The hip-hop duo Armand Hammer, made up of rappers Elucid (styled E L U C I D) and Billy Woods make bold, captivating, and thought-provoking music and are on the forefront of the New York underground scene. WRBB’s Ben Gardner and Temi Akinyoade sat down with them to discuss working with the Alchemist, their influences, and more, right after their performance at Northeastern’s Common Cents festival on Oct. 3.
You guys mentioned during the show you worked with the Alchemist, a living legend. What was that experience like?
Billy Woods: I would say that it was pretty easy in the sense that he and I are pretty close in age. We have a lot of similar reference points in music and life. Obviously, he’s been a big deal for a long time and has an enormous resume, I have a lot of respect for him. He’s just very down-to-earth and easy to work with. And really it was really interesting to see how he worked, especially in the post-production phase and seeing, like, a super pro, you know what I mean? We work with a lot of great producers, but there’s still something about sometimes seeing somebody who’s, like, been in the NBA for ten years and just knows exactly how to get to where they want to be on the floor to take the shot they want. They don’t have to be the fastest or jump the highest. They just find their way to that spot and put the [shot] in.
Do you guys have any advice for younger artists? Not just even rap, but for any kind of artists coming up right now?
Woods: Well, you gotta do it. You got to take the time and put in the time to work on your craft and try to find your voice… Maybe there’s some type of person who just wakes up and it’s just there. But I think no matter who you are, you got to try to find your voice — and that’s an always-evolving process and yeah, I would say you got to work. I guess I’d say, think carefully about what name you pick, because you might be stuck with it forever. And really figure out to some extent what is important to you about doing it, why you want to do something. Because sometimes people want to make strange music… or you’re doing something different and unconventional, so they should be prepared for people to be like “I don’t like it.” And be prepared to both keep doing what you’re trying to do, but also be willing to be like, “If I’m doing something that’s out of the ordinary, I’m going to have to do it better than people who are just doing the things that everyone wants to hear already.”
Elucid: I second everything he just said.
In some songs, your verses contrast each other and sometimes they’re similar. How do you guys decide to relate your verses to each other?
Woods: It happens in all kinds of ways.
Elucid: Sometimes it happens due to chance. Sometimes it comes from a conversation or the song title, and we just see where it takes us.
Woods: For example, on our song “Falling Out the Sky,” it was a progressive game of telephone, where Earl Sweatshirt did his verse, and then I said, all right, and I wrote my verse. And he said, “What are you writing about?” And I said a summer that I spent out on the west coast. My first summer out on the West Coast. And he was like, all right, and then he wrote about a summer camp thing. So the song ended up having a whole summer theme. Sometimes you get to hear what the other person did first and then figure it out.
Do you ever hear artistic comparisons to you that just don’t make any sense?
Woods: People sometimes say we sound the same. We sound more different than the members of OutKast do. And if somebody thought OutKast was one guy, that’s strange… but we sound very different. I would say that sometimes there are comparisons that I understand, but, I think to a certain extent, can be lazy. If you say Def Jux had an era in New York City rap, just like other certain artists have an era, that’s one thing. But actually being like, “This is something just like Armand Hammer…” I just don’t see it. It just seems kind of lazy.
Elucid: Sometimes they even compare us to groups I’ve never heard of. Maybe that’s just my own ignorance, but sometimes they say that I was influenced by people I’ve never even heard of. And I don’t even know who these people are.
As a rap duo, how are you influenced by other legendary rap groups and duos?
Elucid: I’m a lifelong rap fan. And I came up in an era and it was just like it was already, like, super big, and regional sounds existed. Like, I’d watch Rap City and be like, oh, this is OutKast. This is Goodie Mob. Wu-Tang too. I was, like, absorbing it all. So just being a rap fan, I could point to so many different artisans. The energy that Goodie Mob generated was always special to me.
What are your most unlikely musical influences?
Woods: I think depending on what’s unlikely to other people, one answer might be like, a certain period of Cam’ron’s music, Sizzla, or Lee Perry. I don’t think people think about reggae a lot, and dub music. I’m not a producer, but I do feel like especially earlier on, sometimes I’d listen to those things, thinking about how to get better at writing courses. And that was just music that I enjoyed in different ways.
Elucid: I feel like making music for maybe as long as I have and having exposure because of my family. I’ve heard so much music growing up and understand that rap, it’s like it’s the total synthesis of all music that came before it. So it’s like, so much shit has been sampled on everything, all sorts of genres. So I don’t know, I have just been listening to a lot of things. People probably think, like, rappers only listen to rap, maybe, or like a specific type of rap. Like, I would only listen to underground rap. I think I’ve been talking about Swans for probably a couple of years. And then Sonic Youth, like 80’s kind of shit.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.