Album Review | Armand Hammer – Shrines

This album was released on June 5th this year. I’ve never written about Armand Hammer before, but this was actually one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. I really enjoyed the latest two projects from billy woods, and I’m an even bigger fan of Elucid. With that said, I’ve never really loved an Armand Hammer album. Furtive Movements was a cool EP, and Paraffin was good too. My favorite project that they’ve done is still Race Music though. That’s a really good album. Rome was okay, but definitely my least favorite of everything they’ve done so far. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting this to be album of the year material, but I was hoping that it’d end up being my favorite Armand Hammer project so far. The stacked credits are the main reason I was so excited about it. I was slightly disappointed that Elucid didn’t produce any of the songs, but that was just a tiny nitpick. I guess it doesn’t matter who handles the production as long as it’s good.

1. Bitter Cassava featuring Pink Siifu produced by randomblackdude

This isn’t one of my favorite tracks from the album, but I still like it quite a bit. Earl’s production here is pretty cool; I just wish it was a bit more detailed and less repetitive. It gets pretty old after a while. As far as the actual rapping goes, I definitely like the song. However, I have to admit that I have no idea what the fuck the lyrics are about. I’ve struggled with deciphering billy woods’ lyricism a lot over the course of his career, but I am usually able to develop a vague idea of what he’s going for. It’s not an issue I had with this entire album, but I was pretty lost with this song in particular. The hook from Pink Siifu is pretty cool. I think it would’ve been cool for him to have a verse, but I get why they just let him do the hook. I was just as lost with Elucid’s performance as I was with that of billy woods. I like the song though. Again, it’s a relatively weak point on the album, but I did enjoy it. I think it’s a good track.

2. Solarium performed by Elucid produced by Navy Blue

I personally enjoyed this song more than the opening track. I actually don’t like this beat as much as the preceding instrumental, but the rapping here was more enjoyable for me. I liked the Sonic the Hedgehog reference about slapping rings outta people. This is also one of my favorite lines on the whole album…
Nudging flat-earthers off the block like Q*bert
I wouldn’t say that this is one of my favorite songs on the album, but I like it a lot. I’m not crazy about the beat, but the verse from Elucid is great. This shit is dope.

3. Charms featuring KeiyaA produced by Child Actor

The album starts getting really good here. I liked the first couple songs, but this is where shit really kicks into third gear. I’m personally still not crazy about the production on this track, but everything else about it is great. This beat sounds like a rainforest, mainly due to the percussion and flutes. I really like the opening verse from billy woods.
Tumble out the ether, my blank verse
Wild jungle out the speaker, rare earths
Every rabbi wonder, will his golem work?
Every golem wonder if they was the first
Once again, I’m very lost when it comes to the lyricism, but I feel like I’m understanding more of this song than I was the opening track. Usually when I listen to his music I may not get every single line, but I’ll latch onto a running theme or concept that he may have. For this song, the overall theme seemed to be spirituality and faith. KeiyaA’s vocals on the hook sound really great. Elucid killed this shit. I had a bit more success when trying to decipher his lyricism.
Takin’ to the skies, celestial bodies that the wise men follow
Stopped makin’ sense when chaos rang hollow
Imagination lack work, prosperity model
Out of mystery, a divine spark
Some are drawn, some are marked
Stark phenomenon
Faith starts when shit stops addin’ up
Charge it to the game, plus tax just when you had enough
The line about faith being born out of the unknown was very profound to me. I wouldn’t say that this is one of my favorites, but it’s certainly the beginning of a hot streak on this album. This shit is super dope.

4. Pommelhorse featuring Curly Castro produced by August Fanon

This is the first of many major highlights on this album. I fucking love this song. August Fanon’s production here is amazing. If Mega Ran tried DMT and suddenly became a super abstract rapper, this is the kinda shit he would spit over. The opening verse from Elucid is awesome too. Every verse from him will have at least one line that I don’t understand at first, but after a few seconds of pondering I get it.
Feelings bum rush logic
This is one of those lines that’s so simple yet so ingenious at the same time. The hook from Curly Castro isn’t really anything that billy or Elucid couldn’t have done themselves, but I still enjoyed it. I actually liked billy’s verse here even more than that of Elucid. He killed this shit.
With that mortgage, tornado insurance
That house will be my old lady’s coffin
Ill winds more often snatch negroes off porches
Took the curtain down: Oz
I feel like at one point I had a better understanding of what the song is actually about, but on repeat listens, as of June 7th, I have forgotten my initial interpretation. I still love the song either way though. This shit is dope as hell.

