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Ephemera

An Interview with Billy Woods

This past summer, amidst the pandemic’s peak, Billy Woods quietly released the best album of the year as one half of Armand Hammer. He’s a veteran rapper whose revolutionary style, earth shaking cadence, and literary sharpness is helping to define a new and wildly fruitful era of hip hop rule breaking.
Woods spoke with us about his formative years and path to becoming a writer, the making of Shrines, the salad days of NYC underground hip hop, and the unique existential reckoning of our upcoming election.
This conversation is lightly edited for clarity, as the kids say.

It’s been quite a year to say the least. How are you faring?

I'm doing alright, all things considered. I've been productive creatively. There have been some personal things that have been a challenge to deal with but I'm sure that goes for everybody. At least I'm in a place where my housing situation has been pretty stable at the moment. I've managed to be relatively productive creatively but have certainly lost a lot of money by not being able to tour with this record. I managed to pull off this live type show with a new service called Noon Chorus. It went well and makes a difference financially while also feeling positive about people responding to the album. It’s good to be able to do something creative with it even though we couldn’t get on stage.


I was able to catch that whole performance, It was incredibly dope. Did you have any reference points or inspiration behind doing a multimedia focused performance?

Both Elucid and I have worked with the young man who directed it. On “Paraffin” , we did a short film instead of a regular video. This felt closer to that I guess, in terms of finding unreleased material with visuals. It was different of course, because we were underpinning the entire thing with a live show. Shooting a live thing outside due to Covid was entirely new territory for us.


Was that performance on your rooftop?

No, I wish i had that rooftop. It was someone I know.


One striking thing I noticed was the closing video with the wild miniature set. That was a collaboration with Earl (Sweatshirt) right?

There was additional production within that which was produced by Earl. The final video was an unreleased song “Topsy” , which I really love. We had the same miniature set from “Charms” and kind of ran it backwards. It was a crazy alternate shot with the red sky. First of all, “Topsy” has kind of a backwards sounding beat, so running it backwards really worked. In some ways, I feel like it’s the opposite of “Charms”. It’s open and light in sound. There’s a lot of opening up emotionally; It moves from a dark place to a bright morning and we kind of went backwards from that. I like that juxtaposition.


Agreed, It’s a brilliant video.

Thanks, we all worked together on that. So, I appreciate it.


One thing I haven’t seen addressed in interviews is how you got into hip hop. Tell me about that formative path.

I came back to this country at the tail end of 1989, when I permanently moved back to the states. It wasn’t the last time I went back to Africa obviously, but it was a major move for my family. The actual trigger happened when we went to stay with some friends of the family while my mom was searching for a job and an apartment. They rented “Do the Right Thing” from the video store and I was blown away. It was a memorable moment on so many levels, and having been born here and so forth, this was a way of me absorbing American culture for a person who’s about to really become American now. As a kid, when we visited, I felt very american but typically we would only visit for the holidays.


How old were you when you moved back?

13 basically. You’re at the age where you start to say “I’m gonna get my own music”, when you’re on the cusp of becoming a teenager. Public Enemy’s music was obviously featured so prominently in the movie, and actually on the VHS release, when the film ends, there’s the full video that Spike Lee shot for “Fight The Power”. There’s the march through Bed-Stuy; It’s pretty powerful stuff. And mostly as a kid I was just like “This song is crazy”.

That was how it began and then I started going to school. At school, everybody--At least the black kids, and a decent amount of white kids, would be into rap and they’d be like “yo, this is what’s crackin’”. I remember my first day of school, this white girl said to me “oh, you don’t know who Eazy E is?!” She started breaking down to me what NWA was and I was very confused. People at school were a big influence. I loved the rebelliousness of the sound. I always liked words and poetry, so the fact that it was so lyric based really worked for me. Also, I’m becoming a teenager and trying to find my musical identity so it was a no brainer. A lot of the music that I was listening to came from BET, the old Rap City that was like 3 hours long.


Every day of my life as a kid.

