This Gon’ Be The Year Mach-Hommy Gets His Python Trench Coat
The Newark rapper Mach-Hommy switches between languages a lot — not just verbally, but musically, too. Consider the case of “Au Revoir,” a song that appears near the end of Mach’s new album Pray For Haiti. The production comes from DJ Green Lantern, a mixtape legend, but “Au Revoir” doesn’t sound like mixtape music. Instead, it’s hazy and drumless. A psychedelic guitar twinkles expansively. A synth drones away. A wordless half-chanted backing vocal returns again and again. A wispy flute occasionally bubbles up. The Brooklyn singer and flutist Melanie Charles sings with great longing in Haitian Creole, and Mach, half-singing himself, repeats the same phrase again and again, like a koan: “Au revoir, pussy n***as, goodbye.” It’s gooey and hypnotic, and it doesn’t sound much like rap music.
So it’s a genuine surprise when, a couple of minutes into “Au Revoir,” Mach locks into a sharp, commanding flow. He’s lulled us into a sort of blissful zone-out, a state that’s familiar from past Mach-Hommy records. When he raps, though, it’s sharp and inventive and all the more impactful for the delay. Given a shot, Mach lets loose with a couple of dizzying punchlines: “Top earner, pop the burner, shot that n***a two times like Moderna,” “Watch out, I ain’t pulling no punches. So real I make Meghan Markle hop out and get the Dutches.” Mach sounds calm, and he never raises his voice, but he makes it absolutely clear that he can fully weaponize language, that he can come up with approaches that you haven’t heard yet. He’s fully in control of his voice, and it’s an exciting thing to behold.
Mach-Hommy has been making moves like this for years, turning himself into a cult figure by design. Again and again, Mach has made it clear that he’s not interested in playing the game. He wants deeper connections, not celebrity, and he’s always forced listeners to approach him on his own terms. Mach-Hommy isn’t on social media. He won’t let sites like Genius post his lyrics. He keeps his face covered. In a Billboard interview a couple of years ago — one of the very few interviews he’s ever given — Mach explained the mask:
The storyteller has always been played by masked men and women. That is because the storyteller is not his mother’s son, she’s not her father’s daughter, not when they are telling the story. They are the storyteller, that is something completely and totally opposite. It is a civic duty in a sense because the tradition is older than time itself. I’m not my mother’s son when I put that shit on my face. Don’t check for me, it’s not me.
Usually, when Mach-Hommy releases music, he charges huge amounts of money for it. An album download might cost hundreds of dollars. In that Billboard interview, Mach said, “I feel so bad and so low when I put a price on something… I think it’s worth way more than $300, but I created a number where I felt people could engage with it and it would let me know that at least this person is making an effort. I do not want it in the wrong hands.”
As far as I can tell, Mach-Hommy’s reticence isn’t part of a marketing plan. It isn’t what the Weeknd was doing 10 years ago, building mystique by withholding information. Instead, Mach-Hommy is very deliberate about the way he lets the world engage with his work. He’s careful about it, and he doesn’t want to be caricatured or misinterpreted. He doesn’t want people like me inventing a narrative for him. (The last time I wrote about Mach-Hommy in this space, I had a contentious phone conversation with one of his collaborators, even though the stuff I said about him was largely positive.) But the mystique is getting built anyway. There’s presence and gravity in Mach-Hommy’s music, and that forced scarcity is part of the reason why his music hits the way it does.
The real reason his music hits, though, is that it’s very, very good. It’s getting better, too — something that becomes all the more apparent when that forced scarcity is lifted. Last year, Mach released the mini-album Mach’s Hard Lemonade as a Tidal exclusive — a relatively accessible move that also worked as a signal that people like Jay-Z value what Mach does. Last week, Mach released Pray For Haiti through Griselda Records, the surging label that once counted Mach as an ally. When both Mach and Griselda were coming up, they were closely intertwined. At some point a few years ago, Mach and Griselda leader Westside Gunn stopped working with each other. So it was a happy surprise to hear Mach on Westside Gunn’s track “EasterGunn Day 4 Freestyle” a couple of months ago, and it was an even happier surprise to see that Gunn and Mach were making a whole album together. That’s what Pray For Haiti is.
Westside Gunn is on three Pray For Haiti songs, and he’s also credited as the album’s executive producer. (According to a press release, Gunn “curated” the album’s tracks.) The album has some of the spartan, clanking weirdness of old Griselda, before the crew allied itself with the rap establishment. The beats knock, but they knock in strange, particular ways — ghostly bursts of horn, off-kilter drums programmed around harp swooshes, gospel moans turned into disembodied voice-loops, bits of sitar. The tracks come from a few different producers, but they hang together beautifully. Interstitial moments, like an audio clip from what seems to be an academic conference about the fluid nature of Haitian Creole, pull the tracks together.
As a presence, Mach-Hommy holds your attention. Sometimes, Mach raps in a loose singsong mutter that reminds me a lot of the stuff Yasiin Bey was doing back when we still called him Mos Def. Sometimes, Mach sings, moving between English and Creole in a resonant, emotional baritone. (Mach is Haitian, and that’s a huge part of his public-facing identity. He’s donating 20% of the proceeds from the album to a fund for computer science programs in Port-Au-Prince schools.) It’s cool to hear someone switching between modes as intuitively as Mach does, but it’s even cooler when he just raps. Few of his peers put together words in such distinctive ways.
Part of the excitement around Pray For Haiti is the idea that the album is widely available, even to those of us who stopped paying for Tidal after Lemonade or who would never drop $300 on an album. On Friday, my Twitter feed lit up with people quoting Mach’s lyrics, and there are a lot of lyrics worth quoting. “Oh word? Your raps braggadocious? Put this .38 in your mouth. Go ‘head, spit your magnum opus.” “Rap snitch knishes, telling the cops they status. Lotta these rappers Big Twelve like March Madness.” “Not like the rest of these bums, multilingual. Thought you was the best on the drums? Meet Ringo.” “Never was impressed with lyrical matters. My shit built upon the backs of pure facts and empirical data.” “I let them caps fly without no graduation.” I could do this all day.
Mach-Hommy is special. He can rap absurdly well, and he could have a career on that alone, but he doesn’t seem to want it. Instead, he seems to want to exist in a lane that did not exist before him. He’s pulling it off. Pray For Haiti is one of the year’s best rap albums.
1. DMX – “Hood Blues” (Feat. Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher, & Conway The Machine)
It’s a crying shame that we never got to hear more DMX/Griselda team-ups, but at least we get this one. X’s wizened near-death voice has all of its fire, and it’s a genuine delight to hear him rhyming “Benny The Butcher” with “punk’d more n***as than Ashton Kutcher.”
2. Lil Baby & Kirk Franklin – “We Win”
I need a drug that’ll make me feel the way I feel when that “Just Blaaaaaaaze” drop hits. I need someone to hook it to my veins. I should be able to feel like that all the time.
3. Young Los, ShooterGang Kony, & Bla$ta – “Mad Max”
A disrespectful Bay Area slapper with three rappers who all seem to be competing to come up with the most creative way to threaten to murder you. That bassline is ugly in all the best ways.
4. Pooh Shiesty – “See Me Comin”
That Shuggie Otis “Strawberry Letter 23” sample has been in circulation for decades, and it still hits so hard.
5. Young M.A – “Don Diva” (Feat. Rubi Rose)
“I told her I’m a big dog like I’m Scooby, though/ And I keep a big glock cause it get spooky, yo.” Young M.A makes a charming rogue.