Album Review | Mach-Hommy Delivers Pray for Haiti
Mach-Hommy has been mindfully carving out his own lane since his split from Buffalo, NY rap collective Griselda in 2017. His career is the single biggest counterprogramming effort in contemporary hip hop. Mach has no social media presence. The projects of his you can find on streaming services are only a sliver of his rich body of work. Post his lyrics online and you’ll be met with a DMCA takedown request. His trademark bandana obscures his face from public scrutiny. He is an underground artist in the truest sense of the word—if you want to hear it, you have to dig for it. In the age of endless self-promotion, this is true self-confidence, beyond braggadocio.
Mach has not been toiling in obscurity either—his abnormal business tactics allowed him to cultivate a loyal fanbase. His ear for jazzy, experimental beats is as sharp as any of his more accessible contemporaries. His wordplay is elusive and daring, interweaving Haitian Créole into layers of obscure historical and cultural references. He uses hip-hop vernacular as a shorthand to play with—rather than imitating other artists, he transcends their rote habits and compiles the same old topics with legitimate originality (he recalls Drake’s TikTok hit on a stray guest verse for Your Old Droog and Tha God Fahim early this year, “The povery follows me/While me and devil was until pale moonlight toosie sliding”). Ditto his flow, which constantly shifts from rolling, hoarse refrains to precise double-time and everything in between.
It’s the withholding of access that keeps Mach-Hommy an even more fascinating figure to his fanbase. Keeping his material off the big streaming platforms means that his listeners have to drop cold hard cash for physical or digital copies on his website (the price of which often enters triple digits); or sail the high seas of piracy, where Mach’s material is harder to come by than that of his commercial colleagues.
His controversial decision to scrub his lyrics from the web might frustrate fans that simply want help decoding his complex wordplay. But in a world of sites like Genius, where lyrics are transcribed by unpaid volunteers and annotated by the same, reading those reflections on Mach’s lyrics would only get you further from their essence. His anti-commercial practice forecloses the inevitable misinterpretations and overextrapolations that have hit every artist with a transcribed verse to their name. Through refusing to play the same games and make the same concessions as everyone else, Mach-Hommy has kept his music his.
All this has led to the release of Pray For Haiti, which seems critical to Mach’s evolution, for better or for worse. It shows him reteam with Griselda’s Westside Gunn, their beef recently squashed, for a 16-track odyssey released through Griselda Records. It hit streaming services on a Friday morning, tuned in by many but doubtlessly scrolled past and overlooked like so many other releases. For Mach, it is most unique for him to drop the same way as everyone else.
In the rumbling opener ‘The 26th Letter’, Mach seems aware that this is a foray into the mainstream arena he has firmly stood apart from to this point. “Had to dumb it down on my slow 50 Cent flow,” he raps over a hypnotic, stripped-back horn sample. Even when actively dumbing things down, the lyrics can be cryptic and hard to put together on a first listen. While Mach is conceding some of his mystique for time in the spotlight, he knows that that mystique is an irreplicable part of his appeal as an artist: “In this age of instant gratification” he raps, “the only commodity to have is patience.” Patient listeners, whether they be long-time Mach-Hommy fans from his days in obscurity or new fans rewinding verses to catch punchlines, will be rewarded.
On many of these tracks, Mach trades in the abstract mood pieces found on last year’s Mach’s Hard Lemonade for some clear-cut (by his standard) conceptual tracks. ‘The Stellar Ray Theory’ charts the familiar hip-hop fable of rags to riches, hardships persevered and reminisced upon. ‘Au Revoir’ offers a heartfelt goodbye to an album that still has two tracks remaining. ‘Marie’ is a full-throated tribute to black women, where Mach croons in Creole, describes lurid details of his love life and affirms that:
“Every time I heard the voice of God, it was a female.”
Westside Gunn’s role as executive producer can be felt over the record. His unmistakable adlibs are speckled spicelike across the album, as are a tasteful sample of guest verses. The beats here are the kind of off-kilter, dynamic material Mach-Hommy has been known for since his last Griselda release, 2016’s Haitian Body Odour. What’s unique is the cohesion and stamina—at sixteen tracks and forty minutes in length, it stands at almost double the length of the standard Mach project. The clarity and quantity of this project is admirable and stands as a perfect introduction to Mach for the curious listener. In ways, it feels like an underrated artist stepping into the mainstream and meeting his potential. In others, it feels like an anti-industry trailblazer conceding, albeit with an album that is bound to startle and edify those not already in the know.
The worst gatekeepers in his fanbase may resent his more commercial approach. After all, the last three years of his career were supposedly an attempt to prove that a rapper could amass wealth and status without, as he puts it on one track, “Shucking and jiving”. To those critics, I would encourage them to listen back to the record’s more abstract, challenging tracks—if this is what your favourite artist “selling out” looks like, consider yourself lucky.