Innovative, Abstract Hip-Hop Magic: A Review of Armand Hammer and The Alchemist’s Haram

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Armand Hammer's latest is a sonic spin-kick of a record.

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Bubbling away beneath the surface of mainstream hip-hop, a genre currently dominated by trap – a sub-genre known for placing emphasis on maximalist beats and a vocal style that focuses more on complimenting those beats rather than being separate – is a new movement, one that’s becoming hard to ignore. It’s difficult to say exactly where this new sub-genre, which remains unnamed, (most refer to it as abstract hip-hop, which has been present for decades already, but this is something altogether new) started, but the trail seems to lead to the New-York based sLUms (primarily the group’s unofficial leader, MIKE) who pioneered this minimalist hip-hop, recognised for slower beats, heavy with obscure soul samples, and often depressive lyricism.

Earl Sweatshirt gets a lot of credit for popularising the movement with his 2018 record, Some Rap Songs, an album that split audiences by bringing this bold style to the more mainstream side of rap. In a 2018 interview, Earl said his favourite rapper at the time was billy woods, and so the wave continued growing. billy woods has been instrumental to the kind of underground abstract hip-hop that sLUms and Earl Sweatshirt took inspiration from, starting to make hip-hop in a unique style in 2003 and sticking to it, never shifting to gain mainstream attention.

A part of this is collaborative duo Armand Hammer (woods and Elucid), responsible for five records, all of which have been cult hits with hardcore hip-hop fans. Lining up perfectly with the growth in notoriety for producing extraordinaire The Alchemist, following the Grammy nominated Alfredo with Freddie Gibbs, a collaboration between the two (complete with features from other underground hip-hop favourites, including Sweatshirt and Quelle Chris) set that small segment of the internet on fire.

And thankfully, the record fills expectations. Haram is excellent – a wild journey that follows hip-hop’s entire lifespan, from the Alchemist’s typically 90s style drum-beats, to the wonderful range of samples and the MCs’ lyrical content, which rides a range of tangents in different directions – towards politics (particularly those focused on race and class, as to be expected from woods and hip-hop generally), a horror-core representation of everyday life that slips into fantasy and some seriously beautiful moments of peace. The beats are luscious, with just the right amount of aggression that somehow allows them to have their jazzy and mellow sound whilst never making the lyrical content or delivery jarring (they may be slower than mainstream hip-hop currently, but hold a distinct aggression and literary style that makes them stick).

‘’I swore vengeance in the seventh grade – not on one man, but the whole human race’’ says woods on the opening verse of track four, ‘Indian Summer, to give an example of the lyrical content – one that sees him very methodically and artistically kick against the doors closed on him by others. Earl Sweatshirt’s feature is the highlight of the entire record (though I may be biased) – his gorgeous, laid-back, poetic verse on the most uplifting track of the record is impossibly beautiful, with The Alchemist’s bass-heavy beat and looped 60s soul sample providing the perfect backdrop – it’s an arresting track on a record full of great moments.

Haram isn’t a step in a new direction, but for fans of any of the artists involved, it’s a must-listen: a beautifully angry album full of rich beats and even better verses. The lack of new style is made up for in the near-perfection of the music.

Haram, distributed by Backwoodz, is available now – listen on Spotify below:

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First year film student, writer (on film) and poet. I recently published my first poetry collection, Portrait of a City on Fire!

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