5. Leopards featuring Nosaj produced by Fat Albert Einstein

This is another major highlight for me. This beat from Fat Albert Einstein is glorious. It’s so fucking hard and evil sounding. Someone like Conway would slaughter this shit. billy woods killed the first verse though.
Took the boys to the forest
Shared secret stories and cut ‘em fast
It takes blood to be a man
Blood in, blood on your hands
Blood on the leaves, blood trails where they ran
The gangs all here even if it ain’t a gang
As always, I have kind of a vague idea of what billy was trying to convey, but I’m not confident enough to share my apocryphal interpretation. Nosaj’s hook on this track is pretty cool, and Elucid’s verse is really great too.
Fire dance upon the head of the anointed
I ain’t have a choice, out the smoke came voices
I’m not your boyfriend, vistas, picnics, cloisters
Black fist in moisture
I think I enjoyed his verse even more than billy’s performance to be honest.
I should’ve listened when they told me you wasn’t folk no more
Siccing his white lawyers on your boy
Season of the vic, cease and desist, real nigga, I think not
I’m rehearsing for a world where you don’t exist
This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I think it’s dope af.

6. King Tubby produced by Nicholas Craven

On my very first listen, this wasn’t really that great to me, but now it’s another highlight for me. It has yet another amazing, super dark, evil sounding instrumental. I really love the opening verse from billy woods here.
Makeshift transubstantiation, cup or chalice, hand shakin’
Pac blood: one sip, a rapper could beat all his cases
In this side-scrolling 8-bit bullet hell, I’m patient
Graceful as third generation bomb makers
Elucid’s verse was also crazy.
Russian waters, liquid borders
Meet me at the shore, address me as your lord
I’m with death, flippin’ quarters
Grillin’ swordfish on the back of a black orca
Both of them sounded like rapping cult leaders on this song. Again, I kinda have no idea what the fuck any of this shit means, but I love it. The production is crazy, and I love the rapping here. This shit is dope as hell.

7. Frida featuring Quelle Chris & Fielded produced by Andrew Broder

This is easily one of the best songs on the album for me, and it’s not even because of the Quelle Chris feature. Speaking of Quelle Chris, I really need to hurry up and check out that latest album of his, but I digress. Andrew Broder’s work on this song is fucking incredible to me. The weird muffled vocal sample at the beginning of the song sounds so fucking cool, and the piano loop that eventually comes in is magnificent. Quelle Chris’ verse was dope, although I wouldn’t really expect him to spit over this type of production personally. It just sounds really different from what he usually raps over in my opinion. He did his thing though. The hook on this track from Fielded is fucking gorgeous. billy killed that second verse too.
“That buck that bought the bottle coulda struck the lotto”
Sounds tight, but ring hollow
That’s nobody’s wife, that’s Frida Kahlo, that’s Frida Kahlo
Flights like Rollo, pescado, I make a water swallow
That buck that lost the lotto coulda bought a fuckin’ bottle
I remember him having a similar line on one of his previous solo albums. I mean, the line wasn’t the same, but it was virtually the same sentiment. I think it was on Hiding Places, but I don’t remember for sure. Honestly, it might not have even been him, but I feel like I remember him basically say that he, or maybe just people in the hood, are not in a privileged enough position to be optimistic and rely on luck. Anyway, the song was already fantastic, but when that beat switched up for the final verse from Elucid???
He killed it too. I mean, I still have no idea what the fuck any of it means, but it sounds tight.
Power harnessed, powder harden to rock
That was catharsis, from the starship
Face down on the carpet
Ooh, and the arcs twist
Was it a swoon or a target of the archer
Departures, arrivals, left foot on tight rope
Crows peck my eyes closed
I heard you niggas was manifestin’
Again, I kinda have an idea of what these lines are about, but I don’t wanna say it because I’m afraid of being wrong and sounding dumb. I fucking love this song though. I haven’t decided on a number one favorite track from this album yet, but this is probably at least the runner-up. This shit is boiling hot fiya.

