Mach-Hommy on His Approach to Collaborations, Staying True to Artistic Principles & Upcoming Album With DJ Muggs
Hip-hop heads love to talk about that feeling. It’s a nebulous concept, at times an old-head argument to dismiss new folks, and in other instances a passionate plea to try and articulate what can be so powerful and transformative about hip-hop. That feeling, while oftentimes trite, is the best way to convey to a latecomer what makes Mach-Hommy the most exciting MC today. Since self-releasing his opus, Haitian Body Odor (HBO), in 2016, the masked griot has been supplying an inundation of that feeling to the discerning listener.
The flood has included over a dozen independent releases across the past two years, with not one breaking the standard set by the last. As an MC he’s swift and changeable, weaving a dense lexicon to create imagery that’s equal parts menacing and vulnerable. He’s produced formidable collaborations with established beat-makers, and he’s mined gold from a generation of rising talent. The legendary DJ Muggs shared that “once Mach and I connected everything just flowed. First of all, you must understand we vibrate on a higher level than most. Mach-Hommy moves with grace and ease through the creative process, and he has an intelligence that comes along very few and far between. There are originators, and there are imitators. Mach-Hommy is one of one.”
Despite his prolific output, there’s not a whole lot of corroborated background information on Mach. He’s a Haitian artist from New Jersey who is polylingual and talented in many artistic disciplines, often playing the role of a traditional producer as well that of an artist. He charges triple-digit price tags for his albums -- and has found a dedicated audience in the process. Designed with pride and self-respect, Mach thrives without the usual music industry formalities and co-signs. He keeps to himself, hand-picking collaborators, consistently covering his face in any imagery. He's restricted himself to just two interviews in his career. You’re reading his third.
Mach and I first spoke on the phone in 2017 for an interview and recently reunited in person in Los Angeles for a second conversation. During our meeting, Mach provided insight into his creative process and the artistic principles that undergird his work. He also discussed his approach to collaborations, including a glimpse into his new album with DJ Muggs, Tuez-Les Tous, set to be released March 29.
It’s been a little more than two years since you released HBO on Instagram. Since then, it’s felt like you’ve been consistently blooming. How do you feel about the impact you’ve made since 2016?
I feel like I injected a lot of new good life where there was no good life. I’m not going to go so far as to say there was no life at all, but there was no good life. Some people might say it was dead. That’s a bit much. I don’t claim to know that much but I know for a fact that there was no good life there and now there is. There is a clear path for a lot of youth. I see it. I’m not mad at anybody.
Was this your intention with the wave you started?
The people who are really tuned into this are really deep thinkers and they’re quick, perceptive people. You can tell I had some sort of intention from the beginning. I was aiming high, everybody knows that. All the other stuff, all the “happy accidents,” it’s not my business to like or not like that. I am limited to my interactions. I haven’t interacted with anything that would go so far to say, “yeah, it’s being done correctly.” I wouldn’t go that far because I’m not the authority on that.
I wish people would leave it alone and figure out how freedom looks to you, not how my freedom looks on you. Get your own freedom. Find your own freedom. I would prefer that. I can’t tell you how to be me. I’ve had conversations recently, just one or two because I limit myself, where it’s like... “can you show me...I was thinking you could tell me how to...”
Tell you what? Show you how to be Mach-Hommy? Because that is what I’m doing. I’m totally dedicated to that. I can’t tell you shit. You should be able to glean. You’re looking close as fuck. I think you’re looking close enough. Some folks getting it and they understand: “Oh, just be myself!” But then, you have people trying to do what you do verbatim, piece-by-piece. That is off-putting to say the least. And it ain’t hip-hop.
There’s nothing wrong if what you’re doing is pop music because that’s the platform: "copy, copy, copy, copy, copy-paste, copy-paste, copy-paste." There’s nothing wrong with that in that world. The thing is, don’t claim no kind of integrity or supremacy or nothing when you copying. You gotta just go see if you can be a pop star, because that’s acceptable there.
What does authenticity mean to you?
