In the ten years since their debut, Armand Hammer have been busy. Together, the underground rappers Billy Woods and Elucid have released five albums and over 14 solo and collaborative projects, which in the case of Woods have included three critically acclaimed records since 2019 and high-profile collaborations with Algiers and Noname. Despite such a tireless work ethic and considerable personal successes, the group remains as focused and uncompromising as ever.
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is, in the best way, an unsurprising record for Armand Hammer. The beats can be hazy and harsh, while Elucid’s cerebral rhymes continue to complement Woods’ bleakly satirical poetry. A consistency of quality and a varied and rich palette of experimental production will surely please the duo’s dedicated fanbase, but there is plenty to recommend to new listeners, too.
Armand Hammer’s star has risen in the past decade and has been helped by increasing interest in left-field hip hop. Opening tracks “Landlines” and the ironically-titled “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die” are both produced by experimental rapper and producer JPEGMafia, whose dreamy yet head-scrambling collages well-suit the duo’s oblique content. Other high-profile production comes from El-P, flexing his talents on bass-heavy “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and reminding all of his underground roots outside of now world-dominating Run the Jewels.
Lyrically, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is heady, thoughtful, strange, dark, and very dense. If some may have felt his partner Woods’ acclaim has overshadowed Elucid, he quickly demonstrates his capabilities across the LP, complementing Woods’ razor-sharp observations with vivid, arresting imagery and existential questioning. “Where can a n**** really run to? Far and wide, at the same center still, I feel a way about proving my identity to robots” and “When didn’t n***** wanna fly away? Entire empire required the fire rain; eyes covered their bodies right where I came, my seed present and accounted for, my old earth deserves celebration.”
Elucid’s delivery can be atmospheric, while his content is a surreal stream-of-consciousness, such as on the astounding and unsettling “Trauma Mic”: “Dead pan in the crisper, dead rapper, no pin dropped, day tripper, dead planet, no state, no worth, fuck you know? What the fuck, you know? Neo-folk, trauma mic, echo chamber, deep fake, fake deep, talking wound, say it to my face, it only matters when I’m needed, nothing else, your magic grows weak with every lie you tell yourself.”
Meanwhile, Billy Woods is at his paranoid and acerbic best. He can be prophetic, political, and dystopian, all shot through with a world-weary and often darkly funny cynicism: “I read the paper even though they tell me not to”, “don’t kill the messenger, Henry Kissinger my album only feature”, “passed my own crime bill, it said if you scared go to church, you could still get killed”, or “holes in the dirt, firing squads, that’s a few working-class jobs”. That humor is present throughout We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, such as in “Don’t Lose Your Job”: “Break up weed on one phone, FaceTime on the other, break up with me, I’m a G, I stay friends with your mother.”
Woods’ ability to craft intricate rhymes and extensive vocabulary should not be overlooked either. It may put him in the league as the late, great MF Doom (reverently sampled on “Y’all Can’t Stand Right Here”.’ There are so many moments to choose from. Still, a particular standout is this dizzying verse on “When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss”: “Black zombie, cheekbones Ashanti, Gold Coast when I tap in, it’s a palm tree, your catalogue black Abercrombie, my crypt a multi-layered pyramid, Ponzi, scissoring Sapphists engraved in the concrete.”
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is an incredible offering in both a prolific and boundary-pushing career for the New York rappers. Building on their gifts as MCs and lyricists, Billy Woods and Elucid have further cemented their place in alternative hip hop as one of the headiest yet most exciting groups right now.