Today’s Song: Armand Hammer Weave Hip-Hop Tapestry on “When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss”

Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter
Armand Hammer’s “When it Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” is an essential listen for any fan of abstract music, and a landmark moment in modern hip-hop from Elucid and billy woods, two of the most innovative rappers in the game.
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“When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” – Armand Hammer

Over a decade into their career, prolific and enigmatic New York rappers Elucid and billy woods have returned in peak creative form.

When it Doesn’t Start With a Kiss,” the fourth track off of their newest album We Buy Diabetic Test Strips (released September 29, 2023 on Fat Possum) sees the duo diving back into their trademark brand of dark underground hip hop. The duo exhibits an emphasis on expanding their pallet of sound (which is saying something given their history with eclectic instrumentals) which includes an incredibly detailed edge on the production of the project. Innovative instrumentals compound with storytelling as cryptic and thoughtful as ever to create a mesmerizing listening experience on one of the best rap albums of the year.

We Buy Diabetic Test Strips - Armand Hammer
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips – Armand Hammer

Following 2021’s stark Haram, a collaboration between Armand Hammer and producer The Alchemist, Test Strips finds the duo matching up with a team of cutting edge producers. The likes of Messiah Musik, JPEGMAFIA, El-P (of Run the Jewels fame) and Kenny Segal (fresh off the release of his and woods’ amazing Maps released earlier this year), contribute their individual stylings of avant-garde instrumentals to this project.

Even with a large cast of creators, each beat on this project is woven together with incredible craftsmanship, resulting in a listen that is chock full of surreal and diverse soundscapes. Incredible lyrics are layered over moments of somber weightlessness. Intelligent verses about the darkness of modern American life are intertwined with fleeting passages of dark, glitchy, complex instrumentals that sound unlike anything from this world. The immense vision of this project creates for an incredible auditory experience only those with the creative prowess of woods and Elucid can make sense of.

Groove me
On the one, f* a two, three
Once upon a blue dream
Been in cream and linen
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
I’m all the way in
(How does it feel? How does it feel?)
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter

Four tracks into the project, “When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” opens with a bright, short-lasting tremolo effect which is quickly chopped up and melded with a vocal sample simply stating “Die.” More vocals bloom into the mix alongside an awkward descending arpeggio played by what sounds like a plucked guitar. The sounds begin to swirl together as the beat sputters a bit more, sounding a bit like an old speaker system sputtering on and off. Just before becoming too disorienting for the listener, the beat is grounded with a clunky drum pattern which gives rhythmic consistency. “How Does it Feel?” chants Elucid, adding to the mystique of the intro before his opening verse on the track.

Euclid’s opening verse is as cryptic as ever. His surreal lyrics are delivered with a rhythmically solid flow that punches well with the beat. His disjointed storytelling depicts a dream-like state with imagery of dripping moons and light from wombs, the artist cleverly naming colors which audibly paint a picture for the listener. Mentions of body parts like hanging heads, blood, teeth, and bones add a sense of physicality to the track which nicely contrast the unearthly feeling of what came before. Reverberated samples of a voice stating “How Does it Feel” fade in and out of the mix, creating a sense of discomfort amongst the already disorienting feeling of the track. Elucid answers, “I feel more like myself,” closing the mystical verse in a bold fashion.

Takin’ pause, if you can lose, you can find it
(How does it feel? How does it feel?)
Tell me what it said
No detail could seal
It’s all in the feel
Naming names, even when it hurts
Purpose of the pain
Back in places, cycles, residual loops
Skin of tooth been pressed for a few
We the only blacks in the rock climb
There’s no comfort in fact sometimes
Speak it out my mouth
With the tooth knocked out
When the gold got shaped
When the oracle first said, “Temple jewels”
They said I had to hold my head
I felt more like myself
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter

Halfway through the track, the flow of the song is interrupted by five snare drum hits which act as a short segue for a beat switch. The drums morph into something much heavier, the guitar arpeggios are swapped for marimba, and every other bar includes what I can only describe as the sound effect the arcade machine makes when Pac Man gets eaten by a ghost. woods opens his verse with a reference to his 2019 release, “Hiding Places.”

He announces, “Spongebob to Poseidon” – clear, braggadocious imagery which adds to the cartoony nature of the instrumental. More usage of colors are included in his loose yet precise flow, each phrase adding to the dense, surrealist narrative already built on the track. woods’ delivery evolves into something much more assertive as his rhymes detail suns, pyramids, jangling prison keys, and African facial features which are every bit as engaging as his partner’s. Handing the torch off to Elucid for one last verse, the “Pac-Man-game-over” sound is the last thing the listener heard, the journey of the track ending as quickly as it started.

SpongeBob to Poseidon,
I got the operation tightened

Superseding indictment in [places] on Dyckman, my high heightened
A piece of the sky priceless, but you know me
I toss it in the recycling
Lost that university stipend,
tossed ricin in USPS for the excitements

Tossed and turned all night, I was frightened
The sun came like a jailer jangling keys, jaunty
Black zombie, cheekbones Ashanti
Gold coast when I tap in, it’s a palm tree
Your catalog black Abercrombie
My crypt a multi-layerered pyramid, Ponzi
Scissoring sapphists engraved in the concrete
Triggerin’ hoteps
I’m sniggerin’ with the aunties
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter
Armand Hammer © Alexander Richter

With the amount of detail Armand Hammer delivers, it is honestly hard to describe this track; however, the enjoyability factor is incredibly high.

Beyond the amount of incredible density lies a track that is a fun, engaging, and colorful piece of musical tapestry. Armand Hammer’s ability to sonically weave so many sounds and ideas together exemplifies a type of hip hop that few artists, if any, could hope to achieve. “When it Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” is an essential listen for any fan of abstract music, and a landmark moment in modern hip-hop from two of the most innovative rappers in the game.

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:: stream/purchase We Buy Diabetic Test Strips here ::
:: connect with Armand Hammer here ::
“When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” – Armand Hammer

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We Buy Diabetic Test Strips - Armand Hammer

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