Armand Hammer “There are these dudes with powers where if they hit you in the head, after a little bit, your head just explodes.”

When I hear “B.E.T.,” I think of “Mozambique” from Half Measures, but also the rock-type beats that were on Smash & Grab. To me, “B.E.T.” has a punk bass line.

BW: I have people who say, “‘F.U.B.U.’ was the craziest track,” and that’s a funny one because the way it was put together — that was probably the first time I can remember us sitting and doing a chorus together, kind of on some trial-and-error shit. And the whole song came together in a way in that’s interesting in terms of its crazy chorus.

E: “Clarence Thomas off the bench/ High-tech Willie Lynch/ High-def when he snitch/ The bitch set me up.

I would say that on a record that could already be argued is more accessible, [that song] may be the most accessible… and ironically it’s called “F.U.B.U.”

BW: I would think that record would be the least accessible.

It’s jumpy, you know what I mean?

E: It’s got a really nice jump to it, sure. It’s in-and-out, two verses.

BW: I thought “CRWNS” would be it. The verses are short.

E: “CRWNS” is for the heads, though.

BW: I played the “CRWNS” beat for someone and they were like, “Oh, this is like the Premier shit.”

E: Really? In my head, when I made the beat I was thinking prime-era 50 Cent.

BW: That’s funny, he’d be hilarious on that.

I think he’d probably be hilarious on any Armand Hammer beat.

On “Frog and Toad are Friends,” there’s the line, “This year, unify the belts, end all dissension.” I’m a boxing fan myself, so I interpreted that as saying Elucid put out a record that year, woods put out a record that year, you guys put out a collaborative record that year; there can be no doubt as to who’s the best doing it

BW: That’s what it was, yeah. “End all dissension.” I was trying to get that Wladimir Klitschko, you know what I mean? Where everyone’s mad but there’s nothing they can do.

That being said, you guys have definitely been getting more of a critical response in recent years, but I still don’t think that Race Music got the credit it deserved. For me, that’s the album of 2013, but it’s not just the album of the year. Like History Will Absolve Me, it’s the type of record that I’ll listen to for years. So is “CRWNS” on some level addressing that or am I reading into it too far?

BW: Not on my [verse]. I’m sure there’s a line or something but…

E: There may be lines. We’re always asserting our dominance, but it wasn’t [pointed] in that direction.

BW: It’s more the idea of people getting away with things, ripping people off, and domination, power in all its forms.

I wanted to ask you about one line on “CRWNS,” your [woods’] last line, “Fist of the North Star cranium, manicured/ Saudi Arabian Aerys Targaryan.”

BW: That’s funny because that’s the song that so far when I see people talk about it, I’m not sure that they’ve really “gotten it.”

E: Yeah, no one knows who Aerys Targaryan is.

BW: My girlfriend’s favorite line is “GMO corn rows…”

E: “Foreclosed in Patmos/ GMO corn rows and lab coats.”

BW: “Crack smoke, hustlin’ backwards in a high castle/ Belly laughs, snide cackles.

Is that a Philip K. Dick reference?

E: Absolutely, The Man in the High Castle.

BW: Actually, there are ton of lines I love on that song. As far as the end of that song, those specific lines are kind of talking about, I mean … “Fist of the North Star cranium” is, if you’re familiar with the movie, there are these dudes with powers where if they hit you in the head, after a little bit your head just explodes…

[Everybody at the table laughs]

E: After a little bit?

BW: Have you seen it?

E: No.

BW: This was college viewing for me, and then living in Harlem, I must have watched this a bunch of times with Vordul back when I was young. Anyway, main point is when the dudes hit you in the head, it will just be like a tap but their martial arts skill is so great that — it’s this dystopian future world and there are these people who have these abilities — even with a little tap or a glancing blow, after a few seconds the person’s head just explodes. And so this one guy gets hit in the head, and he manages to put a brace around his head that prevents it from exploding. It’s very bizarre. That reference, to me, is just “the brain is on fire” or “the brain is crazy.” “Fist of the North Star cranium” is like your shit is just ready to explode.

