Backwoodz Studioz engineer Willie Green has said he wants people to have a “physical reaction” when they listen to one of the label’s records. Last year, Green and Armand Hammer’s Elucid assembled a crew of players for a session at the Greenhouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn, with the idea of jamming to beats and following where it led them. It was the first time that Shabaka Hutchings (flute), Adi Myerson (bass), Max Heath (synthesizer), and Hisham Bharoocha (drums) had met; Elucid says that watching their early fumblings give way to grooves with spiritual heft was foundational to the creation of We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, Armand Hammer’s sixth album. By Green’s own rubric, the album is a success—it can feel like being tugged by dozens of different hands yet still being pulled forward.
That organic jam session—in which relative strangers found the funk in their very first meeting—mirrors the way that Elucid and his partner in the duo Armand Hammer, Backwoodz founder billy woods, have collected a slew of eccentric personalities and given them a common purpose. woods has called Elucid Backwoodz’s “secret weapon” as an A&R, and he might be right; it’s hard to imagine anyone else making a record like this sound coherent. woods and producer Kenny Segal’s 2023 album Maps was a vividly evocative tour diary populated by colorful characters, but when the two rappers work together, Elucid lifts woods into the ether.
Armand Hammer’s music can be indecipherable by design, with profundity often camouflaged by abstraction. On We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, they contemplate their inevitable end, often graphically (“Men pregnant with death, frightened at the quickening/It totters on unsteady legs, boy you invited to the christening,” woods raps), yet manage to stave off hopelessness. The two continue to process life’s indignities with absurdist humor and a caustic wit, telling disjointed stories through intersecting narratives that only come into focus when viewed as a whole.
The most unconventional of their guest stars is, of course, JPEGMAFIA, the Baltimore rapper and producer known for his abrasive productions and persona. JPEGMAFIA’s work accounts for a little more than a quarter of the album, but his glitchy, warped aesthetic bookends the tracklist and helps define the mood. He opens the album with a hypnotic synth loop and a vocal sample stuttering in the background; there’s no bass, just a single snare crack punctuated by a landline dial tone. He’ll bury a gentle melody beneath cacophonous yelling, then switch the beat mid-song to weave video game SFX into boom-bap drums and drench the whole thing in reverb (“When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss”). Even in the slow and quiet moments, chaos lurks in his productions—an interrupted moan, a hair-raising scrape—and it’s fascinating to watch woods and Elucid adapt their flows to meet the challenge.