Hip-hop has always been competitive, but in recent years, it has sometimes felt as if fans and rappers alike were more invested in debates about the music than the music itself. Against that backdrop, New York emcees Billy Woods and Elucid, collectively known as Armand Hammer, have produced the kind of brainy, delightfully off-kilter hip-hop that defies such arguments—or at least doesn’t seem to care how they shake out.
Marked by a linguistic curiosity reminiscent of MF DOOM, Woods and Elucid are hell-bent on tucking words and added meanings into the nooks and crannies of the beat. Verses speed up and slow down with only mild concern for the instrumental behind them, and quirky, esoteric sequences often belie deeper messages at hand. It’s rap music made without listicles or rankings in mind—remember what that’s like?