We Buy Diabetic Test Strips
ABOVE THE CURRENT
billy woods and ELUCID are two of the best bar-for-bar emcees and creatively thrilling verbal stylists on the planet. Quite simply, few are like them as individuals, and when they unite under the Armand Hammer moniker, even fewer can access the alchemy that makes them underground icons.
And yet, the two love inviting their friends to join the party. Abstractly, I can understand both arguments: Sure, it’d be nice to hear them rap with each other over the course of an entire album, giving themselves a full record uninterrupted to show off their one-of-a-kind chemistry. On the other hand, they’ve got some very impressive friends. Their 2020 LP Shrines notably featured Earl Sweatshirt on a track while also making room for vocals from Pink Siifu, Moor Mother, and keiyaA, among others. Their last album, 2021’s Haram, was entirely produced by The Alchemist and featured guest spots from Earl, Quelle Chris, and more. On the pair’s new album We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, the gathering is more raucous than ever, and yet it’s clearly the defining statement in their always-brilliant discography—saying more about the two as rappers and thinkers than ever before.
For starters, producers on the album include JPEGMAFIA, El-P, Kenny Segal, DJ Haram, Black Noi$e, and Preservation. Shabaka Hutchings makes an appearance on the flute, and guest vocalists include Junglepussy, Moor Mother, Pink Siifu, and Moneynicca (a.k.a. Soul Glo vocalist Pierce Jordan). It’s a wildly impressive array of friends and peers, but the duo waste no time establishing the themes and complex emotions at the heart of Test Strips. “The Flexible Unreliability of Time and Memory” finds the pair rapping over sparse electronics and flute snippets recorded during a jam session with Hutchings. Cacophonous, echoey backing vocals drench the song in a hazy ambiance. In title, subject matter, and audio aesthetics the duo seem to be asking, “What’s real? What’s not? What does it mean when we can no longer tell the difference between the two?”
The album almost paradoxically finds its pocket in uncertainty. Beat shifts upend tracks as the duo reckons with gentrification in their Brooklyn neighborhoods and the constantly shifting landscape in their personal and professional lives. Traumas both inherited and direct run like veins throughout the album. On “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” the dire circumstances of our world are almost too insane to comprehend, and it’s in these moments that Armand Hammer—and specifically billy woods—feel at home. “Henry Kissinger my album’s only feature” he raps.
It’s remarkable how the duo blends the album’s block-party feel with an intensely singular sound. The way they interpolate performances is next to none, and their ability to rap over a bevy of beats from a who’s-who of producers is perhaps their best quality. Armand Hammer is very much about the interplay of woods and ELUCID, but as their accolades grow (this is their first LP released via indie heavyweights Fat Possum Records rather than woods’ own Backwoodz Studioz), they’ve created something more important. They’re building a self-sustainable community as the industry around them becomes increasingly inhospitable to unique voices. As woods says on “Niggardly,” “If we ever did a deal everybody got they split, down to the last red cent.”