Armand Hammer's 'We Buy Diabetic Test Strips' Is Conspiratorial and Commanding

BY Spencer Nafekh-BlanchettePublished Sep 27, 2023

Armand Hammer's music sounds like a conspiracy corkboard in a shoddy Brooklyn apartment; it might seem disjointed at first, but there's always a few threads to follow. The New York duo have made quite the mark on America's underground hip hop scene in the decade since the release of their debut mixtape Half Measures; with We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, billy woods and ELUCID show no signs of slowing down. Still reeling from their exquisite pair of 2022 releases as solo artists – woods's Aethiopes and ELUCID's I Told Bessie – the two rappers have regrouped for an LP that's as ambitious as it is commanding.

Lyric-wise, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips shares some similarities with prior Armand Hammer projects: ELUCID and billy woods drop bars that explore everything from targeted police raids and American intervention in foreign countries to notions of fatherhood and Blackness. But if there's one theme that pervades the entirety of We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, it's that of old school telephone communication. Track titles include "Landlines," "Switchboard" and "Woke Up and Asked Siri How I'm Gonna Die" — many of them begin and end with dial noises, automated messaging systems and candid conversations suffused with the static noise we used to associate with phone calls.

"Still, I feel a way about proving my identity to robots," ELUCID remarks near the beginning of  "The Flexible Unreliability of Time & Memory." In a world where everything is becoming automated by AI and everyone feels that their internet algorithms are turning them into a product of mass surveillance, there's an all-too-common desire to revert back to a simpler time, when mobile communication was stripped down to its essential functions.

Another thing that sets this Armand Hammer project apart from prior releases is its plethora of features, many of which are instrumental. This includes production credits from the likes of JPEGMAFIA, DJ Haram and Kenny Segal, as well as cool jazz flute melodies from virtuoso composer Shabaka Hutchings. A handful of vocal features are present on We Buy Diabetic Test Strips as well, ranging from Soul Glo's Pierce Jordan (under his Money Nicca moniker) to Moor Mother's dark and experimental poetry. Although these features are impressive, it's Junglepussy's verses on "You Can't Stand Right Here" and "Empire BLVD" that take the cake. "Do I look like a spliff to you?" she asks over a slow and surreal drum loop during the latter's hypnotic opening: "I don't care who call me difficult."

But setting those vocal features aside, some of the album's best moments come from hearing woods and ELUCID tackle songs as a duo. Take the moment in "When It Doesn't Start with a Kiss" when ELUCID hands it over to woods during the beat switch, and woods proceeds to rap about Spongebob and Operation Titan; an equally impressive feat occurs when the two go bar-for-bar over the calamitous production on "The Gods Must Be Crazy." It's always amazing how the two rappers behind Armand Hammer can complement each other so seamlessly while also seeming to tread on two separate planes of existence — We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is alive with this unique balancing act.
(Fat Possum)

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