EVERY DAY. And BET was in DC, so that was a channel we always had, even though my mom didn’t pay for extra cable. I’d watch BET after school until I saw my mom pull up outside and then I’d  pretend to be doing homework or whatever. So, that was like 3 hours of rap videos from all over the country.


I had a similar trajectory, so I relate...You mentioned your appreciation for poetry and literature at that point. Your mom was a literature professor right?

Yes, she was a professor and a writer.


Do you think growing up in that background--often times it’s the reverse. People of our age who may have gotten into hip hop at an earlier age find their way to appreciating literature more in high school or college?

It was certainly that. My mother listened to music but she really liked classical music or things like Nat King Cole. When she listened to anything approaching contemporary r&b, it was definitely older. I wasn’t one of those people where “my mom had James Brown or such and such on”, that wasn’t really the case, at least by the time I came along, because my mom is a little older.  We always had books and literature around us and the idea was drilled into you from a young age that it is important to read. So, the first thing I ever wanted to be in my life was a writer. Well, the first thing I ever wanted to do was probably drive a fire truck or be a garbage man, but once I moved past a little boy’s imagination, the first thing I really wanted to do is be a writer.


When did you start writing?

Always. In Zimbabwe, it was interesting. The schools that I went to actually had a lot of creative writing throughout the course of your English classes. I was writing stories; we had to write creative stories every week, and whenever we did, I would get really good feedback from the teachers and class. It was very self reinforcing. This is something I’m good at and I enjoy so I just kept doing it.


Having gone to school in both Zimbabwe and the states, do you see any difference in the way a child’s skills were cultivated?

I think that the schools I was attending in Zimbabwe were still set up for the white colonial elite and the settler elite after the white settlers declared independence from England. They had an educational system that was based on England’s in the 1970s, although I imagine they were a few years behind. In the states, you were more likely to write essays in public education.


Were you able to share your writing with your parents as a kid? Did they give you support?

My mother was very supportive but she could be a very harsh judge. Again, it’s self reinforcing. If you’re being praised at school and home for your writing, you want to do more. When I told my mother I wanted to be a writer, she was very supportive. She pushed me forward in doing it and thought I could be successful.


Does she remain a strong critic of your writing now?

She doesn’t sit around and listen to my music that often but is always supportive of any writing that i do.


Let’s move forward in time a bit. I know you went to Howard and moved to NYC later on. Meeting Vordul (of Cannibal Ox) was obviously pivotal. What was going on in your life around that time? What got you started writing rhymes, meeting people, and getting involved in the fruitful NYC underground rap scene of the time?

Meeting Vordul was a big, big part of it. It was the first time that I had met someone who was a real rapper. The stuff they were doing was so different from what was going on. The first time I heard Atoms Family tracks, I was just blown away. I didn’t even know that people got down like that. I also didn’t have any idea there was an independent rap scene whatsoever, because I wasn’t coming from any visible culture like that in the DC/Virginia area. There were a couple local crews that were around..There was a group called Question Mark Asylum and they had a song that I liked but it was nothing like what was going on in NY at the time. I didn’t even know that’s how rap worked. By the time you’re talking about the early 90s, hip hop is hitting its commercial peak in terms of influence and money. When I was first introduced to 2Pac with “Brenda’s got a Baby”, I thought that this black and white video is cool but by the time I’m graduating from high school, it’s “California Love” and million dollar videos in the desert and Mad Max, you know? 2Pac is basically an enormous celebrity who is blowing up. Hip hop is big then, so seeing the underground thing happening is inspiring.

In terms of things going on in my life at the time. I was going to college, I was getting kicked out of college, I was doing a lot of other things. Some of which were maybe not the best ideas. There were definitely plenty of bumps in my late teens and early adulthood. I was just trying to find my way, make some money, and found myself in situations that showed me the need to graduate and get away from a lot of the people that may have not been positive for my life in DC. It was always really important to my mom that I finished college.


What led you to NY from DC?