I think that the only way for us to really evolve, which is always the whole grand scheme of anyone crazy enough to want something beyond life, anyone wild enough to think that there is something important going on after you leave the mortal coil and after your body withers away to nothing, those that would like to imagine they can prepare for whatever it is that’s coming, I want to function on those levels. You really being yourself is the key. Once we get all the nuances out the way, the similarities, I believe, will just lock in naturally like some sort of genetic evolution.
I think it’s as simple as getting the awkward shit out of the way. Once you start to do that, I feel like you won’t develop any strange impulses. I’m not a clinical psychologist but I want to say that when people express themselves without any kind of filter, they’re more likely to be well-adjusted with their fellow man. It’s key. That’s just me wanting to think that there’s something else beyond living. If I could be so blunt to say that you dead longer than you alive, I feel like there’s something going on after we die.
What is your definition of reciprocity in terms of your art?
Initially, all you want is the love. You want the recognition. When I say initially, I am not saying in a linear sense. I’m saying in a simultaneous sense where several things have to be happening at the same time because this is just the way we live. All different parts need to be addressed and need to be taken care of. Then, we gotta survive and pay bills. There’s practicality. “Oh wow, this dude is so deep and so vivid!” Yes, life experiences that come from living life from someone who has family, friends, who breathes, who eats, who needs somewhere to sleep and has to have gas in the car. Maybe he really wear the shit he’s rapping about. Think about this shit, what the fuck do you think is going on? As far as time is money, and don’t nobody have any time to be playing around.
I know a lot of people that work more traditional 9-5 situations, which is going to be the case for most people, the consensus is, “I ain’t got the time to be playing around with the rap shit,” right? They’re looking for the little wealth signifiers to make them feel like this is safe and comfortable. Scarce is a word I guess we could use but I don’t think it describes what I’m trying to pinpoint when I say there was no money in this shit at all. Now, people that were homeless have somewhere to live. Cats who didn’t have industry now have industry. I am not being facetious. I am not being colorful with my language. I am talking about facts, big fucking finni-finnacks, big time.
For those people that I’m in contact with that give the reciprocity on the level of gratitude, which goes a long way in life and I feel like maybe beyond. The gratitude does so much to transform you in the living that it must have something to do with the rest. I’m thankful for that. I’m overwhelmed by that. I went to a dispensary the other day and it was like when Hakim went to the St. Johns game with ol’ boy. It was overwhelming, to say the least. An individual recognized my voice and obviously everything else, I mean, very little of me is actually covered. It’s funny how people get hung up over that. I’m very distinctive in everything else: height, stature, gait, skin tone, hair, all that shit. It’s screaming. I cover this little piece and people go ham. People really get upset.
I’ve noticed that. It seems like some people feel entitled to your likeness. What was the impetus in covering your face? What are some of your reflections on the way some have responded?
It turns out to be that way, that they feel entitled to my likeness. That was not a part of my initial thinking. It wasn’t to solicit any kind of response in particular. It’s the oldest... people say "oldest trick in the book," but it’s the oldest tradition as far as time and before time. Every major civilization -- I only say major in the sense that information most people can come in contact with without breaking they neck -- from what most of us can gather, there is a traditional role of storyteller in any given community throughout any given epoch of time. The storyteller has always been played by masked men and women. That is because the story-teller 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.
People take it how they want to take it. I know that where I’m sending it is where it’s going. In that sense I’m very confident. Everything else is “happy accidents.”
Tell me about your relationship to language. One of the things that sets you apart as an artist is your command of the language. It’s a language that intimates a very large worldview.
When I was very young, I was formally trained by some of the greatest minds that were available. I already had an innate ability to teach myself and then I was able to come in contact with certain persons who gave me what I really needed, not always directly. Just being able to be around these people where I could take some of those behaviors and bring them back to my own little baby world and apply that grown-man attitude, like a real cub. I was looking for the biggest lion in the jungle to be my example.
As far as the language, those kinds of people made me understand the importance of Latin, not just the written, dead Latin but the sounds and the roots that still exist in the modern system of speaking. I speak all the Romance languages. I understand about the anchor that’s keeping a lot of shit grounded in this reality. All of this shit is driven by language, written and spoken.
