‘Don’t invite me to your house/Ask me to remove my shoes and your floors ain’t clean’ is a line that has been living rent-free in my head ever since I first heard it. From now on, I can’t go into anyone’s home without thinking this and I have Armand Hammer to thank for that.
I had a friend suggest I check out billy woods’ Aethiopes sometime last year and I am indebted to him for that recommendation, as I needed to consume everything under the sun that is tangentially related to billy woods. Naturally, it didn’t take long for me to discover Armand Hammer after that. Don’t you just love it when those, at the time seemingly meaningless recommendations, open doors that likely wouldn’t have been opened otherwise? My experience with Armand Hammer’s Haram was an acid trip (hop) of massive proportions that I couldn’t separate myself from, and We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is even more special.
For as long as I can remember, the instrumental aspect of music always spoke to me louder than vocals ever did, and I attribute this to why it took me so long to finally get into hip hop with how vocally driven it is. Everything I had heard at the time was whatever would be spammed on the radio and whatnot, in which there was little to no instrumental depth as the songs were written by forty people with the sole intention of writing the next viral hit: musical depth be damned. As a consequence, I had generalized and written off this diverse genre for the longest time. Then on one fateful day, a different friend had sent me a track from Deltron 3030’s self-titled for no particular reason at all and what do you know, another harmless recommendation opening another musical floodgate. A ‘meaningless’ text containing a YouTube link ended up being unknowingly vital in how it gave me access to another musical world.
The first thing I had heard about We Buy Diabetic Test Strips was that it had a healthy dose of JPEGMAFIA’s sorcery compiled on top of the already existing magic that billy woods and ELUCID effortlessly provide. That should be all I have to say to convince you to listen to the record if you haven’t already heard it yet; if so, you can stop reading now. If that isn’t enough to convince you (first, check your pulse), take a gander at the insane list of featured artists lending their talents throughout the entirety of this record. It is a seamless mish mash of nothing but absolute musical savagery that just works.
The features and revolving door of who is handling the production on a given track contribute to each and every song having such a wildly different personality, yet they’re all musically synonymous with one another. All this is elevated by the backing band, they don’t get enough credit. The instrumental backdrops create soundscapes that are as depressingly bleak as our profit-at-all-costs driven economy, leading to a dystopian ‘black market’ for trivial things like diabetic test strips as they’re marked up to asinine prices rendering them unaffordable for the common person. Our reality is depressing as hell and We Buy Diabetic Test Strips captures that instrumentally but also lyrically.
There is something unique and memorable found on just about each of the fifteen tracks found here, an impressive feat indeed. “When It Doesn’t Start With A Kiss” flips on its head entirely halfway through the song, with the latter half being this insanely trippy atmosphere that has me feeling as if I’m drowning. The repeating, fluttering synths remind me of my exhaled bubbles floating to the surface as I sink further and further into whatever hypothetical body of water that I found myself in. “The Gods Must Be Crazy” has just an intoxicating groove with an insane attention to detail in how these instrumental layers are all superimposed one another; El-P produced this one, enough said. Meanwhile, the preceding track and “Empire BLVD” sounds as if they’re plucked from a clipping. record with the deeply sinister elements that have me turning on all the lights in the house out of pure terror and paranoia.
Other highlight instrumental moments for me include the marimba/vibraphone heard on “I Keep A Mirror In My Pocket”, to the eerie piano closing out “Y’all Can’t Stand Right Here”, the airy flute on “Total Recall”, and the sweet and succulent bass lines heard throughout the record as a whole. The technical ability and the versatility the backing band provides is what elevates this latest record from Armand Hammer to another level. While the lyrics and vocals are as hard-hitting and smooth as can be, the backing band sets the foundation for billy woods‘ and ELUCID’s bars to leave the hardest impact. My instrumental-loving ass is as satisfied as can be with what I am hearing on We Buy Diabetic Test Strips.
While the 90s remains the golden era for hip hop, that doesn’t mean that the genre can’t be and isn’t thriving right now as that is far from the truth; the mere existence of Armand Hammer alone is testament to that. Being as highly of a collaborative effort as it is, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is never too ambitious nor musically superficial for a single second. You often hear the phrase ‘wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle’, and Armand Hammer‘s latest is musically as wide as the Pacific Ocean and consistently as deep as the Mariana Trench. The vocal/lyrical delivery is as stellar as you would expect from billy woods/ELUCID, all served on a platter of the finest instrumentals and top-notch production value that couldn’t suit the music any more beautifully. The bar for hip hop in 2023 was just moved even higher.