Well I moved to NY to go to college first, and that’s when I met Vordul. I met him through a girl that I knew and remain very close with. She was plugged into everything and was an activist before that was a thing that everybody was. She was from Santa Cruz and was a very unique influence who has the ability to draw people to her. She knew all of these rappers from going to Nuyorican (Cafe) and the like. She was a little Jewish girl living in Harlem and friends with all sorts of people, including Vordul. He was always encouraging me to write, so I started writing rhymes and it took a few years for me to think that this might be a thing.


When you two met, was it pre- “Cold Vein”?

It was well before Cold Vein. He was in high school for lack of a better word. I met him when he was one of the younger members of Atoms Fam. A while after that, when I returned to NYC, I was living uptown and we were kickin’ it heavy and I remember he came through and was like “Yo, I’m in this group Cannibal Ox, and we have a deal with El-P”. This is like ‘98 or ‘99. “We have a deal.. When he (El-p) finishes ‘Little Johnny from the Hospitul’ we’re gonna do an album.” I was like “What?!”, that seemed crazy to me. Obviously, being involved in this scene for so long now, I know how it works but back then it seemed wild to me.

I was actually introduced to Company Flow at Howard. There was a whole crew of people who fucked with that record (Funcrusher Plus). Vordul was a prodigy of sorts and was far ahead of his time and his peers in terms of what he was doing lyrically. Plus the fact that he was significantly younger than me.


‘99 was in many ways, the pinnacle of that scene. The rush of new underground labels that were popping up all over the place as well as the live aspect of places like Lyricist Lounge and Nuyorican

Even by then, things were different. The Nuyorican scene was fizzling maybe even a little earlier. But it’s about to get really serious because Def Jux is about to form and the Rawkus era is ending. It’s kind of that in between era where Rawkus was over, CoFlow had broken up and there were different things happening. Some of the people who would be the standard bearers going into the 2000s were not widely known at all. I hadn’t even heard of Aesop Rock until the 00s. A lot of what was going to happen is still up in the air. I had no idea how big that record (“The Cold Vein”) would become.


The Cold Vein has aged very well. It still sounds fresh and wouldn’t sound too out of place in the scope of current heady rap.

There are other records from that time that don’t sound nearly as good as when you first heard them and there are some that are just cringeworthy. That does not happen with “Cold Vein”.


There seems to be somewhat of a renaissance in the spirit of the labels like Rawkus, Def Jux, Anticon, Rhymesayers, and the like that were coming of age in the late 90s and early 00s, you know the Sandbox era.

I could tell you some stories..


(laughs) I bet… We’ll save that for next time.

There seems to be an awakening of those ideals, both musically and how things are marketed. Obviously we have the luxury of technology and the ability to more freely release a record but that kind of ornery rebellion seems to have found a home in the past 5-7 years. Obviously you and select others have had great albums throughout but there was a time when the underground felt more invisible. Do you see that rise happening again?

I don’t know if i’d go as far as to say the spirit of those labels but I would say there’s an energy of participation and creativity and a coalescing of talented artists happening. And that they’re experiencing some level of success. I can feel that.


For instance, why do you think Odd Future hit so hard when they came out in 2010, albeit a little before we saw that sizeable coalescence?

They were young, irreverent, and original. Also, sometimes when you look at a movement like that, you have to look at it and be like who are the people involved? Obviously, there are many people involved but sometimes you look back and there were some energized kids and a couple people who really had amazing talent and organizational skills. Later on, you may look at it and say that some of these people were not quite as good as the others, but in that moment they were all combining to do something more. Their irreverence and ability to ignore all the norms was the same thing that happened with CoFlow or Atoms Fam on a different level. Some of the people that are involved with them are real musical prodigies. There’s a reason why Earl, Frank Ocean, and Tyler -- make what you will of their individual music -- they’re all still around and respected even though they’re doing different things. If you have a bunch of kids doing what they want and making the music they want to hear, that will take you a distance. And then if a couple of them are among the better musical talents of their generation, then that will make you a movement.