8. Slewfoot produced by Andrew Broder

This song has another one of my favorite instrumentals. Man, this Andrew Broder guy is a beast. I’ve heard a few songs that he’s worked on with artists like Jel and Odd Nosdam, but I’m still very unfamiliar with him. I hope to see more placements from him after this album though because he did a fantastic job here. This beat sounds like a hot cave full of ghosts. I was lost in terms of the lyricism again, but Elucid’s verse was still really cool to me.
Fumes noxious, we are bored of the apocalypse
They vision born land grabs with a sparkling eye
We’re liberating vagrants in the mouth of opulence
Get the fuck from ‘round me if you ask why
I love how the beat kinda changes during the break between the two verses in which the audio clip of Marshawn Lynch is introduced. The creepy sounding piano keys are awesome. billy woods’ verse was very good too; as always, I had no idea what the hell he was rapping about, but I still enjoyed his performance quite a bit. I think the song’s dope as hell.

9. War Stories produced by Messiah Musik

I don’t love this beat quite as much as the preceding few, but it’s still very good. I certainly see why they chose it for this song because it sounds like martial music. The opening verse from billy is really dope. That line about how limericks had the plantations lit was crazy.
I used to think I was better than this, I was remiss
I was impressed how they boiled it down to a gif
I was shipwrecked but had enough for a spliff
I was depressed watching old men bicker
Over musty old beef from ’96
Dusty old bricks
Two-hundred and forty some months
And to think, you ain’t learned shit
I love how that heavy electric guitar comes in during the second verse from Elucid. I listened to the song one day and felt like I had no idea what the fuck Elucid was rapping about, but when I listened to it the following day it became obvious. That’s just how it is with abstract Hip Hop like this. You just aren’t gonna understand everything all at once. Even if it should be obvious, it just takes time to sink in. One thing that I realized is that the title of each song usually serves as a hint about the lyrical content.
Out here chattin’ like my MAC gently weeps
Who ‘bout that action? Run it back, black
That beef from ’03, screeching tires
Hold iron like a second member
I really love the writing on this track. I kinda wish the production was a bit more dynamic, but the song is still really dope to me overall. I fuck with it.

10. Flavor Flav produced by Steel Tipped Dove

This is one of the few tracks that I feel like I understood on my first listen. Everything clicked right away for me. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. The production from Steel Tipped Dove is absolutely glorious. The opening verse from billy woods is great too.
Battle of Algiers with the GoPro
Loathing & fear, all roads lead to Rome
Shook the hourglass like a snowglobe
Auntie had the JC Penny Timex flooded with rhinestones
Tapped the face like Swiss movement
It’s easy to loose track and get trapped in the future
As the title implies, the song is pretty much just about time and time travel. billy’s singing on the hook sounds fantastic to me. Obviously he’s not performing any flashy vocal acrobatics; I just think the way he delivered the hook works perfectly over this beat. The second verse from Elucid is great. I’m still kind of afraid of being wrong and sounding dumb, but I’m more confident about my interpretation of this song than almost any of the others. I’m pretty sure Elucid was rhyming about traveling back in time. He opens the verse talking about being in the middle of the Orangeburg Massacre.
Golden hour, portal to Orangeburg, ’68
Live ammunition, state troopers stormed the gates
Laughin’, lucky I made it back alive with just the shakes
Still feel the rounds flyin’ past my face
I think Elucid’s performance of the hook sounds just as good, if not better than that of billy woods; it kinda reminded me of Yikes the Zero for whatever reason. This is easily one of my favorite songs that either of these two have ever made, whether you wanna talk about Armand Hammer songs or the solo material in general. I think this shit is incredible.