That’s one of those things I always thought was so crazy, like [at the end of the] “CRWNS” video, this dude is just laughing at some cosmic joke in the last moment before he’s about to have his brains blown out somewhere in the forest. It’s a Ukrainian or Polish partisan who’s been captured somewhere and is about to be executed ad hoc by a Nazi soldier. He has his hands up and he’s laughing his ass off.

And that’s where it ties in with Aerys Targaryan, the mad king?

BW: Well, the “manicured Saudi Arabian Aerys Targaryan” links to an earlier part of the verse that’s talking about the Middle East and North Africa. In the Gulf States, obviously, there are a lot of people putting a lot of money into insane Wahhabi causes that do nothing but sow death across the world… You’re just imagining these Saudi dudes, hands so soft, can you imagine? They have never done anything. I doubt if they’ve even counted cash. Hands so soft even the Rockefellers swoon when they touch them; those sorts of dudes just sitting away with their mad kings.

You know, even today, I was reading about ISIS going into Mosul; it’s just weird because super-militant Wahhabi Islam, especially the latest versions, they don’t even have a constituency. It’s like Pol Pot writ large, so no sooner than they’ve taken over that region of Iraq that they just start murdering all the people. Who is ever going to support this? You know? They blew up all of the relics in Mosul. The citizens were happy you came. Literally, they alienate people even 100 times faster than the Americans can and they’re not even Muslims. There was this tomb that was supposed to be where biblical Jonah was, and it’s like these motherfuckers are just so devoted to the purity of their ideology that nothing else even matters.

[Suddenly, Brooklyn rapper Ka appears]

E: What’s good?


Ka: What’s up, cousin? Good to see you, family.

BW: I forget that you live around here. You want to sit down?

Ka: No, I’m actually going to order something to go and give my lady a call, man.

BW: Is that going in your interview?

Yeah, it’s in there.

Ka: Oh, you’re interviewing? You’re interviewing my man right now.

BW: Yo, I owe you a vinyl, man.

Ka: I owe you like three vinyls.

BW: Yeah, we gotta get together. That “To Hull and Back,” like I told you…

Ka: Thank you.

E: Sick song, man.

BW: That isn’t necessarily my favorite Ka song, but that might be the best. In terms of execution, man, that shit is incredible.

Ka: Thank you. Listen, that compliment [from a prior conversation] was amazing — the James Baldwin shit, I showed my lady that. I was like, “This is my man right here…

BW: Oh, he could’ve written that chorus, [“You named them hustlers, killers, fiends, ex-cons/ I call them cousins, aunts, pops, moms/ To you, hoodlum, crackhead, gunmens/ To me, just neighbors, classmates, young friends.”]

Ka: “Woods is the man right now.” But I don’t want to interfere.

BW: Nah, nah, do your thing, man.

[Ka leaves momentarily]

That was weird.

BW: See, I kind of knew that he lived in this area but I never seen him here before. But yeah, all that was basically tying back into the beginning of that verse, you know like—

Ka: The spot is closing, so… What’s your name, brother?

That’s the song that so far when I see people talk about it, I’m not sure that they’ve really “gotten it.”


Ka: Nice to meet you, Sam.

BW: Oh, they’re not taking anymore orders?

Ka: Nah, no more orders. I just wanted to get some greens but it’s all good. Listen, I can’t wait to read this right here.

BW: [Laughs] I’ll send it to you, man. You’ll be in it. You know that.

Ka: Man, I was never here.

This all happened. It’s all documented.

[Ka leaves; woods returns to his “CRWNS” closer]

BW: I think it has more to do with tying it back to mid-way through the verse, drawing a parallel between how international terrorist organizations are taking on this sort of… iconography or behaviors, the same way that the Mexican cartels started making their videos like Al Qaeda videos, and now I watch these ISIS things and it reminded me of WorldstarHipHop, with rappers talking a bunch of crazy shit: “Who’s got the guns/ Smoke 10 blunts/ Issue threats to everyone,” talking all crazy…

E: “Yall know what it is.”

BW: Go stand on a particular corner and be like, “Yeah, you know, we out here.”

E: “Yall know what it is. You already. You already.”