I think it speaks a lot to their talent, because would you have heard anything that experimental or heady blow up in the way they did 10 or 20 years before?

Earl’s album dropped, Despot sent me his first video just as Odd Future dropped. I was like “yo, this is crazy” It was so simple and stripped down. It really again recalls CoFlow’s beats. They perplexed old rap heads, who were like “There aren’t even any beats on here”. Earl’s stuff wasn’t derivative of anything. I mean there was a DOOM influence but you can’t point to anything else too specifically. That video had so few views and the next thing I knew, they were blowin’ up.


It’s been interesting to watch your very clear influence both lyrically and beat wise on Earl’s last couple records. It’s fascinating to see the level of creativity happening right now and this kind of circular influence.

Yeah, I’m very supportive of Earl and curious to see where he’s going to go next. He’s another person who is a prodigy. I was never a prodigy when it came to rap. I kinda had to scrap my way to get to be respected as an artist and really try to push myself to get better. It didn’t all come naturally. Sometimes you’re around people where, it’s not like they’re not working, but it’s just that they had it from the beginning. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, you just have a different journey.


Let’s talk about “Shrines” a little bit. It’s certainly my favorite album of the year, as was “Hiding Places” the year previous. It’s a remarkable record on many levels. You started working on it before Terror Management was released right?

No, we started working on it a little bit after Terror Management was released. The first song we worked on was on tour in Europe.


What was your approach to this record vs. “Paraffin”, both stylistically and thematically?

Paraffin was a pair with “Rome”. It was born in those same recording sessions and built on after they had finished. So those two records are like sisters. Interestingly enough, we started working on an Armand Hammer record and then the producer was pretty caught up with some other stuff. But, we were just feelin’ the vibe after we did a couple records and we just wanted to keep going. I was like “yo, let’s record some other stuff” and before we knew it, we were working on a different album. So, the weird thing is that we started one album and kind of had to put it on hiatus for a second while we made a different album. We waited for the runway to clear and then we came back and finished working on that album. So, you haven’t heard the other record yet, but it’s coming. As far as how we approached it... “Paraffin” was written in a very specific way, because of the way that it came out of those “Rome” sessions. This record we started from scratch. I knew we wanted to look for some changes in production, in terms of what sort of sounds we were looking for. It would not be as abrasive and heavy, sonically, as “Paraffin”. We still wanted it to be heavy in other ways, but sonically I think we knew it would be a little bit different. We were always thinking how to push forward with the rhyming and make that better. I think, at least in my part, I wanted to have more guests on the record.


Did it feel clear from the beginning who you wanted to involve?

No, because when we began, I didn’t know some of the people who would be featured. I wasn’t familiar with Keiyaa’s music when Elucid brought it to me. We did a show with her, and I thought she was super talented and then “boom!”. The same goes for Pink Siifu. He was someone that Elucid knew and said we should get with. At Elucid’s urging, we collaborated on “Terror Management” with he and Akai. Obviously Earl rapped and gave us a beat on this one and we hadn’t gotten together like that before. Nosaj was another person that Elucid had the hook up with, and he came through and did a great job. With Quelle, i’m just a huge a fan and he was living in Brooklyn not far from me at the time. So, it just happened that I could rope him into stuff around then.


You mentioned sonically that it was a departure, but I feel that lyrically it’s just as dense.

In terms of ideas? Yes.


I’ve noticed that you both have been playing with different styles and cadences, things that I haven’t heard you do before.

Yeah. I think it’s the best Armand Hammer album to come out thusfar. I think that they’re all good and I could see an argument for any one of them but I feel like “Shrines’” highs are just as high as any other song on “Paraffin”. “Rehearse with Ornette”, “Hunter”, “Root Farm”, “Vindaloo”, “Alternate Side Parking”.  On “Shrines” you could say “Charms”, “The Eucharist”, “Leopards”, “King Tubby”, “Bitter Cassava”, and don’t even let me get into the deep jams like “Ramesees II” or “Parables”. I feel like there’s a lot of joints and that everything is firing at a high level and the album fits together really well.


