ELUCID and The Lasso Break Down Their Debut LP as Small Bills Track by Track
Don’t Play It Straight is out today, and features verses from Moor Mother, billy woods, Fielded, and more.
Earlier this year, Armand Hammer released what may be the rap duo’s greatest feat to date—the guest-heavy Shrines had some help from the likes of the intense jazz rapper Moor Mother, as well as spots from Fielded and Nosaj. Five months later, ELUCID, one half of Armand Hammer, is back with another collaboration with a mostly familiar guest list: Small Bills, his new project with producer The Lasso, boasts guest verses from the three aforementioned emcees, as well as a feature from his AH partner billy woods.
Don’t Play It Straight veers in as many intriguing directions as Shrines, though with consistent production from the Michigan-based beatmaker, this record feels a little more centered—and not nearly as doomy. With the record out today via Mello Music, we asked both factions of the group to walk us through the project, in the process sharing their mutual musical interests that brought them together in the first place.
The Lasso: This is the first track that we completed. This track wears its influences on its sleeve, I could’ve made fifty different songs out of this, but pairing this sound with ELUCID is the kind of combination that opens new portals as opposed to just reviving the past.
ELUCID: Up until I received the track that was to become “Safehouse” I had no idea that Lasso made funky, uptempo music. This was the first unlocking that opened my eyes to new sound worlds for Small Bills to inhabit.
2. “Sometimes Care Looks Like Leave Me the Fuck Alone” feat. billy woods
The Lasso: This is a top five all-time beat for me—I just love the pocket of the drums and bass. All live instrumentation, but layered in some vinyl. I still dig for vinyl here and there, and found one of those gem 1950s records where some guy just slowly shows you a bunch of percussion, one sound at a time, in a beautiful sounding orchestral hall. Shout out Malachi Mabson for adding keys across the record.
ELUCID: Dub music was one of the first mutual influences that Lasso and I established. I like how that shows up here.
3. “We Don’t Really Need Altars” feat. KAYANA
The Lasso: “To be the norm, not to be normalized.” This is one of the most important moments on the record—so many styles coming together at once. Sometimes I feel like ELUCID raps the way Mingus plays bass, and that especially coming through on this cut.
ELUCID: Journeying toward utopian visions! Many references to the natural world. A call for our hopes and dreams to be the norm and not something to be normalized.
4. “Moses Was a Magician”
The Lasso: 808 punk rap, that was the idea and this is the execution. This song is just rhythm and sound, almost no harmonic elements in the soundscape.
ELUCID: I wrote this during the summer of 2020, inspired by generational dissatisfaction with the American political system. I tried giving voice to the idea that oppression is built into its design and no matter how fucked it seems, is actually functioning exactly as it should.
5. “Here Be Dragons” (feat. KAYANA)
The Lasso: Most of the sounds on this track are a Roland R70 drum machine through guitar pedals. It’s a drum machine associated with modern funk, and one day I just sped up a beat I had programmed for a whole other genre of song and was surprised how hard it sounded sped up.
ELUCID: Another 808 banger coming in hot funneling a storm of relationship based chaos and tumult.
6. “ET Diamond” feat. Koncept Jackson
The Lasso: For years I’ve wanted to make more tracks with less drums, never got around to it, and now it’s in fashion. So this one only has a part with no drums, then it hits you with the 808.
ELUCID: The extended intro to this instrumental was very cool and cinematic. But once those drums dropped in…! So happy to style out with the homie Koncept Jackson.
7. “The Master’s Clock Is X” (feat. KAYANA)
The Lasso: There was a time when I regret even sending this beat to ELUCID because he liked it so much and I just didn’t. As soon as I heard the vocal, my mind changed and now it’s my favorite cut on the LP.
ELUCID: For whatever reason, I thought of David Byrne the moment the drums dropped in this beat. I’m a big fan of his lyric style. My approach was surreal but practical. If I’m not mistaken, I recorded this in a single take. This felt like a summit point of our Detroit session.
8. “Hush Harbor” feat. Nosaj
The Lasso: One of the first conversations ELUCID and I had was about our love of dub music and whether we could bring that into our sonic world. Throughout the record I think a lot of the processes and spirit of dub are present, but this is a moment where I think the genre really comes through.
ELUCID: “Hush Harbor” refers to locations where Black slaves would gather in secret to worship. Thinking about old Southern folk stories and applying my New York upbringing, I came up with the first line “It was said the Hudson flowed north when his mama water broke.” I let it run away from there, and Nosaj of New Kingdom crushed that big chorus for us.
9. “Sunchoke” feat. Fielded
The Lasso: My guitar teacher showed me how to do these Charlie Parker drop 2 chord inversions on an arrangement of “Blues for Alice.” None of that guitar part ended up making it into the mix, but I sometimes like to start by this sort of “sampling” technique. Also I love a track with multiple bass timbres throughout.
ELUCID: I love how Fielded layered her vocals with mine here. The upright bass and sax create this real smoky feel that I love.
10. “Holes in the Air Caused by Light”
ELUCID: “Niggardly bon vivant working on my signature.” I wrote this in Dublin, Ireland on tour with R.A.P. Ferreira really feeling myself for being able to rap every night for awesome crowds of people.
11. “Banneker’s Almanac”
ELUCID: To me, this was a song of encouragement. Through vision and ritual and discipline and care, I/we’ll ride out ’til the wheels fall off.
12. “Sly” feat. KAYANA
The Lasso: Shout out to Chris Keys for turning me onto the fretless ukulele bass—this is the beat I made right after opening the package. I can’t say enough about what KAYANA brought to this record over the six songs she worked on. None of us had ever worked together before we were in the studio, and I’m still just overwhelmed by how it all came together so seamlessly.
ELUCID: KAYANA took the lead laying her vocals first. I followed, circling partnerships, trysts, and entanglements
13. “Falling Up” feat. Moor Mother
The Lasso: I’m realizing that a lot of my beats come from the days I bought or borrowed new instruments. Picked up a bass envelope filter for the first time and wrote that main bass line on “Falling Up.” I adore ELUCID’s hook on this, and it reminds me of Nico’s The Marble Index album.
ELUCID: Unlike any other song on the record, I had the chorus first. just circling the idea that sometimes making mistakes can put you in a position for great success.
14. “Even Without You” feat. KAYANA
The Lasso: I made this beat in my car one day at the airport while waiting for my friend Psypiritual’s plane to land. I have a side project called Cosmique Hypnotique and this track was made by chopping and sampling that ensemble then layering some Moogs over it.
ELUCID: We knew this song would be the album closer the moment we made it.