11. Dead Cars featuring R.A.P. Ferreira produced by Kenny Segal

This song might actually have my favorite beat on the whole album. I don’t know. There are a lot of amazing instrumentals on this project. This is certainly one of my favorites though. I’m pretty sure the song is literally about sentient cars who have died or maybe vehicles that are possessed by ghosts. It seems ridiculous now that I’m writing it out, and this is why I’m shy about sharing my most likely incorrect interpretations. Maybe it’s about, like… Okay, so what if the song is about people getting shot to death in their cars, and then their spirits possessing the vehicles in which they were murdered? I’m just kidding; that idea just popped into my head randomly, I didn’t actually get that from the song. That’d be a dope idea for a song though… Anyway, the opening verse from Elucid is really dope.
Scrapyard ghosts levitating, slap box under wolf moons
Above streets where Siri noted coordinates and was too scared to speak, come through
Host the grease, burnin’ candles in the teeth
Summoned by the killer who remembered the names of each
The second verse from billy was even more entertaining to me though.
Drug mud through the big house, massa gon’ frown
Right before we throw him in the ground
Throw it in neutral, my cousins’ll push me out
The following verse from Elucid was great, and I love how the beat switched up for Rory’s performance. He probably wouldn’t have sounded right over the heavier beat that Elucid & billy were rhyming over. As per usual, I had no idea what anything he said meant, but it sounded dope.
Big Bitcoin horde and a VCR that still records
Teeny demises and reports
Bust through the ceiling and was floored
Yahweh’s gardener was bored
Since he hopped off the porch
In communion with the source
Lots of sauce and a little force
Franz Kafka metamorph
The verse from billy woods that follows that of R.A.P. Ferreira is my favorite part of the whole song.
All the president’s men suckled at the cracked shell, wild raccoons
Empty lots where it used to be crack sales now quiet as tombs
‘Cept when the rats squeal, cats wail in heat
I circle back East, beg the beggar’s forgiveness
Got the correct directions in gibberish
Tolls diminish, desperate trolls abandon crumblin’ bridges
The closing verse from Elucid is great too. Even though I’m pretty lost with this track, it’s another one of my favorites. The production is incredible, and all three of these MCs sound perfect over it. The song is dope af.

12. Parables featuring AKAI SOLO produced by Navy Blue

This is my least favorite track on the album, but I still think it’s a good song. The way the preceding song segues into this one is incredibly seamless. The beat from Navy Blue sounds like a submarine. I know that doesn’t make sense, but when I first heard the beat I just pictured a submarine floating in the ocean. The song seems to be inspired by some biblical stories, hence the title. The opening verse from Elucid is pretty awesome to be honest.
The ark was a DNA bank of fauna
A circle of crab floating atop the water
Heaven’s horn bellowed Wayne Shorter
Noah didn’t bear a single daughter
All the borders were liquid
World past poured at the mouth of the river
Bathing in whole milk, linen and silk
Mouth full of salt and silt washing over
The hook from billy is pretty solid. I kinda think I’m grasping what he was trying to describe with his verse. It’s about the final disposition of his father. Before the verse starts he says something about him being buried twice, which I haven’t quite figured out yet.
Tears streaming, begging the curse to live
I was a kid
I was a young man when they buried him again
On the ancestral lands that wasn’t even his
So, for you, I promise no hollow words, swallow mine
Huge birds wheel in the sky
The sea spray sting, burnin’ my eyes
I won’t let them bury you once
I’ve heard a few verses and songs from AKAI SOLO in the past, and he’s just one of those artists that I do not like at all. I don’t think he’s trash or talentless, but I do not enjoy his work even a little bit. I wasn’t really crazy about his performance here, but I don’t think it was bad. I don’t like his voice or his flow, but it certainly didn’t ruin the song for me. He’s honestly the reason I chose this as my least favorite song, but I’m sure most people won’t mind him. It’s just a personal thing; I don’t like his style at all. It’s fine though. It’s not a huge issue. I still really like the song. It’s pretty good.