It’s a rare rap record where there’s no dead weight.

I think the sequencing is really important; I know you’ve spoken on that previously, but I think the opening two and the closing two songs of the album are particularly powerful.

YOU GOTTA GET ‘EM.  YOU GOTTA GET ‘EM. Man, it’s funny, We’d just finished another AH record and the producer we were working with first was like “I can’t believe you’re putting this song at the end”. You gotta come and leave on high notes. It’s how I feel about making records.


The lyrical fade out is really somethin’

To that I give credit to Elucid and Willie Green especially. I originally had a longer verse and I messed it up, and they were like “what are you doing?! Don’t say that other stuff” That’s why “The Eucharist” is an AH song, because Elucid said “don’t record any more, and I’m not gonna rhyme on it either”. The absence of doing something is sometimes as important and collaborative, you know? Sometimes, somebody says “that’s it”. That’s as much as they could have done for you as a collaborator. It’s as much as writing a whole verse and chorus. Sometimes someone convinces you “just leave it like that”. Then, years later you’re like “thank god, I can pay my light bill. “I paid my light bill because you said that! I was about to do some stupid shit, some idiot shit”


It’s kind of like that El-P line, “even when i say nothing it’s a creative use of negative space”

Yeah! I think it’s “beautiful” use of negative space though.


Oh shit, you’re right!

That’s one of those El-P lines from back in the day where you’d be like  “ohhh”. Talk about getting into this shit, I remember listening to Info Kill 2 on vinyl.

(Woods starts rapping El’s verse on “The Fire In Which You Burn” enthusiastically)


In terms of sequencing, there’s a lot more humor in this album. I think there is always humor to some extent in your work, but more so with “Shrines”. I found the choice of opening and closing lines to be sort of light bookends to an otherwise dense album.

Thank you, nobody has mentioned that yet.


I know that wasn’t intentional, because as you mentioned, “The Eucharist” wasn’t necessarily intended to close out the record.

No, but things work out certain ways. For example the album begins with an appeal to god. “Lord help me I feel like the RZA” and it closes with “Did Jay really listen to D’Evils or did he just skim through it? I took the Shyne to ‘em and turned Jewish”  I’m really proud of this record.


You should be. The last four records you’ve made have been big inspirations for me not only musically, but in my life as well, and have really reinvigorated my love of hip hop, which like anything, sort of waxes and wanes over time.

Thank you man.


In terms of what’s going on with the pandemic, race relations, and political instability.. You’ve often been considered a master of the claustrophobic and apocalyptic. Do you think it’s made you more suited to deal with the current reckoning that our country and world are currently facing, things that have always been there, but are coming to light for your average person this year?

I have certainly made records where that’s the focal point. If you were to say “Hiding Places” are those things, then I would agree, because that’s by design.


You’ve frequently dealt with these themes that are so prevalent in our culture right now. It’s kind of interesting because you see plenty of artists shifting their style and content, but you haven’t had a need for that shift because this is shit you’ve been talking about for years.

I think that hopefully a lot our music is about being a human being and the various things that surround that. So then you can usually be assured that human beings will continue to be human beings in various ways. The accoutrements changed but people tend to do the same things, both good and bad. Sometimes people might find themselves stuck in a situation where they have to do a thing because that’s a thing that they were doing. Whereas, I’ve always just been writing about my life and the world around me. It’s not like I’m stuck writing about one thing. You could make a 1000 albums about the 5 years you spent as a serious cocaine dealer and they could still be all dope. If you do it artfully and it’s dope, I’ll still be interested.


I think that Griselda’s recent output has been a great example of the million ways you can say the same thing about selling coke.

We had Clipse before then!


Of course, but Griselda has found a way to do it through 20 albums of material in 5 years though.

It all depends on how good it is. Ka could tell me about his childhood growing up in Brownsville and I could listen to it forever because it’s that great. Also, it’s not a caricature. There’s a realness and a humanity there. Scorcese has told us 1000 times about growing up as an Italian-American in New York and it’s not like “I need you to stop”. There are other people like, Sylvester Stallone, I do need you to stop.


