUCID took turns at the laptop, setting up beats for the other to go in on, rotating between a vast selection of tracks from their many solo releases and collaborative albums.

ELUCID took the first, magnetic verse, ripping to shreds the loping, hypnotic reversed guitar sample that anchors his I Told Bessie opener "Spellling." Woods joined in on the hook, intoning fragments of "Just got to heaven and I can't sit down" with terse weariness. Later, ELUCID helped Woods push through Aethiopes highlight "No Hard Feelings," their voices repeating the song's title in a tug-of-war against producer Preservation's towering warped brass (or is it bagpipes?) fanfare — somehow sounding both cosmically abstract and pragmatically grounded.

Following a performance of the bottom-heavy, JPEGMafia-produced Armand Hammer cut "Barbarians," Woods remarked on Fortune Sound Club's considerable subwoofer, expressing bemused concern that the overwhelming vibrations might lead to stage collapse if he misstepped. That didn't keep him from grinning with delight when, seconds later, the beat to "Wharves" started booming through the PA — every slinky gamelan plink rendered in stunning depth, the song's delayed snare and bass drum shuffle rattling sternums.

The crowd remained intensely engaged throughout the evening — though, make no mistake, this is head-down, deep-nod, deeper-thought music, so no one was about to cut loose on the dance floor. Towards the end of the set, Haram closer "Stonefruit" did manage to get people swaying, with ELUCID's melodic and somewhat optimistic chorus providing a brief respite from Woods's heavy, spiritually profane verse: "She left what was left in a ditch / She dream of the sex / She finished on top and howled in the crook of my neck / She dragged the bones home and built a bed / She drank rosé out the skull but held it gentle as my living head."

The performance showed that Woods and ELUCID are simply at the top of their game right now. Their prolific, high-quality recorded output is somehow matched by their stage chops — with every evocative verse and free-associative digression rapped with nuance and precision. At once breathlessly poetic and lived-in, these songs are modern hip-hop classics. Armand Hammer deserve their victory lap, and hopefully even greater things to come.

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