Armand Hammer & The Alchemist: Haram
Be prepared to hear a lot from the Alchemist throughout the year. His melodic influence is felt among hip hop's elite. So powerful is his musicality, his adoration of music it's no wonder he's so widely regarded. But don't get it twisted. If the artists he works with didn't already have their own magic and frightening musicality, the albums wouldn't work as cohesive works of art.
That's exactly what Armand Hammer's Haram is. A pure work of art. Before I got halfway through this album, I had to go back to the beginning. I was so taken aback with the emotional weight of the piece I couldn't finish it in one sitting. It's not the type of jarring creep up the spine of Pharoahe Monch's release. Nor is it the type of emotional roller coaster of Kendrick's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (though a little closer to that). But there's something both sinister and elegant about Haram that really just sat with me for a while.
It's in the intelligent use of reverb, words echoing off every surface as if Billy Woods and Elucid are bellowing in an empty space despite Alchemist's wall of sound (as in tracks "Sir Benni Miles" and "Indian Summer"). It's in how Alchemist used the most emotionally spontaneous outburst of expression ever put in an MJ short (the screaming, moaning, wailing opening seconds of track "Roaches Don't Fly"). There's just...there's just so damn much. And you have no choice but to feel every molecule, every atom.
Armand Hammer and Alchemist created a soul experience. A practice in how to keep yourself together. The delivery. How the words interact with one another (often violently with a heavy dose of grudge-tinged vengeance). How the battle in the bars communicates with the drama and emotional torment of Alchemist's otherworldly production. It sounds and feels like '70s Black noir: sweat, grit, heartache, hard and unrelenting love, passion, red and brown things. City of God in sonic real time. "Radical ascension" comes up at one point ("Aubergine").
If this doesn't end up being my favorite hip-hop album of 2021, it's gonna get damn close.