Yo, Over The Top! Remember that one??

I expected you to go for Cliffhanger.

Besides First Blood, which was big to me when I was a kid, I was so excited for Cobra. I don’t know if you remember that movie.


Of course

I still remember the tagline from the poster, “Crime is a disease, meet the cure”


Those aviators, the toothpick

Some type of machine pistol with a lasersight. When you were a little boy in the 80s, nothing could have been cooler than a gun with a laser. How much money could you make on a movie with a plot involving a gun with a lasersight. There’s a gang that’s controlling something and there’s a white ex-cop with a wife who just left him and he’s gonna put a stop to it! You just made yourself millions of dollars. I watched so many versions of that movie as a child.

There’s this period of movies like American Ninja, shit, remember Remo Williams?


Yeah, what was the tagline?? The saga continues?? Nah, it was “The Adventure Begins”, that’s it.

There was that musical training montage. He keeps running on the beach and then eventually you see he’s running on the beach but not leaving any footprints. I watched that in the movie theatre in Zimbabwe and I was like “this isn’t very good”. Movie execs had it made back then. The whole movie would be about some other shit than what the trailer made it look like. Now, before I go to a movie I’ve read three reviews. I watch it for free with my fire stick. I’ve also watched the trailer and checked the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB in comparison to each other, several people have told me what they think of it, and I’ve looked up the director’s other films. The number of movies I used to spend money on just due to the trailer is unimaginable.


Exactly.  Unfortunately, nothing quite matches the feeling of being a kid and walking blindly into a movie.

Yeah, because you’ve already built out the whole movie in your head. Some movies, like the Last Starfighter were successful because they just had to build around the popular things of the time: video games, outer space, a little boy flying basically an X Wing.


Do you remember The Wizard?

Yes, of course. It’s Nintendo, everyone loves Nintendo. Movie about a kid getting a Nintendo Power Glove to save his little brother and family from losing their house in a small white mining town. Nonsensical, but you can just piece together various cliches with a promotional tie in and boom. The equivalent now, I guess, is a Marvel movie. But even those are so much more sophisticated. The plot of a movie like The Wizard and the actual dialogue would be painful to witness right now.


You’re right. There’s simply not enough happening. In the 80s, you could get away with “the journey”

String together a bunch of cliches and a script that’s been written in two passes. Nowadays, they definitely have dumb CGI movies but the actors are actors and the dialogue is reasonable. Who knows what the cast of the Wizard did the rest of their life?


Well, remember you do have Jenny Lewis, Christian Slater

Oh shit, Christian is in that movie??


Yeah, he’s the brother! It was kind of a pre early-90s A-List mixed with 80s B-List like Beau Bridges.

(both laughing) Good Call.


Moving on to the last thing I want to talk about. We’re facing for the first time in our country, true fascism and authoritarianism, and debatably an unmatched racism and demagoguery that’s playing a pivotal role in our divisions. Where do you see this election and post election world heading? What scares you? Does it all scare you?

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the election. What I do know is that Donald Trump will declare victory. What happens after that is a little tough to say and I think depends on will happen with his protests, which will come regardless of the result. I do think that we are not yet at the point in this country where people have a good enough sense of the limits of the law to proceed with blatantly illegal electoral activities. Obviously, Trump would like Obama and Biden to be arrested. William Barr, who is a toadie, with actions that I can only surmise, have to do with his own perception of the legality of such an action and what might happen if he undertook it and Trump didn’t win the election. You don’t want to write your name on a piece of paper to assist in breaking major laws if the person you’re doing it for isn’t going to win. There’s a certain question of to what extent other people and other functionaries will go within the system and within the government to aid Trump. Are there generals who are willing to put their name on this piece of paper? If it’s relatively close, obviously all republicans will fall in line behind him. The only thing we know for sure is Donald Trump’s behavior, which he has already proven time and again. He will claim to have won. He’ll claim he’s been cheated. He’s going to incite strife and encourage his supporters to force his continuation of power.

