Album Review: Pray for Haiti by Mach-Hommy

Artist: Mach-Hommy

Executive Producer: Westside Gunn

Featured Artists:Westside Gunn, Keisha Plum, Melanie Charles, Tha God Fahim

Producers: Denny LaFlare, Camoflauge Monk, Conductor Williams, Cee Gee, Nicholas Craven, Sadhu Gold, Messiah Musik, DJ Green Lantern

“…While you have an academic exercise, you know, in canonizing the sort of structure, and syntax, and use, um, through observation…”

What does rap sound like to you? If it’s the energetic background music of a house party, or the stadium anthems that encourage you to “Win, Win, Win, No matter what,” then this album will probably feel foreign. Mach-Hommy’s Pray for Haiti, executive produced by Westside Gunn, is a fusion of hip hop and high art that elevates the typical villainous troupes and skullduggery of mainstream rap with a global perspective born straight out of the diaspora.

Beginning with the album art, the cover presents a striking image. Where other artists are more straightforward with their visual imagery (*cough cough* Kodak Black’s Haitian Boy Kodak *cough cough*), the album art curated by Westside Gunn remixes a Jean-Michel Basquiat piece entitled, Fishing. The rework features a revitalized color palette, cropped background detail, and the addition of what I assumed is a bright red Balenciaga jacket. 

Before discussing the actual music, it is also important to note that this album serves as a fund raising initiative as well. In an era where many artists simply posture online to win cool points with their fans, Mach-Hommy announced to Complex that 20% of the album’s revenue would go towards the Pray for Haiti Trust Fund. This fund was established to improve schools in Port-au-Prince, promote software engineering, and enhance coding literacy in the country. With such strong artwork and activism supporting it, I could almost be convinced to buy the project without any musical reasons at all. Lucky for me, the music is also impeccable.

As stated previously, this album can feel foreign to the “casual” hip hop fan. While many are familiar with the bombastic sounds of a DJ Khaled single, or the melodic 808s of mumble rap, the vein which houses the likes of Mach-Hommy, the Griselda crew, Navy Blue, Billy Woods, and more remains largely unexplored to mainstream audiences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just highlights the fact that different kinds of music are made for different things – even within the same genre. Some artists make music for dancing or singing in large crowds, other artists make music for deep listening sessions either alone or in small groups, and all of these artists are absolutely valid.

The only reason I want to take the time and bring this up is to help manage the expectations of people who aren’t used to this subgenre of rap. I can absolutely understand if this project, and other projects like it, don’t suit an individual listener’s taste. If a song seems uncomfortable or unapproachable on a first or second listen, that’s completely normal. Hopefully, if you choose to give it a few chances, you’ll grow to love this project as much as I do. In my opinion, Pray For Haiti represents an incredible balance between the rugged lyricism of “underground hip hop” and the mainstream staples of conventional rap song structure. Now onto the review.

“…the real beauty of the language, ultimately, is that you have regional colloquialisms and regional sort of sub dialects of the language…”

The very first thing that hits you on this project is the atmosphere. It feels oppressively dense. On a beat that can only be described as a funeral procession being unearthed from the muddy sludge of a haunted bayou, Mach’s matter of fact delivery combined with the heavy bass, muted trumpet riff, and trance-like nature sets the stage for villainous bars like “In your so-called ghetto you claim is all verile, but locked up in the bing get to singing in falsetto.” He’s clearly calling out the industry tough guys and establishing himself as a premiere villain.

On the same track, Westside Gunn gets a brief moment to talk his shit. Much like Cam’ron on J. Cole’s The Off-Season, his interlude serves to give the listener a break from the verbal onslaught of Mach’s relentless lyricism. While he’s there, in typical fashion, Gunn takes this opportunity to flex on literally everyone within earshot of the speaker. First, he announces that they recorded the album on the beach. Then, he gives a (light) rundown of his jewelry, which he is presumably wearing at that specific moment. Finally, he directs a pointed question to the listener asking, “When’s the last time your feet had sand on ‘em?” And honestly, that’s a whole ass bar.