BW: It’s very specific, so it’s interesting to watch it and see this reflected back at you, when these dudes all assemble, put guns in the camera, wile out, Boko Haram shit.

Let me get back to the immediate reality again, not that this isn’t real, but the EP title furtive movements previously appeared in [Elucid’s] verse in “Freedman’s Bureau” on History Will Absolve Me and it’s a phrase in the chorus as well. And as I’ve written before, “furtive movements” is the popular justification that police officers use for a stop and frisk.

E: The nonsensical justification.

BW: I knew this, but he was the one who used it in “Freedman’s Bureau,” and then it always stuck in my head as a great line.

E: He was the one that said, “We should name the record that.”

Off of that line?

BW: Well, I knew what it was before, but to hear it in a rhyme is just one of those things where you think, “Why didn’t I do that? That’s really dope,” and so when it came time to do this record, for whatever reason, that was just stuck in my head.

What’s kind of bizarre… I guess not bizarre but… fucked is—

BW: I can’t believe Ka just walked in here. And [Elucid] you were so cool, you were so relaxed with it, I was like, “Did you tell dude to come through?” because I honestly thought that’s what it was, because you were just like, “Oh, hey, there’s Ka.”

E: Nah, man.

BW: You’re an unflappable sort in general.

The lyrics I was referring to: “Death squads answer to who/ Furtive movements make you nervous, man they grabbing they tool/ Bet that’s murder bloody murder, which weasel you fitting to hide behind/ Stay the point and pervert the story, it’s all design/ Vulture time crooked dicks and deep pockets/ Lifetime desk job offers with full coverage/ One hand wash the other, loyalty is given/ Who you calling a victim?” When I hear that right now, the most immediate thing that I would think of is the Garner case.

E: Right, right, right.

BW: I haven’t listened to that song in a little while.

So does a song take on new meaning in that sense?

E: Maybe just a refreshing of the old meaning, you know what I mean? How much has really changed? We’ll speak on that same exact topic and it renews again and again and again. Even the cover of furtive movements, it wasn’t a police officer, it was the Jordan Davis murder scene, [but] it’s just rehashing an old point that always seems to be current.

[Indeed, it does. Three days after this interview, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri.]

BW: I think all good titles have multiple meanings, and so I also like the fact that the album in itself is a kind of furtive movement, because it was never explicitly planned. People were expecting it because it took so long to go from having finished it to getting it onto the label’s calendar and pressed as vinyl, but we actually had it done in the spring. It was ready to come out then and we just had a hold on it, and then the label wanted to do vinyl, etc.

So the story goes that the earliest incarnation of De La Soul’s demo tape, pre-Prince Paul, which eventually got them their Tommy Boy deal, was recorded in my grandmother’s basement.

You could call the fan base a furtive movement too, the way it sprang up.

BW: Yeah, I didn’t even think of that but sure.

E: It popped out of nowhere for some people.

BW: Nobody has really asked me about the cover-title connection until now.

There are numerous other examples of reoccurring phrases in Armand Hammer’s combined catalog: “Then He Rose,” “Renaissance Garments,” “Crocodile Tears” and “triple-low remedial” all come to mind. My colleague C Monster might call this “world building.” Another term for it would be “Easter eggs.” Either way, it’s an interactive form of songwriting, as it specifically rewards longtime fans and those who listen closely. What are some of your favorite Easter eggs of your own and by other artists?

BW: Great question… On [furtive movements], I am fond of “It aint over till he mollywhopped,” which is a double entendre of sorts in reference to the Cult Favorite song that ends their album, For Madmen Only. Elucid also used to perform it as a set-closer here and there, something I strongly approve of as a fan of Cult Favorite.

I just like multiple meanings to things, but it has to mean something on the first level and actually work in context, in my opinion. I don’t really sit down to do that stuff. It comes naturally when working on a song, and then I might be like, “Oh cool, this could work on multiple levels.” Like the “100 feet of cold dirt” reference on the song “Black Ark.” Sometimes it’s Willie Green who will notice during the mixing process, and occasionally one of them is one I didn’t even do on a conscious level or have forgotten about.

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