Marie Gironda [a Latin professor], she really helped me. I was able to mimic her passion for Latin. Remember, by the time I met her, I was already full to the brim with that shit, with having to be involved in the Roman Catholic church and memorizing Latin this, Latin that, memorizing entire masses with the kind of mind I got. I got a different mind. I always thought it was dope but I had no one to share it with. I had never seen anyone’s love language like that and love the fact that this is the keystone to an entire hemisphere of communication. That was a lightbulb to me.
That was the first time I acknowledged that I really love language, period. You have to understand that Port-au-Prince, Haiti is like, French-Kreyol, D.R. right there, Spanish, Roman Catholic church, fuckin’ Roman Mass. I was always engaging with many different languages on an intense level. Salsa music was getting played all the time and then English, we watchin' movies. I never just heard one thing. It was never a problem. There was always four or five languages running. That was my norm as a boy, so it’s only natural that that’s how I express myself now.
What makes collaboration fruitful for you?
Synergy is important. It’s not just you play the beat and I have to jump out of my seat and whatever. I’m not a trained monkey. Real synergy is all about the nuances, developing a rapport with patterns as a creative mind and a creative thinker. Because that’s the most important thing you have, your patterns, your loops. Those things exist in behavior too, not just in the music you’re making. There is a creator that is a very important part of the creation you seek. You seek some sort of unity, the unification of minds or souls or however you see it. You want unity so there has to be synergy. There has to be A-to-B and B-to-A complementary forces. It’s physics. That’s what I mean by synergy.
You also have an upcoming collaborative LP with DJ Muggs, Tuez-Les Tous. As a selective and intentional collaborator, how did you develop the relationship with Muggs?
Whatever the diametric opposite of grossly misinformed is, that's him. But what was most impressive is how he managed not to make any of the many preconceived moral value judgments about me, my creative process, or even my immediate circle, all the faux pas that many others before him had made up until then. But, you know, as they say much too often, real recognize real. He's not afraid to teach and at the same he's not afraid to learn as well.
I wanted to touch on your relationship with Tha God Fahim. If we can go into the peanut gallery for just a second, some people gripe about Fahim being lucky to be around Mach-Hommy, or he’s getting looks because he’s with Mach. What is your relationship dynamic like with Fahim?
Well, Tha God Fahim -- which is the storyteller, Fahim just happens to be his real name -- he overstands up-and-up. That’s pretty much the whole long and short of it. It’s an energy thing, because without that there’s an expiration date on it. I’m going there because I don’t want to waste linear time fucking up eternity. I gotta get with cats that overstand up-and-up. As soon as I’m like, “yo, up-and-up!” He’s like, “Whooo! Up-and-up.”
It’s smooth. It’s not like some people. I just had a conversation yesterday with someone. All I had to say for the entire conversation was “up-and-up” “yeah, yeah, up-and-up” “yeah...and up!” This other motherfucker: “down, down-down-down-down-down-down, up” “down, down-down-down-down-down-down, up.” That’s his pattern. Look at that pattern on a piece of paper, that’s crazy! We’re going in opposite ways. The intersecting point of our patterns happened within the first three minutes, and we’re talking about a fifteen minute conversation. At the end of the conversation, he’s down there and I’m up here. Bad news.
Going back to what you asked me, Tha God Fahim, he understands the pattern. He’s deliberate. He’s not a doppelganger, like I see out here. There’s a lot of you motherfuckers. This is someone who really created his own universe. The people that buy his shit do not spend money with me, a lot of the times they don’t even really care much for my shit. He’s got his own world. He’s doing way more music business that I could ever hope to do at this point. At the end of the day, maybe I’m fortunate to know him as well. Did anyone ever think of that?
Outside of that, son is really focused on his shit. The only way to go up-and-up-and-up is to perfect and evolve. The only way to do that is by being self-involved, concentrate and spend a lot of time on your craft. He’s a fucking master-builder. It takes a lot of sacrifice. On that level you’re not going to run into too many like him, especially not that young, with that much drive and that much know-how. He executes and he closes and he monetizes. It’s insane.
