Notes on Mach-Hommy

#RICHAXXHAITIAN.

Notes from the listening party. Art by Tyler Farmer.



On Thursday night, we went to a private listening event for Mach-Hommy’s upcoming album #RICHAXXHAITIAN. It was at the Aimé Leon Dore bar on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and details were highly specific: Doors open at 6:30, doors CLOSE at 6:45. Millan and I pulled up to a maybe 30-deep crowd of highly swaggy types and slightly less fitted-up journalists. As we entered the candlelit room, a DJ was spinning jazz and soul records and a woman took our coats and bags. At the minimal bar, complimentary cocktails were served—Millan got a Mach’s Hard Lemonade and I got an HBO Rum Punch. There was another wall lined with glass bowls of Swedish fish, toffees and other candy. We found a table in the corner.

Mach-Hommy has always placed a premium on the album as a physical, tangible product comparable to high art. He has sold records at prices you might find in an auction house, and for years, the only way you could experience his art for the free was by downloading it illegally.

Mach-Hommy is also concerned with how he is seen and interpreted. He took his lyrics off Genius, and instead of doing traditional press runs, he reaches out to journalists he’s developed relationships with. No surprise, then, that he decided to showcase the new album on a vinyl test pressing, in a setting where no phones were allowed, and a small audience was given notebooks and gold Aime Leon Dior pens to jot down their thoughts.

Over the chords of Ahmad Jamal’s “Swahililand,” Tyron Perryman, the Media Czar who invited us, introduced Mach-Hommy, who emerged from the shadows with his trademark bandana concealing his face. Mach then talked for maybe 20 minutes before starting the album. He told a story of getting jumped over an S&S tape with a rare Biggie track he had when he was a kid. (The lesson learned: “I have impeccable taste.”) Then he compared the way industry folks talk about hip-hop dying to how colonizers would replace one form of human capital with another, all of it disposable in their eyes.

What stuck with me was near the end of his monologue. The Media Czar interrupted briefly and said part of the reason for this event was for journalists to “get acquainted with the primary source.” Mach, clearly a bit disgruntled, then asked, “What’s the difference between legend and a legend?”

He was fed up with how critics have been talking about his music, placing him on a pedestal. “Don’t relegate me to those annals!” he said.

The scarcity of Mach-Hommy’s art, paired with his aversion to press and the high quality of his raps, has created a tantalizing veil of mystery around him, the kind that critics and fans fawn over. He is often written about like a phantom spirit in the wind, shifty and elusive, almost superhuman. Whenever he surfaces, it’s like a Loch Ness Monster sighting. This is the type of world-building that turns you to a legend. But when an artist starts to fixate on their own legend, he threatens to turn it into something overwrought and belittle his own audience. 

So here was Mach-Hommy, ever the magazine reader, comparing the way critics venerate him to being placed in plastic wrap, unable to progress or evolve—a puzzling sentiment because his aura is a big part of what got him this far. Edgar Allan Poe’s a legend, he said, whereas he’s just getting started.

On one hand, I can understand why he might feel this way. It’s important to write about art with nuance. Lots of criticism, especially about mysterious figures with minimal publicity, tends to shoot off into hyperbole and GOAT talk. But criticism is also about perspective and emotional response. Some of the most vital criticism comes from passionate superfans who naturally know more about their favorite artists than anybody else. Criticism tells the story of the critic as much as it explores its object. So when an artist invites critics to a listening party, then tells the critics they’re not doing their work the right way…what is this all even for? 

In piercing his own veil, Mach-Hommy prescribed a way for us to think about his art. Whatever his intentions were, this is not how criticism works. This is telling critics how to tell the story. What’s so cool about Mach’s music to me is how, because of his elusiveness, critics are forced to reckon with the art on its own terms. That night, Mach played into the exact PR narrativization that plagues music journalism today.

This isn’t an essay about the music. For what it’s worth, it was great, it always is. The sultry, granular textures of #RICHAXXHAITIAN remind me of the sound Yasiin Bey cultivated on his best album The Ecstatic. It’s like it was left to bake in the sun, all wobbly grooves and buttery sing-rap. And listening to elite raps intentionally in a room full of heads, no distractions—there’s nothing like it! There’s one crazy record with Greedo and Kaytranada that they made while Greedo was still in federal custody in Texas, and another from 10 years ago that features a potentially classic Black Thought verse. But after we left the venue, Millan and I grew skeptical. A homie at a bar an hour later compared it to when he was flown out by Ye’s PR for a DONDA listening event. Apparently, his PR bought them meals and then told a bloated story of the album that didn’t line up with what it actually sounded like to critics. Mach’s night wasn’t nearly as manipulative. And in general, I’m all for analogue experiences, intimate listening events and valuing art properly. Art is inherently social. But art needs to breathe, too. 

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