The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

Concert Review: Armand Hammer in Santa Ana

Courtesy of Alexander Richter.
Cover art for Armand Hammer’s new album, “We Buy Diabetic Test Strips.”

Armand Hammer—a rap duo comprised of underground legends Billy Woods and ELUCID—released their latest album, “We Buy Diabetic Test Strips,” to widespread critical acclaim on September 29, 2023. Although Woods and ELUCID have received praise from critics for over a decade, a recent string of LPs like Woods’ “Hiding Places” (2019) and Armand Hammer’s “Haram” (2021)—a collaboration with illustrious producer, The Alchemist—made the NYC-based rappers’ newest work one of the most anticipated hip-hop albums so far this year. 

Armand Hammer has since gone on tour for their new album. Last Friday, my girlfriend and I saw the group perform live in concert at the Santa Ana Observatory. I had expected a sizable crowd—after all, they even had a recent profile in the New York Times about the album—but what I saw on our arrival was a huge surprise. It took place in the “Constellation Room” of the Observatory, a venue with a capacity of about 300. There were around 150 people there, and the atmosphere was electric. 

The show started with a couple of openers. First was Malaya, an R&B singer whose exceptional vocal range and jazzy, neo-soul production caught everyone in the room by surprise. Most memorable was her fantastic cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love.” Next was LA rapper YUNGMORPHEUS, a frequent collaborator of rapper Pink Siifu, who gave a slick solo performance while bumping beats off an SP-404 sampler. His smooth delivery over lo-fi, hypnotic sample chops got everyone’s heads nodding. 

Finally, Woods and ELUCID made their appearance. They kicked off the show with the first few songs from the new album before dipping into their back catalog, occasionally throwing in a few songs from their solo works. The two highest-energy solo performances were “Asylum” from Wood’s 2021 album, “Aethiopes”, and “Betamax” from ELUCID’s 2022 album, “I Told Bessie” (I highly recommend listening to both songs, as each demonstrates the stylistic differences between the two artists.) 

Although both share an affinity for the abstract and esoteric, there is a clear distinction between their styles. Woods tends to gravitate more towards a grounded narrative with detailed imagery, whereas ELUCID prefers to show off his skills as a postmodernist-surrealist wordsmith. For example, in “Asylum,” Woods paints a picture of the political and domestic turmoil he experienced as a child growing up in Zimbabwe: 

      Avocado tree hang over the property line 

      I watch from as high as I can climb 

      The dog looks up and whines, the hills are alive with land mines 

      I live in my mind 

      Not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know when I find 

      My mother sent the gardener to look for me, but the sky is a great place to hide 

On the other hand, lines like the following from ELUCID’s verse on “When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” exemplify just how far left field his lyrics often are: 

      Watching blood on the moon drip 

      Drag bones to the boom-bip 

      New light, exploded back from the womb pit 

      New myths, new names 

      I’ma scream my way out 

The result when the two perform together is a dynamic mix of personal narrative, Afrocentric social/political commentary, and surrealism. A prime example of how well the two work together is the second track, “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die,” off their new album, which blends the anxiety the group feels towards recent developments in AI technology with the existential dread of the information age. It ends with these four lines from Woods: 

      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 

At the end of the show, Woods and ELUCID sold their merchandise. We got to meet Woods personally and, I have to say, I was extremely nervous. Luckily, both Woods and ELUCID were very down-to-earth people, and they stayed late after the show to sign merchandise. There are few musicians I can name who are truly dedicated to their craft and are as passionate about their work as these two are. (Billy Woods founded his label, Backwoodz Studioz, in 2002, and has released all of his music independently since.) 

I can safely say that I won’t miss another local show from them again and would highly recommend that anyone interested in alternative hip-hop check them out. Be on the lookout for new music and upcoming live performances by Billy Woods and ELUCID. They are on an incredible run right now. 

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