There are times when you’re facing existential threats and now is one of those times. A lot of people have no idea how bad something like corruption can be. American officials are corrupt. The US system is corrupt, but it can be more corrupt. I live here. This is my home; I have a daughter. I don’t want to live in a refugee camp on the Canadian border. I’m not one of the people who think that it’s better for Trump to win in the short term, so that in the long term we’ll have a true revolution. I think they misunderstand the dynamics of such things and the cost of such things. The failure of the state in no way presages some greater good for the citizens of a country, far from it. Yemen has completely collapsed. The fact that Yemen before now was a corrupt former colonial remnant that was never truly held together by any single shared idea amongst its people is important. Yemen had a lot of problems before. I’m sure everyone in that country would rather go back to that Yemen and start working from that again. When your country falls apart it’s not good for you. People don’t connect what happens in other countries with the American experience at all really, unless they’re trying to make a point about themselves or their politics. The bottom line is that this is an extremely important election because the U.S. faces an existential threat in the rule of this man who has no moral compass, no empathy, and no concern for anyone except for himself...and who is also a delusional idiot. The combination of those things leaves a lucky space for us to build the checks and balances on the central executive and do things that will remove the imbalance on corporate power. Do these things while you still can. Eventually, if you have a person like this stay in office, the corruption will exist from top to bottom. There was corruption in Zimbabwe when I was growing up and there came a time when corruption WAS the state. It’s a dangerous position to be in and is spurred by Trump and the sort of avarice and soullessness that he represents. What if the next strongman that comes through is actually smart? What if they’re like Putin? Trump can’t get out of his own way. He should be walking to victory in this election but he does so many stupid things. He could have approached Covid so differently. He could have used his distaste for foreigners and said “I’m banning foreigners, we need to respect the law. All Americans, I’m calling on you to join forth in a patriotic exercise of social distancing. We will overcome, just as we did in World War 2, when we freed the world”. Again, this is of course nothing I’m suggesting, but truly any kind of shit you want to make up, any shit a smart authoritarian would say. His ego reminds me -- and honestly this is the thing that most reminds me of Hitler.. His ego is so huge that it actually is the reason for his success and also the thing that will ultimately lead him to burn out failure. I always think “thank god you’re this dumb, thank god that you’re an absolute moron”


Let’s close with a lighter question. We’re a restaurant, so I couldn’t leave without talking about food for a minute. I know you know your stuff and love food so tell me about some of your favorite restaurants in NY.

I love Diner in Williamsburg because it’s been there forever. When I first moved to Brooklyn around 2000, a friend of mine worked there and introduced me to their food. They were doing the whole farm to table thing back then. I remember going there in the early days and having a burger that blew me away. For having been there so long and always being good, I fuck with that place. There are so many things that I was first exposed to by eating there. I also love their butcher shop, Marlow & Daughters.


Me too, I was a big fan of both when we lived in Brooklyn. I heard that Caroline, the former chef of Diner around 2000 and owner of the now closed Saltie, is back at Marlow & Sons. So you should pop by there sometime soon! I moved to Brooklyn in 2006, so a lot of my formative and favorite meals were in that neighborhood and scene.

That’s dope. I’m going to have something to celebrate soon so I’ll have to go back to Marlow & Sons. Yo, also Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao has the best soup dumplings I’ve ever had and scallion pancakes that you can’t imagine until you’ve had them.


I really appreciate you taking this much time to talk with me.

Thank you for taking the time. I’ve got some really interesting things coming up next year and I’ll be really curious to hear what you think of them.


The records that you’re putting out have meant more to me than any other music i’ve encountered in a long time.

That’s really dope man. Thank you. Next year is going to have some things I’m really excited about. The new Armand Hammer record that is going to catch a lot of people by surprise. This interview is the most I’ve talked about it thus far. No new solo on deck yet, but there’s a lot of collaborative stuff that I’m really excited about.

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