[Griselda; 2021]

“The only real commodity is patience,” the ever-mysterious Mach-Hommy utters towards the end of Pray for Haiti’s opening track, “The 26th Letter”. At the very least this has proven true for our masked protagonist: he may have long since gained a diehard fanbase via his consistent stream of smoky, often philosophical luxury raps (literally: just check the prices for some of them on Bandcamp), but this? This feels like his proper arrival.

He’s not alone. A fair portion of the meteoric hype (among heads, at least) surrounding Pray for Haiti comes from the project’s release via none other than Griselda Records. It’s a somewhat surprising turn. To be sure, Griselda and Hommy’s Dump Gawds collective have long enjoyed a sense of camaraderie, but it’s been since 2017’s HBO (Haitian Body Odor) that Hommy released anything via the imprint, making this complete something of a full circle.

The two factions may be linking back up now that Griselda all but runs their chosen corner of hip hop, but it’s no arbitrary connection. Westside Gunn himself executive produced and ‘curated’ the release, and his fingerprints show. Beyond talking A-grade shit on the album’s opener, rapping on three other tracks, and lacing the project with sporadic ad-libs (“BOOM BOOM BOOM”, anyone?), the laser-focused nature of the project reflects his seemingly innate ability to craft an airtight product.

More obviously, despite being dedicated to Hommy’s homeland, Pray for Haiti provides an immediate connection to Gunn’s own stellar Pray for Paris, leading one to wonder if this is the start of a proper series. Unlike Paris, however, it’s slim on features, sticking to Gunn himself, the always memorable Keisha Plum, and Hommy’s right hand man, Tha God Fahim. When you have a presence like Mach’s, you don’t really need the support, but it’s tempting to imagine what he could do alongside the likes of a Freddie Gibbs or Boldy James (not to mention Slick Rick, phew), had Gunn sought out some of his own collaborators.

Sonically, the album isn’t a departure from the sound that’s often worked so well for both collectives, with the majority of the beats helmed by longtime Dump allies Camouflage Monk and Conductor Williams, with assists from other familiar faces. Nonetheless, the beats Gunn selected (ahem, curated) stand among the best Hommy has graced to date, slotting right alongside the rapper’s efforts with the legendary DJ Muggs. It’s a clear level up for both the producers involved and the MC they provided them for. The twinkling piano loop of “No Blood No Sweat” is, it must be said, truly pretty, and Hommy consumes it entirely in his apparent thirst. It’s far from the only stunning moment to be found. DJ Green Lantern, presumably responding to pal Gunn’s bat signal, provides “Au Revoir” with mournful, patient guitar and even fleeting woodwinds, perfectly suiting Hommy’s mocking singing and insightful, fatigued verse.

This being said, for all Hommy and Gunn’s finesse on display, Pray for Haiti does slightly suffer from one thing: the lack of a clear target. Where Pray for Paris was coated in sheer, delightful decadence, our leading man here is less interested in such things. Hommy is simply supremely confident in his ability, wants his flowers, and determined to display pride in his heritage. Especially given its title, greater emphasis on this latter quality would have been both meaningful and greatly beneficial. However, beyond rotating through these topics (and a smattering of sampled dialogues about the impoverished nation), Haiti lacks a clear narrative. Still, this hardly harms the project. It simply constrains it to being particularly strong rather than transcendent. Especially in a particularly slow year for hip hop, we can hardly ask for more.

76%