The rest of the project builds on the foundation established by The 26th Letter. Despite a very simple recipe to each track, the songs positively radiate the highest level of artistry. Westside Gunn shows off an impeccable taste in production by pulling from the work of Denny LaFlare, Camoflauge Monk, Conductor Williams and more, then goes a step further by aesthetically linking them seamlessly through masterful sequencing. Their minimalist beat making perfectlycompliments the complex, polylingual bars Mach-Hommy weaves track in and track out. Gunn does an incredible job ensuring that both the beats and the bars have their time to shine.

To highlight the beats, it’s especially impressive how Gunn’s production choices paid particular attention to the low end of the sonic spectrum. As a rapper with a higher voice, Mach truly benefits from beats with a  well-established low end/bass presence; some of Mach’s more recent tracks have actually suffered from a lack of low end sound (i.e. – Marshmallow Test). Without this bass, his vocals often get lost in the surrounding instrumentation. 

None of those sonic shortcomings are present on Pray for Haiti. Not only does every track here have a fully realized low end, the instrumentation that would normally inhabit Mach’s vocal range is removed entirely. Because of this executive decision, the listener is free to focus solely on Mach’s lyrics without any other sonic competition. It’s these types of design choices which leave me incredibly impressed with Westside Gunn’s executive production. He made all the right moves to set Mach-Hommy up for success. And when given the alley, Mach absolutely has the skills to Oop that muhfucka.

“…and it really is a language for exchange…it’s very much a living situation…”

Mach-Hommy is extremely protective of his lyrics and the meaning behind them. In fact, Mach has specifically denied permission to song lyric sites like Genius to publish any lyrics for Pray for Haiti. As such, everything quoted here comes from my own ear and time spent listening to verses over and over again; they can absolutely be inaccurate representations of Mach’s vision, but it was the best I could do.

It’s ironic how difficult it is to write about how good I think these lyrics are. In my opinion, anything short of playing the individual tracks does nothing to show how potent Mach’s word choice can be or how well his lyrics flow on every song. While Mach can deliver punchlines with the best of them (“Rap snitch knishes telling the cops they status, lot of these rappers Big 12 like March Madness” – The 26th Letter), Mach’s writing more often places an emphasis on figurative devices like repetition, feminine rhyme, and end rhymes to make his bars both conversational as well as poetic. On The Stellar Ray Theory, Mach says, “You ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folk’s past, you scribbled in your notepad, created your life. Never was impressed with lyrical matters/ my shit built upon the backs of pure facts and empirical data.” Folk’s past – notepad. Lyrical matters – empirical data. Combine those feminine rhyme schemes with the rhythmic stop and go of the delivery, and it’s simply a master class in lyrical precision. 

Another standout moment for me arrives on the last track, Ten Boxes – Sin Eater, where Mach spends the last 8 bars using 7.62 as an end rhyme while he signs off with stick talk and elevates himself to a patron saint. I would highly recommend using Makrel Jaxon, The Stellar Ray Theory, or Murder Czn to feel out this project if you’re unsure about whether or not to take a deep dive. If any of those tracks appeal to you on any level, I would highly encourage you to go back to the top and press play.

There was never a dull moment for me on this album. The production was consistently engaging without ever getting in the way, Mach-Hommy and Westside Gunn were both lyrically as sharp as ever, the skits make me wish I knew Hatian Creole (Kreyol?), and I’d be remiss to omit Tha God Fahim gracing us with his presence on Magnum Band (If you know, you know). Ultimately, this project is yet another jewel in the proverbial crown of Griselda projects – especially those executive produced by Westside Gunn like Boldy James’ The Versace Tape, Conway the Machine’s From King to a GOD, and the Griselda & BSF: Conflicted Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Last review, I said The Off-Season set the bar for every other rap project this year. In my opinion, Mach-Hommy and Westside Gunn absolutely cleared that bar with an amazing level of finesse. While the two are entirely different expressions of the genre I love, both of them are immaculately crafted pieces of art. I highly recommend Pray for Paris to any fan of hip hop, gangster movies, or truly immersive experiences. Carve out some time to yourself, throw on a good pair of headphones, and let Mach-Hommy drown you in a world of (alleged) Zoe Pound kriminel activity curated by the Flygod himself, Westside Gunn.

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