You should stop hating for two seconds and learn something. What them dudes from out here say? “Bow down to a player that’s greater than you.” Whenever I take two seconds to look, it’s always the broke ones that’s talking down too. When I say “broke,” bruh, I’m not on no goofy rap shit. I don’t know what you make. I don't know how much you got. I’m not going there. I’m talking about you. You’re fucking broken. Your presentation is fucking scattered, that’s why you can’t pull it together. Isn’t that some shit you hear a lot in your personal life? I know you’re probably listening thinking, ‘I fuck with Mach but I don’t fuck with Fahim.’ That doesn’t make any sense. See, you’re scattered again. Pull it together. That’s not going to work.
I also see another layer to it. I think people are reticent to recognize Fahim’s work as successful precisely because he’s done it on his own. If he was doing the same music and saying the same things but being more conventional about his approach and more deferential to gatekeepers, I don’t think people would have as much of a problem. I find it very curious that, in a genre where everyone says they’re the best, Fahim saying it gets him pegged as too arrogant or big-headed.
That’s a collective narrative. We decided as a tribe a long time ago that this is what we’re going to do. What is the problem? Oh, ok. People want to be the ones to empower you and tell you it’s ok to do that. They pick and choose who they give that power to. To them, you cannot come from within. How dare you? They have a problem with the figure within the storyteller. They have a problem with the traveller. They have a problem with the healer -- they always have a problem with the healer. They have a problem with the communicator. The problem is not necessarily him or his image. The problem is that we are attached to our image. That’s where we diverge. Don’t think you’re going to talk down on my image and it’s going to be wavy in the flesh. There’s no wave. You know what the vibes is.
As far as conventional success markers, between the two of us, he has maybe triple the amount. Think of a big company, a really big one. Tha God Fahim is doing business with them right now and he has been for quite some time. People need to relax. This is big dog shit and that’s my youth. That’s my little brother. We don’t do the same thing. We don’t even know the same people and he does very well for himself. I don’t have to do shit for him.
I don’t hold nobody hand. Everybody who knows me knows I’m notorious for that shit. I’ll drop a project right in the middle of making it. You know how it is, the teacher tell you to work with someone and you smarter so the dude try to get you. My man tried to do that shit to me yesterday! They try to flatter you, hit you with the “my dawg, you’re so good at it so why don’t you...”
I don’t fuck with none of that. We ain’t doing your homework. You’re not finna get a free ride.
In the past you’ve spoken about how if you weren’t going to get your fair share in the commerce aspect of the work, you would be fine with keeping the art obscure and relegated to those lucky enough to know. I find that very interesting in a time and climate when people overshare excessively.
This is the thing, if it was something that you had any real value placed upon I don’t think you would just throw it out there like that and treat it like nothing. When you’re doing that, you’re creating a distraction because there’s something else you’re trying to do. That’s why that shit is treated so low. There’s no value in the creation for you. It’s all about this other thing that this is a distraction for while you pull this other move. When someone comes that places ultimate value on the creation itself and everything else is secondary. I feel so bad and so low when I put a price on something.
Does it inherently feel like it’s diminishing or cheapening it?
Yes, totally. It’s just something I deal with it. It’s two things: it’s the happiness and the repeat value. Happiness. Ask yourself what you would pay for one hour of happiness. Would you pay $300 for one hour of happiness? Now, if I told you that one hour of happiness, that one hour where you will be transported outside of yourself, what if I told you that was infinitely repeatable by you whensoever you chose to do it again with no limitation on it other than you having the time to listen to it. Do you think one hour of happiness whenever you want it is worth $300? It’s that simple. 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.
Why does that matter to you? From the commercial standpoint one could think getting the product into as many hands as possible would be a good thing.
Nah, at the end of the day I’m cultivating an experience where I want to bring sharper definition to a place and even a time that’s all too often painted with the broadest of strokes. I’m not really on that quantity over quality. I’m on a different wavelength. It’s going to be approached with reverence and a whole lot of respect, by me first and foremost. Then, whoever I engage with is going to have to show me that same reverence and respect.