13. Ramesses II featuring Moor Mother, Earl Sweatshirt & Fielded produced by Navy Blue & Andrew Broder

I was a bit worried when this song started because I’m not really a fan of the first beat to be honest. It just sounds a bit too happy and lavish for me. It’s certainly not bad at all though. I just like hearing super weird and dark sounds when I listen to Armand Hammer, so it was too light for me. It’s fine though. The opening verse from Moor Mother was pretty awesome to me. I’m not crazy about her Spoken Word-ish flow, but the writing is great. I love how black this shit is.
Matriarchal golden crown, drum on water
Sky walker, I’m like Nina in the jungle with diamonds
I’m a Black Panther knife to the neck of King Leopold
That line about serving three-fifths of a slice of Africa cake was crazy. The verse from billy woods was pretty cool, and it was awesome to hear Earl on this song. His actual performance didn’t really leave much of an impression on me. I feel like whenever I hear Earl on a feature I’m more excited by the idea of him working alongside artists like Danny Brown & billy woods than the actual performance he ends up giving. I liked that line about wire transferring blood money though. That was pretty cool. I’m still really not a fan of his modern style of rapping in which he sounds like he hasn’t slept in 5 days, but it is what it is. I think I’m just gonna have to accept that I’m never gonna enjoy his work as much as I did in 2015 with IDLSIDGO & Solace. Anyway, the rest of the song is what really makes this shit worth returning to for me. If the song ended after Earl’s verse, this would easily be my least favorite track. However, the beat switches up and becomes 100x better, and Elucid lays down a phenomenal verse. I also adore Fielded’s performance here. She reminded me a lot of Florence Welch. It’s amazing. Elucid killed this shit too.
Never learned how to whistle, still can’t do the moonwalk
I’m running red lights and I hate to have my picture taken
Catch me in the corner not speaking
Doesn’t mean I don’t have much to say
I bet you can’t tell when I’m tweaking
My anxiety don’t look like yours
I just relearned escape, hands on my lady’s waist
Got a sitter, made a date
I have mixed feelings about the first part of the song, but this second part is incredible to me. If it was its own track, it’d definitely be a contender for my favorite song on the album. Overall, I think it’s a very dope track.

14. The Eucharist performed by billy woods produced by Messiah Musik

This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I really love the production here, and I think this song has one of billy’s best verses on the whole project. I feel like his flow was a bit more traditional here than it usually is. The biblical inspiration behind the writing is awesome too.
My mother used to say, “a bad penny finds its own way to hell”
They lovingly fashion they own crosses, beg me to drive the nails
Followed the devil to the high place, the pinnacle
The wilderness vibrate, do-gooders miserable
The pilate silent but that’s a signal too
The pyrex violent, the group home living proof
Like dying and coming back black as a dead tooth
Roman lions, Blue Angels through the retractable roof
There are so many dope lines in this track. The song is pretty much just one verse with no hook or anything else. He’s just rapping. It’s fucking fire too. I love it. The production is perfect. I think this song is dope af.

This album is really fucking great, and borderline amazing to be honest. Elucid & billy woods are such a perfect pair; I genuinely don’t think I could’ve chosen a better rapper for either of them to work with. I like nOstrum grOcers a lot, but I think this pair makes more sense. I really wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall during the making of this album because I’d love to see how they work. I was really lost when it comes to a lot of the lyrical content here, so I’m wondering if these two know what each other are talking about when they hear each other rap. It’s crazy to me to think about how such abstract writers can be on the same page like this. I think this is easily the best album Armand Hammer have ever made, and I actually like this more than any of billy woods’ solo albums too. This shit is really gotdamn good. I think it’s another one of the best produced albums I’ve heard all year, right up there with The Purple Moonlight Pages and RUDEBWOY. I hope these two never stop working together because they work so well with each other. Elucid is the chocolate to billy woods’ peanut butter. I guess R.A.P. Ferreira would be caramel. Anyway, if you’re into abstract Hip Hop, do not sleep on this because it’s easily one of the best of the year. I still haven’t chosen a favorite song as of June 8th, and I probably won’t until the day this review is published. This shit is super dope.

SCORE: 89 (A-)